Franklin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Franklin Meaning
name Franklin derives from feudal times and the Middle English frankelin, meaning a “freeman” or a
“landowner of free but noble birth.” He would rank above the main
body of minor freeholders, but below a knight or a member of the
nobility. He appears in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales as the narrator of
the Franklin’s Tale.
The root of the word was the Anglo-Norman franc, meaning “free,” and the
Germanic suffix -ling.
Its first record as a surname was when Luke le Franckeleyn was
registered in the Cambridgeshire Feet of Fines in 1234.
Franklin can also be the anglicized form of the Germanic Frankel or Franckel, a
name often brought by Jewish immigrants.

Resources on

Franklin Ancestry

The earliest sightings of the Franklin name were in Bedfordshire and

  • Bedfordshire.
    William Franklin was recorded in the village of Thurleigh north of
    Bedford during the 1470’s; George Franklin held the Bolnhurst estate in
    the late 1500’s (his granddaughter Margaret married a Bacon and is
    commemorated in a plaque in the church at Burton Latimer); and another
    George Franklin took title to a farm in Ravensden in 1618 (a Franklin
    still farms there today).
  • Oxfordshire.
    John Franklin was recorded in the village of Horspath in south
    Oxfordshire in 1524; and Henry Franklin, “a gentleman of some culture,”
    owned Adwell manor house in the 1600’s. William Franklin was
    appointed carpenter in Oxford in 1588. His son Jeremy inherited
    the position and was elected mayor in 1728.

Another early Franklin family came from Kent, starting with John
Frankelyn of Chart Sutton who died in 1500. These Franklins later
resided in Wye. Charles Franklyn, a descendant, published a
genealogy of the family in 1932. Sir John Franklin, the famous
Arctic explorer, was born in Spilsby, Lincolnshire in 1786.

Franklins in the 1851 census
were in
Gloucestershire. Later the distribution of the name looked more
like an arc, starting low in the east with Kent and London, then
rising to Oxfordshire and Warwickshire in the middle of England, and
falling away in the west to Gloucestershire. The largest number
today are in Kent.

Franklins could be immigrants. Benjamin Wolf Franckel had
come to London around 1763 from the Jewish community of Breslau in
present-day Poland. On settling there, he anglicized his name to
Franklin. Perhaps this was suggested by the fact that, in
accordance with local custom back home, his mother as a widow had been
called in official documents “die Fraenckelin.”

He was the forebear of a very prominent Anglo-Jewish family of merchant
bankers (as described in Arthur Frankin’s 1935 book Records of the Franklin Family).
But perhaps the best known of these Franklins was Rosalind Franklin who
as a research chemist was instrumental in the discovery of the
structure of DNA in 1951.

America. Jonathan
Franklin was an early settler in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He was
scalped and killed by Indians there in 1692 and his son David, a sea
captain, drowned in Boston harbor in 1739. However, the family
survived and John Franklin distinguished himself in the Revolutionary
War. A descendant was the automobile pioneer Herbert
. He built his Franklin cars in Syracuse, New
York from
1902 to 1934 when the Great Depression bankrupted him.

Benjamin Franklin’s father Josiah came from Northamptonshire and
had emigrated to Boston with his first wife in 1683. Benjamin
was born in 1705, the youngest son of Josiah’s second marriage, and he
made his mark in Philadelphia, then the largest of the American
cities. He left no line of direct male descendants. It has
only been through his daughter Sarah that there were direct descendants.

Franklins in America outnumber Franklins in England by roughly two to
one. Its popularity in America owed much to Benjamin
Franklin. Franklin county is the name of 24 counties in America,
all but one of them being named after Benjamin Franklin.

It would
appear that many Franklins in America got their name by changing theirs
to Franklin on arrival or soon thereafter. The Jewish
, coming either from Germany or from Russia, would
be a prime example here.

