Harding Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Harding Surname Meaning

The Old English Harding or Hearding, meaning hardy, brave or strong, has provided the basis for the surnames Harding, Hardin, and Harden. The suffix “ing” typically means “son of” in Old English.  Harding is mainly English in origin, Hardin and Harden Irish or Scots. Harding sometimes lost its “g” in its travels through Ireland and America.

Some believe that the Hardings may also have a Viking connection, being descended from a Viking race from Hardanger in Norway which had settled in Derbyshire.

Harding Surname Resources on The Internet

Harding and Hardin Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England and Scotland (Border)
  • to Ireland (Huguenot), America, Canada, West Africa, Australia and New Zealand

England. Hardings in England are mainly to be found in the west country.

Somerset. Harding was recorded in the Domesday Book as landowners in Somerset. The name fitz Harding appears in Bristol records from the early 1100’s.  Robert fitz Harding was a wealthy Bristol merchant later in the century and a favorite of King Henry II (his name is still commemorated by a pub in the town). His family held the Berkeley estate on the Severn river.

Wiltshire.  Another early Harding line – as traced by Nicholas Royal in his 1970 book Harding Family: A Short History and Narrative Pedigree – was to be found in Wiltshire from the 13th century. These Hardings were:

  • first the “de Hardenes,” foresters of Great Bedwyn
  • then the “Hardinges,” tenants of Huish Manor (Richard Hardinge was Groom to the Bedchamber of Charles II)
  • and finally the “Hardings,” yeoman farmers at Pewsey.

These farming Hardings produced some remarkable offspring in the early 19th century; eldest son Joseph known as “the father of cheddar cheese;” younger sons Richard and Isaac, missionaries to Jamaica and Australia; and a daughter Mary who “had a life of much sadness” but raised that prominent Victorian clergyman the Rev. Henry Vowles.

West of England.  The Harding name remains common in the west country and in neighboring counties.  Hardings of the 20th century have included Gilbert Harding (born in Hereford), an irascible TV personality of the 1950’s, and John Harding (born in Dorset), an English field marshal who governed Malta during the last days of empire.

Elsewhere.  A Harding family was long-established at King’s Newton and nearby Bonsall in Derbyshire.  Anthony Harding from Hoptown in Derbyshire, born in 1762, came to London and was said to have invented there the idea of the department store in the 1790’s.  Meanwhile Hardings from the village of Packington in Leicestershire date from the 1650’s.

Harding was for many years a name of the northeast. Henry Harding is said to have fought against the Scots and received, as reward, land and a coat of arms. This Harding seat was at Beadnell near Sunderland. John Hardyng of this family was the author of Hardyng’s Chronicles, written in the 1420’s and published in 1543. These Hardings were prominent in the region in medieval times.

But little of the name remains there now. The last descendant appears to have been a Robert Harding who kept the Golden Lion inn in Newcastle in the early 19th century.

Scotland.  Harden is a Scottish border name, the first record being John de Hardene of Roxburghshire who signed the Ragman’s Roll in 1296.  The Scotts of Harden were one of the freebooting border families.

Ireland.  English Hardings migrated to Ireland in the 17th century where they settled in Tipperary and east Meath.  Henry Harding of Harding Grove was a major in the Limerick militia in the 1790’s.

Hardins were to be found in county Armagh. The name here dates from the early 1700’s. Sir Henry Hardin was the county’s High Sheriff in the mid-19th century.

America. In America, we find a mix of the Harding, Hardin, and Harden names. The Hardings would be mainly of English stock, the Hardins and Hardens of Scots, Irish (including possibly Hargans as well), or of Dutch or Huguenot origin (some Hardins in Virginia being descended from Martin Hardewyn or Hardouin, an early arrival in Staten Island).

The Hardins almost match the Hardings in their numbers in America. By the end of the 19th century, the Hardings were still mainly to be found in the northeast, New England, New York, and Pennsylvania.  By contrast, the Hardin clusters were (and still are) in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Texas.

