Hanks Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hanks Surname Meaning

Hanks is generally regarded as a Flemish pet-form of John. Most of the early Hanks surname holders seem to have had a Flemish weaver origin. Flemish weavers were to be found in England from the early 14th century. 

There is an older Scandinavian origin, from the Old Norse personal name Anke, which could have resulted in some Hanks surnames. DNA testing has shown that the Hanks surname has at least two separate groupings.

Hanks Surname Resources on The Internet

Hanks Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England
  • to Ireland (Dublin), America and Canada

EnglandThe Hanks surname was said to have been first found in Wiltshire in the west country. Early stories have the name associated with the town of Malmesbury going back to pre-Norman times. William Hanks was a photographer in Malmesbury in the late 19th century and there are still some Hanks in the area.

What is known is that Thomas Hanks, probably from Malmesbury, settled in Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire around 1550. The Hanks name was also evident in the Cotswold villages of a number of Gloucestershire parishes during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, many of these Hanks may have come from Flemish weavers in the area. Colonel Hercules Huncks, born in nearby Stratford, was certainly of Dutch origin.

The Hanks name was still to be found in the area – in villages such as Horsley, where Elizabeth Hanks emigrated from in the 1830’s, and Naunton, where a Hanks family started quarrying Cotswold stone in the 1930’s. James Hanks was an audacious young burglar in Oxford in 1793, but was finally caught, convicted, and transported to Australia.

Ireland. The Hanks in Dublin were a Quaker family that had begun with Hercules Huncks, a colonel with Oliver Cromwell. They operated a mill at Rathangan outside of Dublin and were also the agents for the Dublin and Liverpool Steam Navigation Company.

The 1794 wedding of Jeremiah Hanks and Sarah Lapham brought together the elite of Irish Quaker society. Some of these Hanks emigrated to America in the early 1800’s, principally to Illinois.  There are still Hanks descendants at Rathangan.

America. Benjamin Hanks from Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire came to New England with his wife Abigail in 1699 and settled in Pembroke, Massachusetts. He died in Easton in 1755 “in the ninetieth year of his age as he saith.” Some of the later Hanks were Mormons. They headed west to Salt Lake, Utah in the 1850’s.

Thomas Hanks appeared in Virginia land records in Westmoreland county at an earlier date – in 1654. He also, it is believed, came from Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire. He had been captured by the Royalists at the battle of Cirencester and deported to America as an indentured servant. His line led through Joseph Hanks to Nancy Hanks, the mother of Abraham Lincoln.  Another line through John Hanks led later to the actor Tom Hanks.

Hanks in the South.  The Hanks numbers increased in Virginia during the 18th century and spread over the south. Barbara Baber’s 2009 book Hanks Family Chronicles, an expansion of the earlier Hanks of Virginia and Westward, covered this ground.

Hanks were among the early settlers of Arkansas. One line of Hanks came from Maryland and had been at one time Quakers. Fleetwood Hanks and his two brothers arrived in 1827 and bought land outside Helena in the eastern part of the state where they built their Hanks homestead, Estevan Hall.

Another line was from North Carolina and Nathan Hanks who arrived in Arkansas a few years later. His son, G.P. Hanks, was born in NW Arkansas in 1836 but spent most of his life travelling as an itinerant preacher before returning to Arkansas in the 1880’s.

The Rev. Thomas Hanks was also an itinerant preacher, this time from Tennessee, who came with other Tennessee families to Texas in 1836 and continued to preach there until his death in 1857. Meanwhile another Rev. Thomas Hanks, known as Father Tom, was a Baptist minister at a slightly later date in Christian county, SW Missouri.

Today the largest number of Hanks in America are in Texas. The Rev. R.T. Hanks was a prominent Baptist minister first in Dallas in the 1880’s and then in Abilene. His son Bernard Hanks began in newspapers in Abilene and then in 1920 joined forces with Houston Harte of San Antonio to form the Harte-Hanks newspaper chain.

Canada.  Alfred and Selina Hanks emigrated from Yorkshire to Canada in 1905. Both their sons Bill and Norman enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. Norman died on the Western front in 1918, Bill survived. He moved west to Manitoba in the 1920’s, starting out there as a civil engineer before entering the world of newspapers and local politics.