Most Franklins were to be found in the southern states by the mid-19th
century. Generally, as the records of Franklin families from the 18th century
reveal, Franklins moved inland from Virginia and the Carolinas to
Kentucky and Tennessee, and then south into Georgia and Alabama.
A prominent Franklin in the antebellum South was the slave trader Isaac
Franklin. He made his home at his Fairvue plantation in
Tennessee. By the late 19th century the largest number of
Franklins were in Texas.

Notable African American Franklins
include the soul singer Aretha Franklin, born in Tennessee, and Shirley
Franklin who served as mayor of Atlanta from 2002.

Genealogical material on the Franklins in America are to be found in The Franklin Fireplace, a quarterly
publication compiled by Betty Harvey Williams from 1969 to 1983.

and New Zealand.
Joseph Franklin was a poor farm laborer
from Limerick in Ireland who had come to Australia in 1839 with his
family in search of a better life. By 1848 Joseph had acquired a
small herd of cattle and decided to find land of his own by following
the Goodradigbee river upstream to the district now known as
Brindabella, NSW.

“The usual hazards of pioneering
confronted him. Cattle strayed or were speared and eaten by
Aborigines. Tribal fights were common and, during one of Joseph’s
absences, their hut was burnt down from a kitchen fire while his wife
and children were out looking for a lost cow.”

His granddaughter who grew up in this remote outback settlement was the
writer Miles Franklin. Her best-known novel My Brilliant Career, published in
1901, tells the story of an irrepressible teenage feminist growing to
womanhood in rural New South Wales. Its heroine is one of the
most endearing characters in Australian literature and obviously has
much in common with Franklin herself who wrote the novel while still a

Early Franklin immigrants to New Zealand were:

  • Robert Franklin from London. He had arrived in New Zealand
    sometime in the 1840’s, married, and raised a family in Nelson.
  • Lawrence Franklin from Oxfordshire. He had come out with
    his family on the Halcione in
    1874 under the Vogel assistance scheme for farm laborers. They
    settled in Hawkes Bay.


Franklin Miscellany

Franklin Name Distribution in the 1851 UK Census.  The Franklin name was to be found in counties to the
north and west of London.  The largest number in 1851 were in the county of Gloucestershire.

County Percent
Bedfordshire     9
Berkshire    11
Buckinghamshire     9
Gloucestershire    25
Huntingdonshire    10
Elsewhere    36
Total   100

Sir John Franklin’s Disappearance.  Sir John Franklin’s last expedition of Arctic exploration left
England in 1845.  A Royal Navy officer and experienced explorer,
Franklin had served on three previous Arctic expeditions, the latter
two as commanding officer.  This his fourth, undertaken when he
was 59, was meant to traverse the last unnavigated section of the
Northwest Passage.  After a few early fatalities the two ships
became icebound in the Victoria Strait near King William Island in the
Canadian Arctic.  The entire expedition complement, including
Franklin and 128 men, was lost.

Pressed by Franklin’s wife and others, the Admiralty launched
a search for the missing expedition in 1848. Prompted in part by
Franklin’s fame and the Admiralty’s offer of a finder’s reward, many
subsequent expeditions joined the hunt.  Several of these ships
converged off the east coast of Beechey Island where the first relics
of the expedition were found, including the graves of three
crewmen.  In 1854, explorer John Rae, while surveying near the
Canadian Arctic coast southeast of King William Island, acquired relics
of and stories about the Franklin party from the Inuit.  A search
led by Francis McClintock in 1859 discovered a note left on King
William Island with details about the expedition’s fate.

After the loss of the Franklin party, the Victorian media,
notwithstanding the expedition’s failure and the reports of
cannibalism, portrayed Franklin as a hero.  Songs were written
about him and statues of him in his home town, in London, and in
Tasmania credit him with discovery of the Northwest Passage.

Benjamin Franklin’s Inventions.  Benjamin Franklin’s inventions include the Franklin stove, the
bifocal lens, the lightning rod, the odometer (for measuring distance),
and the glass harmonica.

