Gibbs Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gibbs Surname Meaning

Gilbert – from the Norman Gislebert or Gillebert (meaning “bright noble youth”) – came to England with William the Conqueror. It was recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book in its early form, Gislebertus. The name became popular during the Middle Ages. The pet name was Gib.  

The principal surnames from Gib were Gibbs and Gibson (both meaning son of Gib). The Gibson surname was more common in northern England and in Scotland. However, the variant spelling Gibb was also to be found in Scotland.

Gibbs Surname Resources on The Internet

Gibbs and Gibb Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and Scotland
  • to Ireland, America, Caribs (Barbados), Canada and Australia

England. Gibbs has been a name of southern England, both SW England and SE England.

SW England.  It was said that there were two Gibbs brothers in the late 14th century, one living at Honington in Warwickshire and the other who moved to Devon:

  • the line from Thomas Gibbes at Honington extended to Robert Gibbes who acquired Honington manor at the time of the Reformation and to Thomas Gibbs who sold this estate in 1670. His brother Robert emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1658.
  • while the other line began with John Gibbe at Venton manor in Dartington parish, Devon. His Gibbe descendants settled in Exeter and Clyst St. George.

One line of the Gibbs in Devon was to be found at Topsham on the Exe, beginning with Abraham Gibbs in the mid-1600’s. Later came George Abraham Gibbs, a surgeon in Exeter, and his sons:

  • Sir Vicary Gibbs who was the Lord Justice of the Common Pleas in 1814. He was known for his caustic wit which earned him the nickname of Vinegar Gibbs.
  • and a younger son Antony Gibbs who had the more distinguished line of descent.

Antony started the trading company Antony Gibbs & Sons in 1802. It initially focused on trading in cloth and guano but later became involved in banking, shipping and insurance. After Antony’s death in 1815, the business was run by his sons Henry and William and then by William’s nephew Hucks Gibbs.

  • Hucks Gibbs, ennobled as Baron Aldenham, was also a Director of the Bank of England and its Governor from 1875 to 1877. His son Herbert was made Baron Hunsdall in 1923.
  • Herbert’s son Humphrey moved to Rhodesia in 1928 and served as its Governor in the years preceding independence. Herbert’s grandson Christopher was a well-known antiques dealer in London in the 1960’s, often credited with inventing the phrase “swinging London.”
  • meanwhile the line from Henry’s brother William, who based himself at his Tyntesfeld home in Wraxhall parish, Somerset led – two generations later – to George Gibbs, made Baron Wraxhall in 1928.

William Gibbs established himself at South Perrot in Dorset around the year 1580. His grandson John was an early arrival in the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1619.

Henry Gibbes was the mayor of Bristol in 1524. From his line came the Gibbes plantation owners in Barbados in the 1700’s. Some have John Gibbes who emigrated to Australia in 1834 and was the NSW Collector of Customs as a descendant. But this cannot be proved.

SE England.  An early line in Kent began with Thomas Gibbs who was born in Folkestone in 1460. He was reported to be descended from the Devon Gibbs. Later Gibbs in Kent were to be found at Elmstone and Preston-next-Wingham.

Gybbes was first recorded as a name in Buckinghamshire at Claydon in 1495. The name appeared in nearby Winslow some twenty years later. In the 18th century a Gibbs family was well-known as bell-ringers in Winslow and the Gibbs name was still to be found there in the 20th century.

“In January 1904 there was interred at Winslow churchyard the body of William Heley Gibbs who passed away at the advanced age of eighty-four years. Mr. Gibbs who had resided in the town all his days was the representative of a yeoman family who for at least 500 years have been known and respected in Winslow.”  

Scotland. The early spelling was probably Gib. Robert Gib held Carriber castle near Linlithgow in west Lothian in the 1500’s. He was master of the stables to James V of Scotland.

And there were several generations of Gib  maltmen in Bo’ness, West Lothian before the birth of William Gibb there in 1736. He was one of the first civil engineers in Britain and the forebear of six generations of Gibb civil engineers, to Michael Gibb who unfortunately lost his life in a motor accident in 1970.

More famous were the brothers Barry, Robin, Maurice and Andy Gibb who formed the Bee Gees band, one of the most successful musical groups of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Their family roots were in Lanarkshire. Matthew Gibb left poverty there to enlist in the British army in 1867 and fought in the Afghan wars. His son Hugh moved to Manchester and his son Hugh, the father of the Bee Gee Gibbs, took them to Australia in the 1950’s.

Ireland. Gibbs were Englishmen who came to Ireland. It was said that three Gibbs brothers deserted Cromwell’s army in Tipperary in 1649 after its defeat at Clonmel. They made their home at Lisronagh nearby and started a forge there. This forge grew in reputation and the family business expanded, with part of the family moving to Killarney in the middle of the 18th century.

