Hopkins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hopkins Surname Meaning

Robert, introduced by the Normans, produced a lot of short-name variations, such as Rob, Dob, Hob, and Hop. Hob or Hop with the suffix “kin” early developed as a surname. Nicholas Hobekyn was recorded in the Cambridge rolls of 1273.

In Wales the suffix “cyn” was an adaptation of the English “kin” and the name ap Hopcyn could be found in the Welsh patronymic style. In the 1600’s “ap Hopcyn” lost its ap and Morgan son of Hopkin, which had earlier been Morgan ap Hopkin, was now Morgan Hopkin and a fixed surname. Over time Hopkin gained an “s” (as Hopkin’s son).

Hopkins Surname Resources on The Internet

Hopkins Surname Ancestry

  • from South Wales, Western England and from Ireland (Mayo)
  • to America, Canada, and Australia

Wales.  Hopkins is one of those “-kins” surnames, like Jenkins and Watkins, which established itself in Wales.

Its largest concentration was in south Wales, in the villages along the Swansea valley in Glamorgan. The name in its early patronymic form was Hopcyn and some Hopcyns have claimed to trace their lineage back to Rhodri Mawr, the first ruler of Wales in the 9th century. Hopcyn ap Tomas was a collector of the old bardic prophesies at the time of Owen Glendower.

By the 17th century fixed surnames had arrived. We find Lewis Hopkin of Llandyfogwg, the bard who was a descendant of Hopcyn Thomas Phylip. His grandson Lewis Hopkins became a minister in Bromyard, Herefordshire. Will Hopcyn of Llangynwyd was, by repute, another Welsh bard. His ill-fated love for a local lass was the basis for an old Welsh story, the maid of Cefn Ydfa.

The late 18th century saw Thomas Hopkins from these parts team up with two English businessmen to construct the Blaenavon ironworks near Pontypool, the largest ironworks in the world at that time. In more recent times there has been the actor Anthony Hopkins who was born in Port Talbot.

England. In England, both Hopkins and Hopkinson can be found as surnames, Hopkins more in the south and midlands and Hopkinson more in the north, although the numbers were about equal in Lancashire. Hopkins in Warwick dated from the late 14th century.

Hopkins can be traced in Elizabethan times to Wortley in Gloucestershire, Lambourn in Berkshire, and Coventry in Warwickshire. In Coventry William Hopkins was a draper who rose to be mayor of the town in 1564. His descendants remained civic leaders in Coventry for the next hundred and fifty years.  Another William Hopkins was recorded as a property owner in Tarrington, Herefordshire in 1669.

By the 19th century, there was, with the exception of the Hopkins in Kent and London, a definite westward shift to the distribution of Hopkins.

Ireland.  The Hopkins name also cropped up in Ireland. The Gaelic name Mac Oibicin, mainly to be found in Mayo, was often translated to Hopkins by English census takers.

There were 101 Hopkins in Mayo at the time of Griffith’s land valuation of 1857. Hopkins was also to be found in Connacht and county Longford, probably from English or Welsh settlers. One Hopkins account writes of a Scots-Irish Presbyterian family who left for America in the 1730’s. Many emigrated to Canada in the 19th century.

America. Early Hopkins came to New England, Virginia and Maryland.

New England.  Hopkins arrivals here were:

  • Stephen Hopkins and his wife and children who came on the Mayflower.  His daughter Constance married Nicholas Snow in Plymouth colony in 1627. A headstone marker was placed by her descendants in Eastham in 1966.
  • John Hopkins who arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1634. His descendants are recorded in Timothy Hopkins’ 1932 book, John Hopkins of Cambridge Massachusetts.  
  • Edward Hopkins, a London merchant, who was one of the founders of New Haven, Connecticut in 1637. But he did not stay and returned to England in 1652.
  • Thomas Hopkins who arrived in Providence, Rhode Island in 1639. His great grandson Stephen became Governor of Rhode Island and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
  • and William Hopkins, a grave digger by profession, who arrived in Roxbury, Massachusetts some time in the 1650’s.

