Fonda Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Fonda Surname Meaning

The Fonda name came at first from Italy, from the Italian fondo or fonda meaning “deep” and describing a deep valley to be found near the city of Genoa. An Italian by that name was said to have fled to the Netherlands in the 16th century at the time of the Reformation. Jacob Harmense Fonda was recorded in Holland around 1540.

The Fonda name in America is attributable to Jellis Douwese Fonda who left Holland with his family in 1651 for New York.

Fonda Surname Resources on The Internet

Fonda Surname Ancestry

  • from Italy and Holland
  • to America (New York)

It is not known why or exactly when Jellis Fonda and his family left Holland for America. There is no known record of the family on published ship passenger lists. A best guess, based on available information, indicates that they probably sailed on either the Bonte Koe or the Prins Willem.

America. When Jellis arrived in upstate New York in 1651, he was, according to a contemporary account, “accompanied by his wife Hester Jans and three children – a son Douwe, aged about eleven years, and two daughters Geertien and Sara, aged around nine and seven.”

New York.  Jellis died in 1659 and it was his son Douwe who established his family, a large one, at Albany outside the town’s north gate.

Douwe’s sons spread a bit. Isaac remained in Albany (his nephew Gysbert prospered in business there and was one of its wealthiest citizens by the 1760’s). Jellis, a gunstock maker, moved to nearby Schenectady; while Jan settled in Rensselaerswyck.

In 1751 Douwe Fonda, a farmer and merchant, moved from Schenectady to the hamlet of Caughnawaga along the Mohawk river, some 30 miles west of Albany. After he was brutally scalped during an Indian raid in 1780, the settlement was renamed Fonda and Fondas remained there until the late 1960’s. Douw Henry Fonda built the present farmhouse in the 1840’s in which seven generations of the family have lived.

Some Fondas had started moving away from New York. John H. Fonda left for Wisconsin in 1825.   “John Fonda trekked to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin in 1825. He was an explorer, trader, mail carrier, Indian agent and, later, a colonel in the Civil War. There was a life-size painting of him hung in the Wisconsin Capital Building.”

One Fonda – Anthony Cornelius Fonda – went south to Mississippi in 1840 and made his home in Charleston.  He fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and died in 1893.  He left a large family and his descendants have held reunions each year at Charleston.

Other Fondas went west – to Missouri, Illinois and Kansas. Ten Eyck Fonda departed the New York Fonda farm for Illinois in 1873 and then moved further west to Nebraska five years later in search of railroad work.

Abraham Fonda, born in Missouri, returned to New York where he was a cigar manufacturer. His first wife Mary Alice was a well-known music critic who died in 1897. His second wife Rhoda apparently married him in 1919 for his money.

Nebraska and Hollywood.   Ten Eyck’s son William was a printer in Omaha, Nebraska. William’s son Henry Fonda, born there, began acting and got his first break in films in 1935. He was to be a Hollywood star for the next forty years.

Henry was also the patriarch of a family of famous actors, including daughter Jane Fonda, son Peter Fonda, granddaughter Bridget Fonda, and grandson Troy Garity.

Fonda Surname Miscellany

Douw Fonda’s Misfortune During the Revolutionary War.  Douw Fonda had lived a long and prosperous life as a farmer and merchant along the Mohawk river in upstate New York. He had been a close friend of the British constable there and had always been on good terms with the Indians.

However, in May 1780, at the age of seventy-nine, his life was taken away heartlessly as if he had been active as an enemy.  He was killed during a raid by the British army, aided by the Mohawk Indians. His house was plundered and burned and his sons, John and Adam, were taken prisoner.  John was later released but Adam was taken to Canada and held there for nearly a year.

His legacy though remained through his abundant offspring, which included six children and thirty grandchildren.

Reader Feedback – Fondas in Mississippi.  My great grandfather was A.C. Fonda, his grandfather was also A.C. Fonda. They lived in Charleston, Mississippi. I believe the AC stood for Anthony Caesar.

James Hawkins (

Abraham Fonda’s Will.  On July 11, 1919 Abraham G. Fonda died in Brooklyn, two weeks after his marriage to Mrs. Rhoda Hunt.  His niece, Florence Durant of Saratoga, immediately went to court to contest his will.