Harding.  The first Harding immigrant to New England is believed to be Richard Harding, who is said to have left Weymouth in Dorset with his family on the Charity in 1623.  Later, Abraham Harding, a glover and planter from Essex, settled in Medfield.

Hardings can also be found from an early date in Barnstable on Cape Cod. Nathaniel Harding was born there in 1676. Barnstable was impoverished by the Revolutionary War and the Hardings – the families of John, Archelaus, Jonathan and Nathaniel – moved to Maine.

The pedigree of Warren Harding from Ohio, the twenty third President of the United States, has been traced back to these early New England immigrants (although some mischievous press comment suggested that he also had mixed blood from a sea captain of Afro-Caribbean descent).

The Harding name also surfaced in Virginia. Thomas Harding arrived there from London around 1660. Later Hardings were to be found at Tuckahoe Creek and in Goochland county.

At the conclusion of the Revolutionary War Giles Harding left his Goochland farm for new lands in Tennessee. His son John migrated further south to Arkansas where he started up the Belle Meade cotton plantation. John’s grand-daughter Selene married the former Confederate General William Jackson there in 1868.  The couple took over the running of the plantation until General Jackson’s death in 1903.

Hardin.  Hardins also arrived.  Martin Hardin (or Hardewyn) came to Virginia from New York sometime in the late 1600’s.  His descendant Colonel John Hardin fought in the Revolutionary War and made his name afterwards in Indian wars, but was killed in 1792 during an Indian ambush:

  • his son Martin was the US Senator for Kentucky in 1818
  • while his grandson John J. Hardin was a US Congressman from Illinois who was killed in 1847 at the Battle of Buena Vista during the Mexican-American War.

The Hardin counties in Kentucky, Tennessee, Iowa, and Texas are testimony to this Hardin pioneer spirit. Many Hardins were tough and sometimes violent men.

William Hardin, for instance, fled Tennessee to escape a murder charge. He ended up in Texas, an early settler there and later a respected judge. However, his nephew, John Wesley Hardin, turned into one of the notorious gunfighters and outlaws of the Old West.

Canada.  George and William Harding, believed to have been brothers, were Loyalists who left New York for St. John, New Brunswick in 1783.  William became a sea captain there.  His son Thomas ran a tannery business and involved himself in local politics.  This Harding line was covered in Brenda Caron’s 1980 book Harding Genealogy.   

Africa. Perhaps the most interesting Harding outpost has been in Sierra Leone.  The Krios of Sierra Leone were Africans taken by Europeans who then returned. The earliest Harding on record dates back to 1818 when Ali Eisami Gazimabe was renamed William Harding. Among the present day number are George Harding, the former dean of St. George’s Cathedral in Freetown, and Prince Alex Harding, a controversial local politician.

Australia.  James Harding had emigrated with his family to Western Australia in 1846. He joined a team to explore the Kimberly region in 1864 but he and two of his colleagues were murdered in the outback by Australian Aborigines. The event caused a national outrage.

The Harding river in Kimberly is named after another early explorer in the region, John Harding.

New Zealand.  The Rev. Isaac Harding went out from Wiltshire in the 1850’s as a missionary in the Victorian goldfields. He later moved onto South Island, New Zealand. A stern Methodist, it was said that he was stoned from one town and stopped the cricketers’ Sunday play in another by pocketing the ball.

The three Harding brothers who came to New Zealand in the 1850’s from Southampton were followers of Emanuel Swedenborg and were strong supporters of the Total Abstinence Society:

  • John became a sheep farmer at Napier while Thomas and William made their homes in Wanganui.
  • Thomas was a printer and a bookbinder and his son Coupland achieved more success as a journalist and typographer.
  • William fared well for a while as a photographer but ended his life in poverty.