Descendants of these early immigrants spread across New England, to New York state, and further afield.

One line from Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower went via his son Giles Hopkins to Cape Cod in 1639 and then via Theodorus Hopkins to Maine in the 1760’s:

  • Al Hopkins left Maine for Nebraska and Iowa in search of new business opportunities in the 1880’s.  His son Harry Hopkins, who moved to New York, became one of FDR’s closest advisors at the time of the New Deal and World War Two.
  • meanwhile another line from Giles Hopkins had settled in Catskill, New York.

Mark Hopkins, a descendant of the John Hopkins who came to Cambridge, reached California in 1849 at the time of the Gold Rush. He made his money there as one of the four principal investors in the Central Pacific Railroad. He did not live long to enjoy his wealth; but his wife Mary did and became renowned in San Francisco for her extravagance.

Virginia and Maryland.  Thomas and Robert Hopkins from Wales arrived at what came to be known as Hopkins Point in Maryland in 1649. It was to remain the family home for the next hundred and fifty years.  These Hopkins are believed to be related to the Hopkins who settled in Northumberland county, Virginia a few years later. Hopkins descendants moved onto Illinois, Kansas and Texas.

Dr. Arthur Hopkins came to Virginia from Ireland in 1705 with two brothers. From this line came Samuel Hopkins, a general in the Revolutionary War and an early settler in Kentucky.

Other Hopkins in Kentucky were:

  • Francis Hopkins who moved his family from Kentucky in 1823 to what became Red River county in Texas.
  • around the same time, Cornelius Hopkins arrived in Pike county, Kentucky from Virginia. In 2003, Bruce Hopkins wrote Spirits in the Field: An Appalachian Family History, an account of this family’s history.

Earlier, Gerrard Hopkins had come from Kent in the 1660’s and settled in the Crofton area of Maryland. The family became Quakers and tobacco farmers. They set free their slaves in 1807 and Johns Hopkins, from this family, ventured into other businesses after the Civil War, which made him very wealthy.

While the Quakers agonized over slavery, other denominations could accept its practice.  The Rev. Rigby Hopkins, for instance, was a slave-owner in nearby Talbot county who used to boast of the slaves he whipped every Monday. General Francis Hopkins’ plantation was in McIntosh county, Georgia.

African American.  There were African American descendants from “Daddy” Randal Hopkins, a slave on this plantation. John and Sarah Hopkins’ plantation was located along the Congaree river in South Carolina. Descendants still live in the house that was built there in 1808.

Canada. Many of the Hopkins who arrived in the first half of the 19th century came from Ireland, such as:

  • William and Jane Hopkins from Wicklow who settled in Gloucester township, Ontario in 1829.
  • Nicholas and Mary Anne Hopkins who settled in Brockville, Ontario in 1840.
  • and Richard and Martha Hopkins from Wicklow who settled in Bentinck township, Ontario in 1847.

Edward Hopkins was English, a chief factor for the Hudson Bay Company in the 1860’s. His wife Frances accompanied him on his travels and she sketched intensively. Her best-known works, made into large paintings, depicted voyagers on their canoes.

Australia. The name Hopkins appears in the early history of Tasmania. Thomas Hopkins, a servant of Governor Collins, established one of the first inns in Hobart in 1807. But he didn’t stay long.

Henry Hopkins, who had arrived from Kent on the Heroine in 1822, prospered as a shopkeeper and later as a wool merchant. He built Hestercombe Chapel in 1833, the oldest Congregationalist church in Australia, and is often credited with founding Congregationalism in Australia.

Hopkins Surname Miscellany

Hopcyn Ap Tomas.  Hopcyn ap Tomas lived at Ynysdawy in the Swansea valley and was one of the chief patrons of the bards of his time.  He commissioned a scribe to copy much of the important Welsh writing available into one volume. The resulting collection became known as The Red Book of Hergest, one of the treasures of ancient Welsh literature.