Tom Hanks’ Family Ancestry

The actor Tom Hanks, born in California in 1958, has a family lineage that extends back to Thomas Hanks, the Englishman who arrived in Virginia as an indentured servant in 1654.  Later Hanks migrated to Kentucky in the early 1800’s and then, seventy years later, made the great trek West to California.

Just click below if you want to read more about this story:

Hanks Surname Miscellany

Hercules Huncks’ Civil War.  Hercules Huncks was born in 1601 near Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, but was said, like his brothers, to have come from the “Low Countries.” His children indeed had decidedly Dutch names.

Huncks was a professional soldier who rose to become Colonel in Cromwell’s army during the Civil War. His main service was in Ireland where he was granted lands in county Cork. His claim to fame came in 1649 when he was commissioned with two other senior officers by Parliament to oversee the formalities and to carry out the execution of the King.

It appears that he refused to sign the acknowledgement of orders which in turn provoked a heated exchange with Cromwell.  That act probably saved his life in 1660 when, come the Restoration, he was arrested and thrown into the Tower.  He survived under the condition that he gave evidence against the other regicides.

By this time Hunks had become part of the emerging Quaker community in Ireland.  He anglicized his name to Hanks. And many of his children married into Cromwellian families in Dublin.

Reader Feedback – Hanks at Rathangan in Ireland.  I am a Hanks descendent. I grew up at Sally Mills in Rathangan, county Kildare. My grandfather, born there in 1884, was Samuel J Hanks. We still own Sally Mills.

From what information we have there were three brothers who came with Cromwell around 1654. One got a castle in Cork, another got Poulaphouca House, and my ancestors got Sally Mills. They were Quakers.

Let’s just say that Quakers weren’t the most popular of people around. They burned down our mill and the house, but my grandfather rebuilt them.  I know a few moved to the US and one of my grandfather’s brothers lived in Glasgow.  For some reason it all centered around Sally Mills.  The Quaker graveyard is still there I think, but the Quaker house is gone.

Annette Owens (annette.owens@gmail.com).

Early Hanks in Gloucestershire Records

Year Parish Hanks name
1540 Buckland Henry Hanks
1570 Stow-on-the-Wold Thomas Hanks
1670 Nether Swell Thomas Hanks
1729 Addlestrop Henry Hanks
1744 Horsley Thomas Hanks
1747 Gloucester Thomas
1749 Little Compton John Hanks
Total of seven sightings before

The Audacity of James Hanks.  The pages of the Oxford Journal during August 1793 were quite full of the activities of a certain James Hanks.

The Journal of Saturday, August 17 reported:

“On Wednesday last, James Hanks, a laborer of this city, was committed to our castle on suspicion of burglariously entering the lodgings of the Principal of New Inn Hall and stealing from there a piece of Irish cloth, three guineas in gold, two pairs of silver buckle shoes, four silver spoons, and divers other articles.  The said James Hanks was further charged with stealing from the dwelling house of Samuel Denton a silver and a metal watch.”

Seven days later came the following report:

“Last Tuesday James Hanks, under confinement in the castle jail in Oxford, found means to make his escape from the felons’ building in the prison by breaking through the grating that enclosed the day room and getting over the boundary wall. A reward of ten guineas has been offered for his capture.

The said James Hanks is twenty two years of age, five feet five inches high, well made, fresh complexion, hazel eyes, brown hair, and was born at Handborough in the county of Oxford.”

Two weeks later the Journal reported:

“The fellow’s folly and audacity has been such that his escape he has been in the service of some gentleman a small distance from here and has been several times in Oxford during the time he has been at large.

Last Tuesday he came to the Cross Inn where he breakfasted and later stopped at Woodstock where he was well known.  On being apprehended he called himself Smith and so boldly confronted those who challenged his person that for a while they became rather doubtful of his identity.”

James Hanks was eventually captured and stood trial at the town assizes in March 1794.  He was sentenced to seven years transportation to Australia.  However, he remained incarcerated in England for more than three years until he departed on the Barwell in September 1797.