Harding Surname Miscellany

Hardings and Vikings.  The Vikings had acquired settlements in the ninth century in Scotland and England.  It is said that it is from these Vikings that the name Harding may have emerged.  The late Lord Harding, scion of the Harding family in Derbyshire, claimed to be descended from Heardingas, a Viking who had settled there.

There is a story about King Harding who ruled Hardanger in what is now Norway.  During an attack on eastern England, the king was captured by the English and put in a prison tower.

The Hardangers liked their king and decided to rescue him.  They equipped a Viking ship, called Hardinggeita, to set sail to England to set their king free.  They painted one side of the ship white and the other black.  When they approached the English shore they did so with the white side facing the shore.

They managed to get into the prison tower and switched the king with an old man who they dressed up to look like the king.  Then they set sail and made their escape, but with the black side of the ship facing the shore.

John Hardyng.  One of the Beadnell Hastings was a person of some note in the Middle Ages.  This was John Hardyng, born in 1378, the author of what are now called Hardyng’s Chronicles.  He was Lord of the East March of England, he fought with Harry Hotspur at Hamildon Hill and Cokelew, and was at one time Constable of Warkworth castle.

He was afterwards on the Continent and wrote an account of the march which preceded the battle of Agincourt.  The Chronicle was first printed in 1543 and was republished in 1812.  Hardyng himself died about 1470. 

The Will of William Harding of Aylesbury.  William Harding, described as a yeoman of Aylesbury, died in 1718.  It is believed that he was a bachelor and the eldest of seven children born to William and Elizabeth Harding.  A charity, which has lasted to this day, arises from his will which was proven on February 19, 1719.

His will made provision for Sarah, widow of his only brother John who had predeceased him, and after her death, all his lands in Aylesbury, Wilton, Broughton, Bierton, Stoke Mandeville, and Princes Risborough were vested with five trustees.

The trustees were instructed to:

  • spent some forty shillings yearly for the buying of coats on St. Thomas’s Day for the poor men and women inhabiting Walton,
  • that on the first Monday of May and November each year the trustees select children of poor parents in Walton and Aylesbury to be apprenticed to persons who were “honest and of good morals and well skilled in their trades,”
  • and buy clothes for the same poor boys and girls and apprenticeship payments not to exceed £10 per annum
    for any child.

His house, still standing on the terrace opposite Walton Pond, was sold in the 1920’s to the Anglo-Swiss Milk Company and was the residence of its manager, according to an article in The Bucks Herald on October 4, 1929.

The article also stated: “This is an extremely useful charity and many successful tradesmen and craftsmen in Aylesbury have had their start in business life by being apprenticed to a trade through this charity.”

Hardin Counties in the US.  There are Hardin counties in Kentucky, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, and Texas.

Kentucky: formed in 1793 and named for John Hardin, a Continental army officer during the American Revolution.  Afterwards he was a Kentucky militia commander in the Northwest Indian war and was killed in a skirmish in 1792.  It is thought that the town of Hardin in present-day Ohio stands on the very spot where Hardin was killed.

Illinois: formed in 1839 and, like Kentucky, named after John Hardin.

Iowa: formed in 1851 and named after Colonel John J. Hardin.  He was an Illinois colonel in the Black Hawk War later killed in the Mexican War.

Tennessee: formed in 1819 and named after Colonel Joseph Hardin, a state legislator.  He had participated in the American Revolutionary War, was given the rank of Colonel for his services, and was awarded a land grant in Tennessee.

Texas: named after a family from Liberty County, Texas.  AB Hardin, a farmer and rancher, had moved there from Tennessee in 1825.

The Diary of William Harding.  William Harding’s diary began as follows:

“I was born in Bideford in the county of Devon on November 5 in the year of our Lord 1793.  My brother George was born on October 3, 1793.  My father was a blacksmith by trade and kept the Torrington turnpike gate.”

After the death of his first wife, Harding left Devon in 1818 for Newfoundland where Samuel Cook and his brother William had a business in Placentia Bay.  Two years later he married Mary Brushett, a servant girl who worked for the Cooks.  After living with Mary’s step-father for a while, they moved to Little Salmonier In  Burin Bay “to get a farm and some cattle.”

