Hanson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hanson Surname Meaning

“Son of Hans” was the basis for the surname Hansen found in Denmark, Norway and in the German states of Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg that are closest to Denmark. Hansson is the Swedish spelling. Both names have 20th century Prime Ministers – H.C. Hansen of Denmark in the 1950’s and Per Albin Hansson of Sweden in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

Son of Hann” was thought to have been the basis for the English surname Hanson. Hann, a popular personal name in Yorkshire in the 13th century, could have been the abbreviated form of the Hebrew name Hannah.  The names Hanson and Hansen both came to America.

Hanson Surname Resources on The Internet

Hanson and Hansen Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire) and from Norway, Sweden and Denmark
  • to America, Canada and Australia

The Scandinavian population of Hansens and Hanssons in Denmark, Norway and Sweden is approximately 260,000 today. It is estimated that some 15,000 made the journey to America, with the peak years of migration being in the late 1800’s. On arrival a large number anglicized their name to Hanson. Many did remain Hansen.

The Hanson and Hansen population in America is close to 95,000 today. Some of the early Hansons had come from England.

England.  The Hanson surname has its origins in Yorkshire, near the town of Halifax. The line began with local landowner Roger de Rastrick. His grandson John, the son of Henry, became known as Henson which later became Hanson. Later lines are thought to include:

  • the Hansons of Normanton where Hanson House, a timber-frame house of the 15th century, still stands. Sir Levett Hanson, a childhood friend of Horatio Nelson, was of this line.
  • Christopher Hanson recorded at Arthington in Addle parish in 1640. He was the forebear of the Hanson traders in the Levant during the 19th century.
  • and Thomas Hanson, one of the early settlers in Dover, New Hampshire in 1658.

Mary Hanson, a Yorkshire farmer’s wife, started a horse-drawn haulage business for wool in Huddersfield in 1848. This family business continued with Robert Hanson until the 1940’s. His son, James Edward Hanson, was to prove himself a master of the arts of corporate takeover and asset-stripping. He died as Lord Hanson in 2004, one of the most admired businessmen of the Thatcher era.

The Captain Thomas Hansen who led the Christian missionaries to New Zealand in 1814 probably came from a Danish community that had settled in London after the Great Fire in 1666.

America.  Despite the myths of his Swedish origin, John Hanson – the acting President of the Continental Congress at the time of the Revolutionary War – was of English ancestry. His grandfather, also named John, had been transported to Maryland as an indentured servant in 1661 and sold to Edward Keene of Calvert county, Maryland. The family had then grown wealthy and John’s father, Samuel, was the owner of the Mulberry Grove plantation in Charles county, Maryland.

John’s nephew Samuel Hanson fought in the Revolutionary War. His son, Judge Samuel, migrated to Kentucky in 1807 and was the father of four sons who fought in the Civil War, one Charles a colonel in the Union army who survived the war and another Roger, known as “Old Flintlock,” a general on the Confederate side who died on the battlefield in 1863.

Scandinavian Influx.  The main influx of Hansons and Hansens from Scandinavia began in the 1870’s, principally into Minnesota and other states of the Upper Midwest.

Iver and Olina Hanson came from Norway to Danvers, Minnesota in the 1870’s. Like a number of others, they later migrated north to Manitoba in Canada, in their case to Clanwilliam, when land became available for homesteading in 1903.

“This Hanson family was Lutheran and wanted one of their sons to become a pastor. The youngest was chosen for this career. He attended the Lutheran seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota for two years. Not cut out to be a pastor, he left the seminary and became a farmer. That was not his forté either. He was very gregarious and became a salesman for farm equipment instead.”  

Olof Hanson emigrated with his family from Sweden in 1875 and also came to Minnesota. Although he was deaf he was able to enroll and graduate from Gallaudet University. In 1895 he opened his own architectural practice in Faribault, being possibly America’s first deaf architect.

Hans Thomsen Hansen came to Minden, Nebraska from Denmark in 1889 at the age of just nineteen. His eldest son, Hans Lloyd Hansen, was born five years later. By this time the family had given up the Danish custom of changing the last name and for Hans Lloyd it was appropriate for him to have Hansen as the last name. Hans the father lived to be 75, the owner and operator of a farm implement business, and died in Minden in 1945.