He appears to have been a reformed character in Australia. He was appointed in 1811 as one of the three Constables of the town of Sydney.  He was a carter by trade and died in 1842 and the age of 71.

Elizabeth Hanks from Gloucestershire to Australia.  John and Hannah Hanks lived in the late 1700’s in Horsley, Gloucestershire where John was a weaver.  Their daughter Elizabeth was born there in 1803.  She married William Hanks (presumably no direct relation) in 1829 and their son George was born later that year.

However, William died in 1835 and, with her parents also having passed away, Elizabeth decided to emigrate. She departed England in 1839 with her young son on the Bussorah Merchant for Australia. 

Nancy Hanks’ Line.  Nancy Hanks was the mother of Abraham Lincoln.  It was said that he got most of his looks from her and, some say, also his drive and initiative. Genealogists have traced her origins back to Malmesbury in Wiltshire. There are in fact still some Hanks left in this English town.

One line of Hanks settled in Gloucestershire, but were then forced to leave for America during the English Civil War.  Thomas Hanks, the immigrant in Virginia, led to Joseph Hanks and John Hanks of Richmond, Virginia, and – via Joseph – to Nancy Hanks who was born in Virginia in 1784 and said to have been the illegitimate daughter of Lucy Hanks.

Orphaned at the age of nine Nancy followed her relatives to Kentucky where in 1806 she met and married their neighbor Thomas Lincoln.  She died in 1818 of milk sickness.  For many years her graveyard lay abandoned and in disrepair.

The John Hanks of the line above was the forebear of the present-day Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks.

The Hanks and Estevan Hall.  Estevan Hall, probably the oldest structure in Phillips county in eastern Arkansas, is a home whose history has been intertwined with a single family.  Since its construction in the 1820’s, Estevan Hall has been continually owned and occupied by a member of the Hanks family.  The present owner is a great great granddaughter of Fleetwood Hanks, the original owner of Estevan Hall.

Fleetwood was from Virginia but he had been born in Maryland.  His grandfather, William Hanks, had been a vestryman in the Church of England, but became drawn to the Quaker movement. Although Fleetwood himself was not a Quaker, his children seem to have adhered to their great grandfather’s faith.

Fleetwood and his two brothers, James and Millinder, were among the early settlers of Helena, Arkansas.  In 1827 Fleetwood and Millinder bought a ten acre tract on which Estevan Hall now stands. Though the Helena of Fleetwood Hanks’ day was often flooded by the overflowing Mississippi River, the Hanks home was located on a very high ridge and therefore safe from inundation.

James M. Hanks was Fleetwood’s youngest son.  Following the Civil War he was made judge of the First Judicial District of Arkansas.  In 1872 he was elected as a Democrat to the House of Representatives in the 42nd Congress.  From 1865 until his death in 1909, Judge Hanks kept a detailed diary.  Each year’s entry was recorded in one volume and the complete 45 volume set still remains at Estevan Hall. These diaries give a factual and picturesque account of 19th century life in eastern Arkansas.

After Judge Hanks died, the ownership of the house passed to his adopted son, Harry Stephens. Orphaned after his English parents emigrated to the United States, Stephens married Judge Hanks’ great-niece, Johnnie Porter, who was descended from Fleetwood Hanks through his daughter Anne.  With this marriage, another Hanks returned to Estevan Hall.

Reader Feedback – Hanks in Ceylon/Sri Lanka.  There is no reference to the Hanks who emigrated to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and lived mostly in the tea plantation areas of Kandy and N’Eliya.

I am particularly looking for Lucian Hanks and the next generation of Edward Dexter Hanks and William Dexter Hanks.  Edward was born in 1871 and William a little later.  Edward married Angelina Blok in St. Paul’s church, Kandy in 1912.  They had five children between 1913 and 1930.

Antoinette (02.boxes_fluent@icloud.com).

Hanks Names

  • Nancy Hanks Lincoln was the mother of President Abraham Lincoln. 
  • Bernard Hanks helped found the Harte-Hanks newspaper chain in Texas in the 1920’s. 
  • Tom Hanks is a well-known American actor.

Hanks Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 6,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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