In 1403, when Owen Glendower was at Carmarthen, messengers were sent by the prince to fetch Hopcyn ap Tomas so that he might explain to Owen what light was shed on his fate by the old bardic prophecies. Hopcyn was known as a “Maister of Brut,” i.e. as an authority on the old prophesies.  He was said by some to have been related to a Hopkins family which claimed descent from Rhodri Mawr.  But there appears to be no foundation for such a connection.

In 1959 a memorial stone was raised to Hopcyn ap Tomas in Ynystrawe Park after Henry Lewis, the professor of Welsh at Swansea University, gave a talk about him to local residents.  The audience was so impressed that a person with such a romantic history had lived in the area that they decided to raise a memorial by public subscription.  The money was collected and the monument raised.

The Maid of Cefn Ydfa.  Ann Thomas was the daughter of a local landowner in Llangynwyd who fell in love with a thatcher, Will Hopcyn.  When her parents found out, they were having none of it and locked her up in the farmhouse. She still managed to sneak messages to Will through a servant who used to hide them in a tree.   The story goes that her mother found out and promptly banned Ann from using writing paper and ink.  Ann persisted and sent messages written in her own blood instead.

Time went by.  Will moved away to Bristol docks and Ann married a gentleman by the name of Anthony Maddocks.  However, she pined desperately for Will and eventually fell ill in her grief.  On her death-bed she asked to see Will.  He was summoned and brought to see her.  She saw him, the story goes, reached up to hold him, and died.

Will himself died early after falling off a ladder while thatching a roof and both are buried in Llangynwyd churchyard.  Will has been credited as being a poet.  But no verse of his has survived or is known.

The Maid of Cefn Ydfa was made into a film in 1914 by William Haggar, one of the earliest film producers in Wales.  A 38 minute section of this film has been saved and now resides in the Welsh Film Archive in Aberistwyth.

Hopkin Hopkin the Dwarf.  One of Lewis Hopkin’s sons was Hopkin Hopkin, known as Hopcyn Bach, a dwarf.  He was exhibited in London and Gentleman’s Magazine ran an account of him in 1754.  He never weighed more than 17 pounds and was said to have died of “mere old age.”  His suit, court coat, and gauntlet are today in the National Museum of Wales.

Hopkins and Other “-kins” Names.  The suffix “-kins” is generally attached to a personal name as a pet name, usually denoting “the little one.”  The suffix was apparently a Flemish import which for some reason became popular in England.

Various “-kins” surnames also became popular in Wales, including Hopkins.  The table below shows the main “kins” names and their degree of penetration into Wales (the numbers here are taken from the 1891 census):

Name Pet form of: Numbers (000’s) Share in Wales (%) Found in England
Atkins Adam      10  4   spread
Dawkins David       2  4   Southwest
Dickens Dick       3  3   West
Hopkins Hobb (from Robert)      19 23   spread
Jenkins John      35 56   Southwest
Perkins Peter      14  8   spread
Watkins Walter      16 38 West Midlands
Wilkins William      13 7 West Midlands

Many of these surnames added a “-son” suffix in the north.  Thus Atkins became Atkinson.

Hopkins in Ireland Today.  A telephone directory survey in Ireland in 1992 revealed 270 Hopkins, of which:

  • 35% were to be found in Dublin
  • 18% in county Mayo
  • 12% in Belfast
  • and 35% elsewhere in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

These Hopkins represent a mix of English/Welsh and Irish stock.

Stephen Hopkins of the Mayflower.  Stephen Hopkins was aboard the ship Sea Venture which left for the Jamestown colony in Virginia in 1609. The ship was wrecked by a hurricane off Bermuda and Stephen was one of the 150 castaways who survived.

After about six months in Bermuda, Stephen began to challenge the authority of the governor and organize a mutiny.  He was arrested, put in chains, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death.  But the record stated: “So penitent he was and made so much moan, alleging the ruin of his wife and children in this his trespass”  that he was eventually pardoned.

Finally the castaways worked together to construct two ships and were able to sail onto Jamestown. Stephen had contact with Indians there and it is thought that the reason that he was a passenger on the Mayflower was because of his experience in the New World.