He is also credited with the following firsts:

  • the first political cartoon, which appeared in his Pennsylvania Gazette.
  • the first fire department in any municipality, which he started
    in Philadelphia in 1736
  • the first electrical battery, made in his home in Philadelphia in
  • the first to propose Daylight Savings Time, which he did during
    his time in Paris
  • and the first to promote the virtues of Vitamin C.  It was
    Benjamin Franklin who coined the phrase: “An apple a day keeps the
    doctor away.”

Franklin, Massachusetts was named after
him in 1786.  Benjamin showed his appreciation of the honor by
sending the town a library of 116 volumes .  This formed the
nucleus of America’s first public library.

Franklin Family Lines in the South.  The table below tracks Franklin family lines in the South, starting
with the first Franklin being born in the 1700’s.

Name Date of Birth Particulars
Henry Franklin   1715 born in Amherst county, Virginia
Benjamin Franklin   1750’s resident in Edgefield county,
South Carolina
Owen Franklin   1760 born in Chester district, South
Reuben Franklin   1770 born in Virginia, moved to
Burrell T. Franklin   1770’s married in North Carolina in 1807
Thomas J. Franklin   1770’s born in South Carolina, moved to
Alabama and then to Florida
James Franklin   1774 born in Virginia, moved to
John Franklin   1780’s born in North Carolina and
married there in 1817
Chesterfield Franklin   1780’s born in Virginia and moved to
North Carolina
Job Franklin   1788 later resident in Georgia
Josiah L. Franklin   1794 born in Georgia, moved to Alabama
Mark Franklin   1800 born in Tennessee, moved to

Frankel to Franklin.  The surname Frankel is of German origin.  It may
have resemblances to the English “Franklin,”  deriving from the
word franc meaning
“free.”  The name might also denote someone from Franconia (in
German Franken), a region of SW Germany so-called because of its early
settlement by the Franks.  Or it might just be a Jewish name from
other parts of Central Europe.  It was Jewish immigrants
predominantly who brought the name to America where it quite often
became Franklin.

One family history records the arrival of Solomon
Franklin, a Jewish immigrant in 1860 to Yazoo City in Mississippi from Posen in Prussia.  Other Frankels/Franklins
recorded in the 1880’s in New York came from the Ukraine area.

The Franklin Car.  In 1900, Herbert Franklin met a bright, young bicycle racer named John
Wilkinson who had already designed two prototype automobiles.
Franklin took a ride in Wilkinson’s second prototype, was impressed and
the ride persuaded him to invest $1,100 so that Wilkinson could build a
third prototype which went on to become Franklin’s first production

The Franklin Automobile Company was thus started and the first Franklin
Model A was on the market by 1902.  It holds the distinction of
being the first four-cylinder automobile produced in the United
States.  That year Franklin sold a total of thirteen cars priced
at $1,100 each.  From this modest beginning, he went on to run a
successful car company.  For 28 years, from 1902 to 1930, the
company thrived and during much of that time enjoyed the distinction of
being the city of Syracuse’s largest employer.

However, like other makers of high-priced cars, the Franklin Automobile
Company was badly hit by the Great Depression.  Car production in
1932 was only 1,898 units and in 1931 a mere 1,100 units, down from a
high of 14,000 units in 1929.  The company eventually went
bankrupt in 1934.



Select Franklin Names

  • Benjamin Franklin was one of the founding fathers of the United
    States. He was also a noted writer and printer, scientist,
    inventor, statesman, and diplomat. The Franklin stove was his
    invention and it is named after him.
  • Sir John Franklin was the 19th century British naval officer
    and Arctic explorer who mapped almost two thirds of the northern
    coastline of North America. He died in 1848 in a fruitless
    venture to discover the Northwest Passage.
  • Rosalind Franklin, born into a
    prominent Anglo-Jewish family, was a physical chemist who, together
    with Francis Crick and James Watson, discovered the structure of DNA in 1951.
  • Aretha Franklin was the soul
    and R&B singer known as “the Queen of Soul.”

Select Franklin Numbers

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 40,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Franklin and Like Surnames

These were status positions within the feudal position of that time – usually positions serving noble families, lords of the manor, or in the church.  Here are some of these status position surnames that you can check out.





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