Today, as a result of this immigration, the Hanson and Hansen names are mainly names of the American West. Most Hansons are to be found in Minnesota, most Hansens in California.

Canada.  John Hanson, a descendant of Thomas Hanson (an early immigrant to New Hampshire), served with the British army in Quebec during the French and Indain War and afterwards moved to New Brunswick – first to Chamcook island and later to Bocabec. His descendants are numerous in New Brunswick.

The Scandinavian presence in Canada did not really appear until the early 1900’s with the opening up of new land in the Canadian West under the Dominions Land Act of 1902 (when free farms for the million were advertised). Around this time:

  • Hans Hanson and his family came north from Minnesota to Clanwilliam in Manitoba
  • Abe Hanson, also from Minnesota, settled in the Swan River area of Manitoba
  • the brothers Helmer and Ellert Hanson from Iowa settled in Lajord, Saskatchewan
  • and Christoph Hansen from Schleswig-Holstein in Germany also came to Saskatchewan.

The Hanson brothers were the first to introduce successfully introduce machines for swathing and swath threshing the wheat crop in the Canadian West, thereby reducing harvesting costs.

Australia and New Zealand.  Two Danish Hansens got gold fever in Victoria:

  • according to the family story, Frederick Hansen (who came from a Danish family in northern Germany) jumped ship in Melbourne in 1855 so that he could seek his fortune in the goldfields of Victoria. The riches never materialized. But he married and raised a large family on the Upper Yarra.
  • another Dane with gold on his brain was Johan Hansen who arrived in 1858 and first tried to get lucky in Ballarat and then in New Zealand. John Hansen, as he became known, was one of the early settlers in Thames, North Island where he started a general store.

Andrew and Ephraim Hansen were immigrants from Sweden who came to Melbourne in the 1860’s. Ephraim built his home in 1899 on property that became known as Ambleside Park. His house has been preserved by the Australian National Trust.

Hanson Surname Miscellany

Hansen and Hansson in Scandinavia.  Hansen is the main spelling in Denmark and Norway, Hansson in Sweden. The following are the approximate numbers there today.

Numbers (000’s) Hanson Hansen Hansson
Sweden     5    50
Norway    75
Denmark   210
Total   290    50

Hansen and Hanson in America.  The numbers below show the emigrants to America according to shipping records and the rough numbers in America today.

Numbers (000’s) Hanson Hansen Hansson
Sweden    1.9    1.8    0.6
Norway    0.9    2.7
Denmark    1.0    6.3
Total    3.8   10.8    0.6
In America Today
Total    42    52    –

Note:  In addition to the Scandinavian Hanson/Hansen arrivals shown above, there was another 4.0 from Germany and 0.4 from England.

The Danes were the numerically the largest in their home country.  But a greater share of the Swedes emigrated, followed by the Norwegians, with the Danes lagging behind.

Hanson Origins in Yorkshire.  According to John Watson’s 1775 book The History of Halifax, the earliest known progenitor of the Hansons in Yorkshire was a certain Roger de Rastrick.  He lived around the year 1250 and was apparently a person of some importance. He owned land in various places in Yorkshire, England, Rastrick being one of his estates.

John de Rastrick had a son Henry, who in turn had a son John. In those days, when only Christian names were in use, the two Johns of Rastrick were doubtless confused.  In order to distinguish them, the younger John became Henry’s son, shortened to Hen’s son and Henson, or Hanson as it was spelled later.  John married Alicia, the daughter and heiress of Hugh de Woodhouse in neighboring Eland.

In T.W. Hanson’s 1920 book The Story of Old Halifax a second Hanson surfaces.  But this William Hanson of Halifax, the son of Henry of Heaton, had no kinship with the Hansons of Rastrick who were living at the same time (around the 1360’s).

Captain Thomas Hansen in New Zealand.  The Rev. Samuel Marsden who accompanied Captain Thomas Hansen to bring the first missionaries to New Zealand in 1814 always referred to him as an Englishman.

He had in fact been born in London in 1762.  At the time there was a sizeable Scandinavian community living in London, centered around Well Close Square in Wapping.  They had come to London after the Great Fire in London in 1666, being the end of a supply line bringing timber from Northern Europe to rebuild the town.