Stephen and Elizabeth and two children from his first marriage and a two year old child from their marriage sailed on the Mayflower.  In Plymouth, Stephen was one of three men designated to advise Captain Standish on the first land expedition.  He was deputized to meet the Indians and act as an interpreter.  He was called “gentleman” in the colony and served as assistant governor in 1633.

However, Stephen was not part of the inside religious clique and was therefore thought of as a “stranger.”  This often got him into trouble.  He was fined for several offences, most notably for the sale of wine, beer, strong waters, and nutmeg at so-called excessive prices.  Stephen lived onto 1644.

Johns Hopkins’ Bequests.  Johns Hopkins died without heirs on Christmas Eve, 1873.   He left $7 million, mostly in Baltimore & Ohio Railroad stock, to establish his namesake institutions.  This sum was the single largest philanthropic donation ever made to educational institutions up to that time.

In his will he articulated his wishes for a school of medicine, a university press, an orphanage, and a school of nursing.  Among his stipulations was that the hospital should treat anyone, regardless of race, sex, age, or ability to pay.

Thus was founded the Johns Hopkins Colored Children Orphan Asylum in 1875, the John Hopkins University in 1876, the Johns Hopkins Press in 1878, the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in 1889, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1893.

Bruce Hopkins’ Spirits in the Field: An Appalachian Family History.  In 1997 the Kentucky Department of Transportation announced plans to rebuild highway US-460 through Pike county to Virginia.  The new route would cut a wide swathe through the mountains in the valley of the Levisa and destroy the ancestral burial grounds of the Hopkins family since before the Civil War,

For six years Bruce Hopkins worked to discover the family secrets buried in the old cemetery and to reclaim its heritage.  This book Spirits in the Field is the story of his struggle with the Kentucky DOT and the unearthing of his family history back to the first settlers who came there after the Revolution.

After the book was published, Bruce Hopkins wrote in Blue Ridge Traditions:

“Occasionally some of my readers have asked me for pictures of Pike county, Kentucky.

They say they would like to see the field where Elisha Hopkins had his final grand party in 1860 to celebrate the successful cotton crop, the same celebration where he had the vision of death and destruction that the Civil War would bring them.

They say that they would like to see where Elisha was when the Indian boy frantically ran at him to announce that the Union Army was advancing through Pike county in its mission to destroy the Virginia saltworks that were sustaining the entire South in 1864.

The field is still there, much changed of course, and changing still.  But nearly all of that era is gone and has been gone for 140 years.”

Anthony Hopkins Growing Up.  A.R. Hopkins & Son was a bakery in the South Wales town of Port Talbot.  Anthony Hopkins was the “Son” on the sign, but he had little interest in baked goods.   He was a poor student, dyslexic, and often in trouble for his wandering attention in class.

He knew he wanted to be an actor from his first appearance on stage, in local YMCA productions in his teens.  And he remembers well the day a regular customer at the bakery brought her brother, Richard Burton, into the shop for a pastry.  As Burton strolled away and passers-by stopped to greet him, Hopkins decided that he would not only be an actor, but a famous actor.

Hopkins Names

  • Hopcyn ap Tomas compiled in the late 14th century the first book of Welsh literature. 
  • Matthew Hopkins, the son of a Puritan minister, was a feared witch-hunter in East Anglia at the time of the English Civil War. 
  • Johns Hopkins was the richest man in America when he died in 1873. 
  • Gerald Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and a poet whose 20th century fame established him posthumously among the leading Victorian poets. 
  • Harry Hopkins was Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisor, one of the architects of the New Deal and a key policy maker during World War Two. 
  • Lightnin’ Hopkins was an acclaimed country blues guitarist from Houston, Texas.
  • Anthony Hopkins, born in Port Talbot in Wales, is one of the leading film actors of the present day. 
  • Bernard Hopkins, who grew up in the tough end of Philadelphia, held the middleweight boxing world championship for ten years through twenty title defenses.

Hopkins Numbers Today

  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in Bristol)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous in Texas).
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Hopkins and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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