The Gibbs family of Cork city and Derry was thought to have originated from the Gibbs of Devon. Daniel Gibbs was admitted as a freeman of Cork in 1725 and a later Daniel was a Justice of the Peace and served as deputy Governor of Cork.

America. There were some notable early Gibbs arrivals in New England.

New England.  Thomas Gibbs came on the Truelove in 1627 and is thought to have been the forebear of a long line of seafaring Gibbs at Sandwich on Cape Cod. Giles Gibbs arrived on the Mary and John from Devon in 1632 and moved to Windsor, Connecticut in 1636.

Robert Gibbs meanwhile left his Gibbs home at Honington in Warwickshire for Massachusetts in 1658. He prospered as a merchant in Boston and left a trail of Henry Gibbs that were to be associated with Harvard University. By the early 1800’s the Gibbs affiliation had switched to Yale. Josiah Gibbs was a professor of sacred literature at Yale from 1826 to 1861.

“He is chiefly remembered today as the abolitionist who found an interpreter for the African passengers of the ship Armistad in 1839, allowing them to testify during the trial that followed their rebellion against being sold as slaves.”  

James Gibbs from Somerset was the forebear of the Gibbs of Rhode Island, arriving there around 1720. His grandson George, based in Newport, was a grain merchant who founded the shipping firm of Gibbs and Channing. At one time the firm owned seventy-five vessels sailing out of Newport.

Born into a rich family, his son George devoted his life to the collection of minerals; while his son George became known for his expertise in Native American customs and languages. The family story was told in George Gibbs’ 1933 book The Gibbs family of Rhode Island.

Virginia.  There were probably two John Gibbs who arrived in Jamestown – the first who came on the Supply in 1619 and the second on the Abigail in 1621. The latter, but perhaps not the former, survived the Indian massacre in 1622 and resided at Jordan’s Journey, later Charles City. John’s descendants were through his son Gregory.

Elsewhere.  John Nicholas Gibbs came to Maryland from Germany in 1747. He later settled in North Carolina where he fought on the Patriot side in the Revolutionary War. After the war he settled in Knox county, Tennessee. Four generations of the Gibbs family lived at his homestead between 1792 and 1913.

Caribbean. There were several Gibbes or Gibbs families in Barbados by the 1630’s. Philip, William and Henry Gibbes were from Bristol and their descendants became plantation owners on the island. Robert Gibbes was from Kent and his son Robert served as the colonial Governor of South Carolina in 1710.

African American Gibbs came to South Carolina from Barbados as slaves in the early 19th century. Four brothers – Anthony, Fortune, Moses, and Wetus – grew up as slaves and were emancipated when they were still young men.

Canada. Zacharias Gibbs was a Loyalist plantation owner from South Carolina who, after the British abandoned Charleston in 1782, fled to Jamaica before making it to Nova Scotia two years later. However, he disappeared in 1792, apparently lost at sea while enroute to Ireland. Another Loyalist, this time from Rhode Island, was Jeremiah Gibbs. He took the Oath of Allegiance at Missisquoi Bay in Quebec in 1795.

Thomas and Caroline Gibbs from Devon came to Quebec in 1819 and later made their home at Oshawa on Lake Ontario. Their sons Thomas and William were prominent businessmen there who became involved in Ontario politics. Their uncle Philip back in Devon joined them in Oshawa in 1859.

Australia. Thomas and Elizabeth Gibbs arrived in South Australia from Hampshire around 1840. Thomas farmed at Mount Benson. Elizabeth died in 1851 and Thomas married Mary Irving four years later. There may have been five children under the first marriage and nine under the second. So the descendants were numerous.

New Zealand.  Isaac Gibbs, also from Hampshire, came to New Zealand on the Bolton in 1842 and farmed in the Nelson area. He died in 1903. A descendant Baden Gibbs was a world champion axeman in log-chop competitions.

Gibbs Surname Miscellany

Gibbs and Gibson.  The Gibbs name is more to be found in the south of England, the Gibson name more in the north and in Scotland.  The Victorian surname genealogist Henry Guppy commented:

“The Gibbs name is confined to the southern half of England.  In the northern counties its place is taken by Gibson. Its principal homes are in Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.”

The following was the divide in the 1891 census.

1891 Census (‘000’s) Gibbs Gibson
Scotland    0.1    11.4
North of England    1.0    14.8
Reast of England   14.5    12.4
Total   15.6    38.6

Gibsons had moved south. Gibbs was rarely to be found in the north. But Gibb was in Scotland.  The Gibb count in the 1891 census in Scotland was 4,470.