William Harding kept up a diary until his death in 1877 at the age of 83.  This diary provides an interesting view of daily events in rural Newfoundland and of Harding’s interactions with his neighbors.  It was transcribed by Harding’s great great granddaughter into three notebooks and was deposited in the archives of the Memorial University of Newfoundland at St. John’s.

Joseph Harding, the Father of Cheddar Cheese.  The Victoria County History of Somerset described Joseph Harding’s contribution as follows:

“In 1856 the Joseph Harding system of cheese-making was made public as the result of a deputation of Scotchmen coming south to investigate the originators of the system.

To Mrs Harding, Marksbury, and her nephew, Joseph Harding of Compton Dando, is due the institution of a definite procedure in cheese-making for mere rule of thumb.  For twenty years the Harding system was the model, though nearly every maker had his or her variation in detail.

The main feature, as we view it now, was the insistence on absolute cleanliness.  The milkers were not allowed to bring the milk in direct from the farmyard.  They had to pour it into a receiver outside the dairy wall, whence by means of a pipe it was conveyed inside to the cheese tub.

Thus was founded the real Cheddar cheese of modern commerce.  The name of Harding must go down with it for all time.  Indeed, he must be rightly termed the first instructor in Cheddar cheese-making.”

James Harding Killed in the Australian Bush.  In 1864, an expedition to Camden Harbor was undertaken to test the claims of a convict who said that he had found gold there many years earlier.  No gold was found.  But large areas of good pastoral land was discovered around Roebuck Bay.  Consequently a public company was formed to establish a chain of stations in the area.  James Harding was chosen as its manager.

In October that year, he joined the advance party that sailed to the area to set up a base camp.  The following month, Harding, together with Frederick Panter and William Goldwyer, set out from the base camp to explore the area around La Grange Bay.  The expedition did not return.  Eventually a search party was sent under Maitland Brown to find them.  After much search, they found the three men dead, having been clubbed and speared to death by natives.  Harding and Panter were apparently killed in their sleep.

Their bodies were returned to Perth where thousands of spectators attended their public funeral.  In 1913, a monument to Brown and the three murdered men, the Explorers’ Monument, was unveiled in Fremantle.

President Harding’s Pedigree.  Was Harding black?  The rumors are there; but the evidence is not – despite the many gaps in his family tree that are unusual for an American president, typically the most studied for their genealogical footings.

In 1920, while Harding was running for President, a Republican newspaper in Dayton refuted the allegations of “mixed blood” with its own version of Harding’s family tree.  The report placed Harding into a long line of English, Dutch, and Scots Irish settlers.

Amateur genealogist George Larson has posted one version of Harding’s family tree on the web that, he says, draws from earlier printed genealogies.  It suggests that – far from being a sea captain of Afro-Caribbean descent – Harding’s great great grandfather Amos Harding instead was descended from two settlers with clear New England pedigrees, Abraham Harding Jr. and Mercy Vibber.  Larson did say in a phone interview that he had “never looked into the ethnicity of any of Harding’s ancestors” and added that “the incomplete data on his family tree” made it “possible” that he had African ancestry.

Harding and Hardin Names

  • Robert Fitz Harding was a wealthy merchant of Bristol in the late 1100’s. 
  • John Hardyng of the Beadnell Hardyngs was the author of Hardyng’s Chronicles, written in the 1420’s and published in 1543. 
  • John Hardin was a pioneer and Indian fighter killed in 1792 in what is now Hardin county, Kentucky. 
  • Henry Hardinge was Governor General of India and commander in chief of the British forces during the disastrous Crimean War. 
  • Warren Harding was the twenty third President of the United States. 
  • Garrett Hardin from Texas, who died recently, is best known for his work and interest in bioethics.

Harding and Hardin Numbers Today

  • 30,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hertfordshire)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 18,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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