In her affidavit, she said that her uncle was 76 years old when he died; that he was a cigar manufacturer in Brooklyn where he accumulated a fortune of $100,000. His new wife was just 40.

The affidavit alleged that the wedding took place on June 28, 1919 and that immediately afterwards Fonda was assisted by two men to the Terminal Building, just across the street, where in a lawyer’s office a will was drawn up leaving his entire estate consisting of $50,000 in cash and $50,000 in bonds to his bride.

The first witness was Mary Phelan, of Passaic, New Jersey who testified that some months before Mrs. Fonda married, she was at her apartment in Brooklyn. At that time, Miss Phelan said that she said: “I know a nice old man who wants to make love to me. He has lots of money.  If he does it will cost him all he has.  I will introduce you to him and maybe you can get some also.”

Justice Stephen Callaghan intimated that he would give a decision for the plaintiff.

“It seems to me that Fonda was unduly influenced by indirection and that the defendant, now his widow, entered into what was a clever scheme to gain possession of his property.  I believe Fonda at all times was in his right mind, but I think also that this woman, in her relations to him, was not actuated entirely by love, but that her kindness really constituted a fraud.” 

Henry Fonda’s Ancestry.  Henry Fonda described his ancestry as follows in his 1981 autobiography:

“Early records show the family ensconced in northern Italy in the 16th century where they fought on the side of the Reformation, fled to Holland, intermarried with Dutch burghers’ daughters, picked up the first names of the Low Countries, but retained the Italianate Fonda name.

Before Peter Stuyvesant surrendered Nieuw Amsterdam to the English, the Fondas – instead of settling in Manhattan – canoed up the Hudson River to the Indian village of Caughnawaga. Within a few generations, the Mohawks and Iroquois were butchered or fled and the town became known to mapmakers as Fonda, New York.”

The table below shows the line from the immigrant Jellis Fonda to Henry Fonda.

  • Jellis Douwese Fonda (1614-1659), born in Holland, m. Hester Douwes
  • – Douw Jelliszen Fonda (1641-1700), born in Holland, m. Rebecca Jans
  • — Jellis Adam Fonda (1670-1737) of New York, m. Rachel Winne
  • — Douw Jelliszen Fonda (1700-1780) m. Maria Vrooman
  • —- Adam Douw Fonda (1736-1808) m. Neeltje Bries
  • —– Douw Adam Fonda (1774-1855) m. Lavina Breese
  • —— Garret Fonda (1808-1878) m. Rachel Polhemus
  • ——- Ten Eyck Fonda (1838-1923), from New York to Nebraska, m. Harriet McNiell
  • ——– William B. Fonda (1879-1939) of Nebraska, m. Herberta Jaynes
  • ——— Henry Fonda (1905-1982), born in Nebraska, the film actor

Jane Fonda at Eighty.  In December 2018, at the age of eighty, Jane Fonda stepped out perfectly coiffed to run errands in Beverly Hills.

Her blonde hair was styled in gentle curls and was made up with blusher and red lip color for her outing.  She wore a chunky knit black cardigan tied at the waist and black trousers and shoes.  She had on a pair of sunglasses and accessorized with gold pendant earrings and a statement ring.

Jane Fonda, who has been starring in the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, recently announced that she’s launching a lifestyle brand aimed at women over fifty.  It will include activewear, health and nutrition products and fitness equipment.

Fonda Names

  • Jellis Fonda from Holland who arrived in New York in 1651 was the progenitor of the Fonda family in America. 
  • Mary Alice Fonda, writing under the pen-name of Octavia Hensel, was an internationally-recognized music critic of the late 1800’s. 
  • Henry Fonda was an American film and stage actor whose career extended from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. 
  • Jane Fonda, a highly acclaimed American film actress, has also been known for her political activism during the Vietnam war and for her fitness videos.

Fonda Numbers Today

  • 700 in America (most numerous in New York)

Fonda and Like Surnames

These are Dutch-originated names, Dutch surnames that found their way in the 17th century to New York and to South Africa.  Here are some of the Dutch surnames that you can check out.

BeekmanHendricksKnickerbockerVan Buren




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Written by Colin Shelley

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