The Gibbes at Venton Manor in Devon.  Three generations of the Gibbes family lived at Venton manor, from the 1470’s to the 1530’s.  They were notorious local insurgents who maintained a small private army in the first half of the 16th century.  On several occasions they attacked their neighbors, often driving away stock and purloining valuables.  On one occasion they attacked the nearby village of Rattery, besieging the church and threatening to kill the rector.

For this and other misdemeanors they were brought before the Court of Star Chamber in London several times.

The Gibbs Bell-ringers of Winslow in Buckinghamshire.  In the year 1755 there was the following entry of the celebrated Gibbs family of bell-ringers in the village of Winslow in Buckinghamshire.

“It is a remarkable circumstance that six brothers named Gibbs were constant ringers on New Year’s Day – from the year 1747 up to the period when John Gibbs and five other brothers succeeded them and who have continued to ring in like manner on New Years’ Day.  The two generations completed 70 years in this annual performance.

The following are the names of the last six brothers, ringers, who annually supped at Mr. Lowndes’ (the squire of the parish) on the first night of the New Year:

  • Thomas Gibbs, Farmer
  • Robert Gibbs, Maltster
  • Stephen Gibbs, Butcher
  • William Gibbs, Glover
  • Richard Gibbs, Currier
  • and John Gibbs, Maltster.”

A subsequent entry relating to the last-named John Gibbs stated that he was remarkable for minute hand-writing, having written the “Belief” in the compass of a sixpence and the Lord’s Prayer in the compass of a silver penny.

The Start of Antony Gibbs & Sons.  Antony Gibbs undertook an apprenticeship as a wool merchant in Exeter, learnt Spanish, and was in business on his own in 1778 at the age of 22.  He married into wealth, his bride being Dorothea Barnetta Hucks. However, over-sanguine attitudes were his undoing and the successful business he had built up in Spain crashed in 1789.

He then left Devon for Spain to rebuild his life and business there. He soon built up business and partnerships in Cadiz, Malaga and Lisbon.  With the help of his sons, William and Henry, business thrived and in 1805 Antony chartered a Spanish ship to take British goods stranded in war-torn Spain to Lima in South America, seat of the Spanish Viceroy. Antony planned to found the London house Anthony Gibbs & Sons with the profits of this Lima venture.

Business between London and Cadiz put the firm on a solid footing and Antony left their Exeter base and took a series of houses in London.  The mainstay of this business was the guano trade with South America.

  • “Mr. Gibbs made his dibs
  • Selling the turds of foreign birds.”

was the city jingle.

Antony died in 1815 and it was to his sons Henry and William that the rise of Antony Gibbs & Sons was really due.

John Nicholas Gibbs aka Johann Nickel Gibbs from Germany.  The family of Johann’s grandfather, Peter Gibbs, were originally Scottish, going to England with the Stuart Kings.  They were Royalists and left to save their own heads when Cromwell cut off the head of King Charles I in 1649.  They settled in Germany in the village of Wallruth in the Duchy of Baden.

In 1747, at the age of fourteen, Johann became offended with his father and left for America, with 30 guineas in his pocket which the captain of the ship told him was just half of his fare across the ocean.  So Johann sold his time to pay for the other half.  After working off this debt, he joined the English army and served five years in the French and Indian War. 

Isaac Gibbs in New Zealand.  The following entry about Isaac Gibbs was to be found in the 1906 edition of The Cyclopedia of New Zealand for the area of Nelson, Marlborough, and Westland.

“Isaac Gibbs was one of the early pioneers who came out to New Zealand when it was but a waste and who, by dint of energy and perseverance, succeeded in converting it into a fertile land.

He was born in Hampshire in the year 1818, and came to New Zealand on the Bolton which arrived in Nelson in 1842.  After a sojourn of about seven years in the town of Nelson, where many hardships were encountered, he went further inland and lived at Brightwater for five years.  After that he resided at Wakefield where he had a freehold farm of 630 acres.

In his later years Mr. Gibbs, though still hale and hearty, enjoyed a well-earned retirement, the farm being managed by his second son Joseph who lived on the property with his wife and family.

Isaac Gibbs never took any part in public affairs, but he helped to put down the Maori rising after the Wairau massacre and was one of those who nightly watched the Maori camp at very great risk to their lives.”

Gibbs Names

  • James Gibbs, born in Scotland, was one of Britain’s most influential architects in the first half of the 18th century. 
  • Antony Gibbs from Devon founded Antony Gibbs & Sons in 1802 and was the forebear of a prominent Gibbs mercantile, banking and political family of the 19th and 20th centuries. 
  • May Gibbs was an Australian illustrator, cartoonist and children’s author, best known for her book Snugglepot and Cuddlepie which appeared in 1918. 
  • Barry, Robin, Maurice and Andy Gibb formed the Bee Gees band, one of the most successful musical groups of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Gibbs Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Gibbs and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.





Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *