Hepburn Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Hepburn Meaning
The surname Hepburn is thought to have come from Hebron or Hebburn,
small villages in Northumberland in the north of England. But it
could alternatively have a Scottish origin, meaning something like the
“house beside the water” as burn
is a widely used Scots word to mean river.

Hepburn Resources on

Hepburn Ancestry

main Hepburn branch in Scotland originated in East Lothian.

Hepburn was said to have been granted land there in 1343 for having
saved the Earl of
March from a
horse that had lost control. These Hepburns
became one of the great barons of Scotland. Patrick Hepburn was
Lord of Hailes in 1451 and his grandson Patrick Lord High Admiral of
Scotland in 1488 and ennobled as the
Earl of Bothwell. But the family is probably best remembered for James Hepburn,
4th Earl of Bothwell
who married Mary Queen of Scots and
then fled to the Continent
with blood on his hands.

There were also Hepburn families in East
Lothian at Waughton, Beanston and Athelstaneford, and branches at Keith
and Smeaton. Smeaton Hall stayed with the Hepburn
family until 1934. Today, Robin
Hepburn runs his Waughton financial communications company in London.

Hepburns were as well at Fowlis Wester in Perthshire and,
increasingly in the 19th century, in and around Aberdeen and
Glasgow. One family in Biggar traces itself back to John Hepburn,
a veteran of the battle of Waterloo and the town jailer in
Lanark. Charles Hepburn co-founded the Hepburn and Ross whisky
firm in Glasgow in 1920. The business made him exceedingly rich
and he became a noted art collector and benefactor in the town.

England. The spelling in
Durham was sometimes Hebron. Not all Hepburns
were well-to-do. Thomas Hepburn was a Durham
miner who tried to unionize his colliery in the 1830’s, but with little
success. One Hepburn line in the East End of London dates
from the 18th century. Another Hepburn line starts with a docker
on the Clyde
who moved there in the late 19th century.

Ireland. There were also
Hepburns in Ireland who had moved there from Scotland in the
1700’s. A Donegal family started out in Raphoe as masons.

America. Some Scots
Hepburns migrated to America. Samuel Hepburn, a Covenanter,
decamped to Ireland and then followed his sons to America in
1773. He suffered the
loss of his wife and a daughter on the voyage:

“The vessel, the Faithful Steward on which they
sailed, was lost somewhere on the American coast and mother and
daughter were drowned while trying to get ashore on a small boat.”

The family settled along the Susquehanna river in Northumberland,
Pennsylvania. Samuel himself died there in 1797 at the grand old
97. Son James was a prominent merchant in Northumberland. James Curtis
, a Presbyterian missionary to Japan, was a later
descendant. The family line was covered in John Meginness’s 1894
book The Hepburn Family of the

An earlier arrival was James Hepborn from Scotland, transported to
Maryland in 1655. His descendants were small farmers in Kent
county on Maryland’s eastern shore for many generations. The Rev.
Sewell Hepburn
changed the family name from Hepborn to
Hepburn in
1879. From this line came the actress Katharine Hepburn.

Other Hepburn lines can be found in Canada and the

Australia. Robert
of the Royal Navy was a pioneer settler on the east
coast of
Tasmania, arriving with his wife and eight children in the early
1830’s. He set up a whaling station on Great Oyster Bay.
His Swanwick homestead was in Swansea.

captain, John Hepburn, came to Hobart in 1835 and then moved onto
Victoria. He too was a pioneer of the country, being the first
European settler in the Daylesford region of Victoria. He named
his homestead Smeaton House after the Smeaton back home in
Scotland. Also settling in Victoria were two Hepburn brothers,
Donald and Angus, who arrived from Inverness in 1851.


Select Hepburn Miscellany

The Affairs of James Hepburn, the Fourth Earl of Boswell.  In 1559 Mary the Queen Regent
of Scotland gave the Earl command of a body of French auxilliaries and six
months later sent him on a mission to France.  He
travelled thither via Denmark where he had
an affair with an Anna Throndsson, daughter of a Norwegian nobleman.  She went with him as far as the Netherlands
and eventually turned up in Scotland in 1563.  Her
expectations were disappointed as the Earl
was already married.  While in France it
is said the Earl made further promises of marriage to a lady there with
whom he
had a liaison.  The Earl returned to
Scotland in 1561.

The next year he was
accused of treason and was held in Edinburgh castle, but escaped from
custody and
took a ship to France.  He returned in
1565 and was thenceforth in great and increasing favor with Queen Mary.

The murder of the King Consort, Lord
in which the Earl was the principal player, took place two years later
in 1567.  Soon afterwards the Earl was
created Duke of
Orkney and he married the Queen. However,
opposition to the pair was strong in Scotland and their forces
were defeated at Carberry Hill. Bothwell
fled to Norway.  He was made a prisoner
there and remained in confinement until his death in 1578.

The Earl had been married firstly, in the
late 1550’s, to Jonet Betoun, widow of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleuch.  Her fate is unclear.  Secondly
he married, in 1566, Lady Jane
Gordon, daughter of the then deceased George 4th Earl of Huntly.  She divorced him on May 5, 1567 – citing his
adultery with one of her maidservants.
Then at Holyrood castle, ten days later on May 15, 1567, came
his marriage to Mary,
Queen of Scots.  This marriage produced
no children as the Queen miscarried twins that year while detained at

Hepburns in Raphoe, Donegal.  The first recorded Hepburn in this locality was Alexander Hepburn, a ruling elder of the Presbyterian
in Raymoghy near Raphoe in 1680.

family line started with William Hepburn, a mason living on McBride
Street in
Raphoe in the early 1800’s. Hepburns
still live on McBride Street today.
William’s son Andrew, also a mason, built a cottage for himself
in the
townsland of Sessiagh Allson in Castlefinn.
The cottage was rebuilt in 1910 by his grandsons and remains
occupied by
the Hepburns today.

The Lineage of Robert Hepburn of Tasmania.  Robert
Hepburn died in Tasmania in
1862.  His last will and testament began
with this florid description of his lineage:

“This is
the last Will and Testament of me Robert Hepburn of Roys Hill
in the district of Fingal, Tasmania.  I
am a lineal descendant:

  • by my
    Captain Hepburn, of the family of Hepburns of Keith in East Lothian
  • by my mother Mary Ann Roy, great grandson
    of Rob Roy Macgregor;
  • and by
    grandmother Isabella Princess of Diabenti, daughter of the King of the
    Koromantic nation of the Gold Coast in Africa, I am Prince of Diabenti,
    the lineal
    descendant of the King of the nation in Africa.”

Robert himself was born in Jamaica and was
a descendant of the Rev. William Hepburn of Fowlis Wester in

James Curtis Hepburn, Christian Missionary in Japan.  James Curtis Hepburn was the
great grandson of Samuel Hepburn who had departed his native Scotland
of religious persecution and left for America with his family in 1773.  In 1840 he volunteered as a medical
missionary of the Presbyterian board of foreign missions and was sent
to Siam.  His destination was then changed
to China.  He remained in Singapore until
the end of the
Opium War in 1843 and then went to China where he worked in Amoy from
1843 to

He was
back in America after that
but returned East in 1859, becoming one of the first Western
missionaries in
Japan.  In addition to his medical
missionary work he assisted in the translation of the Holy Scriptures,
made a
Japanese-English and English-Japanese lexicon which passed through
editions and became the basis of all other similar works.
He translated and published several Christian
tracts and hymns and the Confession of Faith of the Presbyterian Church.  In 1892, the year he returned to America, he
a Japanese dictionary of the Bible.

Reader Feedback – Hepburns in the East End of London.  By chance I came across your site and was very
interested in a statement that a docker on the Clyde moved to the
east end
of London.  My father Albert Hepburn was
a stevedore at Tilbury docks.  At the
outbreak of war in 1939 he was transferred to Gourock.
I remember my mother telling me that we
lodged at number one Drumshantie Road.  However
he was soon conscripted into the army.

trying to find the family tree, I have found that prior to my
moving to Essex, all of the generations before him lived in the east
end of
London, Stepney, Poplar, etc.  I have got
back to John Hepburn, born around 1740, and some of his descendants
were listed
as dock laborers.

Regards,  Frank Hepburn (JeanandFrank@aol.com)

The Rev. Sewell Hepburn.  The Rev. Sewell Hepburn was the grandfather of that famous actress Katharine Hepburn.
It was said that, at the advanced age of 83,
he married her in 1928 to Ludlow Ogden Smith at the Hepburn home in
Hartford (the marriage, however, was short-lived and soon ended in
divorce).  When Katharine died in 2003, she
remembered him
with a $10,000 bequest to the Kent county chapel of St. Paul’s in
where her grandfather had served for so long as a parish priest.

The Rev.
Sewell Hepborn was born in Missouri.  But
his roots were with a long-established farming
family in Kent county on Maryland’s eastern shore.
The family there had been split by the Civil
War.  Maryland was a border state that
remained under Union control during the war but where the ownership of
was permitted.  Sewell’s father, Sewell
Stavely Hepborn of Still Pond, was a slave-owner.  As
an outspoken supporter of the Confederate
cause, he was imprisoned for a time.
After Hepborn’s death, the Rev. Sewell Hepborn defended his
father’s right
to own slaves.  But he did draw a
distance from him by changing his last name from Hepborn to Hepburn.

The Rev.
Sewell Hepburn was for sixty years a
rural Episcopalian minister in Maryland and Virginia.  He
came to be known as “Brother Hep” by his
parishioners because of the deep affection in which they held



Hepburn Names

  • Sir John Hepburn from Athelstaneford was a distinguished soldier for Sweden and France in their wars in the early 17th century.
  • Katharine Hepburn
    was a celebrated American actress.
  • Audrey Hepburn, another celebrated actress, took her Hepburn name from her maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn.

Select Hepburn Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 1,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Hepburn and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.




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