Hansen and his family had come to Australia in 1807 as free settlers and acquired land near to Parramatta and near to land owned by the Rev. Samuel Marsden who was Chief Chaplain for New South Wales.  That was probably how Hansen and Marsden struck up an acquaintance and how Hansen, a master mariner, came to be enlisted to take Marsden to New Zealand.

When the brig Active left Port Jackson in November 1814, the entire Hansen family of three generations was on board.  The Active also carried what was described as a ‘Noah’s Ark’ by Nicholas; horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, poultry, cats and dogs intended for the mission settlement.   Three days before Christmas the brig dropped anchor in the small cove near Rangihoua on the east coast of North Island, the home of chief Ruatara.  While surrounded by canoes from every direction, the guns of the Active were fired as a salute to Ruatara and his people.

The Hansens remained in New Zealand at Oihi on the Bay of Islands and left a family there. In all there were 22 grandchildren of Thomas Hansen born in New Zealand between 1815 and 1837.  Eric Hansen’s 2014 book The Founding Family is a history of the Hansen family in New Zealand.

The Swedish Myth About John Hanson.  In 1876 George A. Hanson had written an article entitled Old Kent: The Eastern Shore of Maryland and created the hoax story that the immigrant John Hanson was one of four brothers who had come to the New Sweden colony along the Delaware river in 1642.

The four brothers’ father, said to have been an Englishman who had married into Swedish royalty, had died in the Battle of Lutzen, fighting next to King Gustavus Adolphus.  It was supposed that these brothers had been sent to the New Sweden colony by Queen Christina of Sweden.

The birth of Hans Hanson was recorded in the colony in 1646.  But there was no connection with the Hanson family of Charles county, Maryland. 

Hansen and Hanson in Selected States in the West.  The table below shows the approximate numbers of Hansons and Hansens in selected states in the Upper Midwest and on the West Coast today.

State (000’s) Hanson Hansen
Upper Midwest
Minnesota    9.2    4.8
Wisconsin    4.9    4.5
Illinois    2.4    1.4
West Coast
Utah    0.8    5.9
Washington    3.2    4.3
Oregon    1.6    2.1
California    5.1    8.6

The data would indicate that Hansons have generally stayed put more in the Midwest; while more Hansens headed to the West Coast in the 20th century.  The Utah numbers may suggest a number of Danish Hansen conversions to the Mormon faith.

The Death of John Ernest Hansen in New Zealand in 1927.  The following article appeared in the Thames Star after the death of John Ernest Hansen on October 3, 1927.

“The death of John Ernest Hansen occurred at his late residence, Hauraki Terrace, Parawai on Saturday, in his 89th year.  The late Mr. Hansen was a very old and highly respected resident of Thames, having arrived with the early pioneers.

Born in Denmark he came out to Victoria, Australia in 1858 and remained there until 1861, working in the mines at Bendigo and on the construction works of the Victorian railways.  After leaving Australia he came to New Zealand and took part in the Gabriel’s Gully and other Otago gold rushes.

After spending six years there he went in the later part of 1867 to Paeroa and in the following year came to Thames, where he started a grocery business at Shortland.  This he carried on until 1900 when it was taken over by his sons until 1911.

The late Mr. Hansen took a lively interest in all public affairs, being a member of the Thames Borough Council in 1879, the Parawai School Committee and Thames Licensing Committee for some time.  During the last 15 years the late Mr Hansen has lived in retirement at Parawai.  He is survived by his widow, three sons and four daughters.”

Hanson Names

  • John Hanson was the acting President of the Continental Congress at the time of the Revolutionary War.   
  • Roger Hanson was a Confederate general during the Civil War, known as “Old Flintlock.” 
  • James Edward, Lord Hanson was one of the most admired English businessmen of the Thatcher era, a master of the arts of corporate takeover and asset-stripping.

Hanson/Hansen Numbers Today

  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 100,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota)
  • 33,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Hanson and Like Surnames

These were originally Scandinavian patronymic surnames, with conversion usually from the Scandinavian “-sen” and “-sson” to the American “-son” on arrival or soon afterwards.  Here are some of the Scandinavian surnames that you can check out.





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Written by Colin Shelley

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