James Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select James Meaning
The surname James comes from the
personal name which has the same origin as Jacob (the Latin
Jacobus). Jacobus and James appeared interchangeable in 13th
century records.
However, James developed as a separate name in its own right, largely
because in the authorized version of the Bible the form James was used
in the New Testament as the name of two of Christ’s apostles (James the
brother of John and James the brother of Andrew), whereas in the Old
Testament the brother of Esau was called Jacob.

James Resources on

Select James Ancestry

Wales. The
James surname has cropped up mainly in south

There were James in Pembrokeshire by the 17th century, including early
emigrants to America. William James,
born there in 1720, ran away to sea as a young man and made his name
with the
British navy in India. He returned to
England wealthy and a Baronet. John
James, a farmer at Trenewydd in the same county, kept a diary of his
year in
1846 which has been preserved.

Christopher James was a provision
merchant in Swansea in the early 19th century and Mayor of the town in
1849. His son William became a Judge on
the High
Court. In 1856 Evan James, the son of a
woollen manufacturer in Caerphilly, composed Land of My Fathers,
was to become the Welsh national anthem.

The James family
of Grosmont
Monmouthshire, near the English border, dates back to the 17th century. They owned the Town Farm there until the
retirement of John James in 1845.
Another old Monmouthshire family stemmed from Lewis James,
curate of
Bedwellty from 1633 to 1667.

England. The
name William James was documented in Wiltshire as early as 1300. And James was to be found in English counties
to Wales, such as Cornwall. John and
Mary James were married there at St. Hilary in 1679.
Another family history began with the
marriage of William James and Elizabeth Harvey in Breage in 1762.

The name also
existed elsewhere:

  • James
    at Newport
    the Isle of Wight dated back to the late 15th century.
    Thomas James and his nephew Richard were
    notable scholars in the early 17th century.
  • Christopher
    and Ellen James lived at Gnosall in Staffordshire in the
    late 1500’s.
  • while one family history in the northeast began with the
    of Thomas
    James in 1638 in Hebron, Northumberland.
    He was the first James of a line of Parish Clerks which
    continued until

Ireland. The
James name is in
Ireland, mainly because of English or Welsh arrivals there. A James from Worcestershire who fought at the
Battle of the Boyne later moved south to Wicklow and Carlow. There was a James line at Carnew in Wicklow by
the 1730’s. Some later emigrated to

America. Early James in America were
mainly Welsh.

The first James to arrive was probably John James,
a Welshman from Carnarvon who came to Virginia
1650. His descendants became Baptists and settled in
Later descendants were the outlaws Jesse James and his brother
Frank James. They
made their money
robbing banks. Their uncle Drury W.
James had come to California during the Gold Rush and made his fortune
as a
cattle rancher.

James family of Welsh Baptists
from Pembrokeshire came to
in 1711
and settled in Montgomery county, where they helped to organize a

Scots Irish. William James
in New York in 1789 from a farming family in Baillieborough in county
Cavan. He made his fortune in real
estate. His son Henry was a prominent
theologian of his day; and Henry’s offspring included the philosopher
William James
and the writer Henry James.

Richard James from Wales was an officer in the expedition to Jamaica in
1655 who stayed. His son Richard, born
in 1656, was a colonel in the local militia who lived to be 103. In his latter years he was said to have lived
almost entirely on cocoa. These James
made their home in Hanover parish.
Jonathan James was a plantation owner in St. Elizabeth parish in

Canada. In 1869 newly
widowed Agnes James left her home in St. Gorran, Cornwall for Liverpool
she departed with her seven children on the Austrian for
Canada. Arriving in Quebec, the family made their way
to Mara township in south central Ontario.
The James numbers grew in Canada and they held a family reunion
in 1937.

William James arrived in Toronto from the
English Midlands with his family in 1906.
He was a photographer by trade and many of his photographs of
have survived.

“One of the last major events he covered was the
1939 Royal Tour. This netted one of his
favorite photographs: a shot of George VI and Queen Elizabeth standing
on the
steps of Toronto’s City Hall

James Miscellany

James in Newport, Isle of Wight.  The James family of Newport on the Isle of Wight was
sturdily Protestant in Elizabethan times and could boast three James of
prominence at that time:

  • Dr.
    John James,
    who was the Queen’s physician
  • Dr.
    Thomas James, who was born in 1571 and said
    to have been the son of Marian exiles.  He
    was an eminent scholar and in 1602 became the first
    librarian of the
    Bodleian Library in Oxford.
  • and
    cousin Richard James who represented Newport in Parliament from 1597 to

James in Grosmont, Monmouthshire.  The James family of Grosmont in Monmouthshire near
the Herefordshire border dates back to the 17th century.
Solicitors’ records referred to a Philip
James and a William James having lands in Grosmont in 1688 and a Thomas
having tenancy of a house there in 1714.

house itself was a very old one,
some of it having been apparently built in the early part of the 16th
Over the door was the date 1673 and on the door-frame of the stable

James held Town Farm in Grosmont from the early 1700’s until its sale
in 1860.

Morgan’s 2008 book A Grosmont
recounted one
interesting James family titbit.  Elizabeth James of this family had been
married to John Croft, but they had no children.
When she died in 1796 she initially left all
her estate to her servant Eleanor
Jones.  She later wrote a codicil
leaving sums of money to relatives and friends.
The honest Eleanor discovered and revealed this codicil.

William James the Welsh Ploughboy Made Good.  William James was born in Pembrokeshire in the summer of
1720 to a poor Welsh miller.  He ran away
to sea in 1732 and by the age of 18, was commanding a ship in the West
under Captain Hawke.  It was during this
period that he was captured by the Spanish and when released, drifted
at sea
until being captured again in Cuba.

1747, at the age of 27, he joined the East India Company and was
appointed Commander
of Marine Forces to protect its trading ships. He sailed his gunship
the Protector to fight the Arab pirates on
their island fortress off the west coast of India.
He was ultimately successful in his attack because
he had earlier taken soundings of the rocky coastline and was able to
get close
to the island using shallow boats.

1759, still only 39, he returned to England a rich man.
He purchased the Park Farm estate at Eltham
in 1774 and was awarded a baronetcy in 1778.
Fame and riches he had a-plenty.
But on the day of his daughter’s wedding in 1783 he suffered a
and died.

Early James in America. 

James Birth Death
John James 1623 Wales (Caernarvon) 1690 Stafford co, Virginia
William James 1639 unknown 1697 Newport, Rhode Island
James James 1650 Wales (Pembroke) 1708 Chester co, Pennsylvania
David James 1669 Wales (Radnor) 1739 Chester co, Pennsylvania
John James 1670 Wales (Pembroke) 1749 Montgomery co, Pennsylvania
Howell James 1684 Wales
1717 New Castle co, Delaware

The James Family of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  The
James family of Bucks county was of Welsh
origin, being descended from John and Elizabeth James who with their
left their village in Pembrokeshire for America in 1711.
They were Welsh Baptists and the vanguard of
a Baptist colony who eight years later would organize themselves into a
known as the Montgomery Baptist church in Montgomery county,
Pennsylvania.  The James family were
members of this church
for many years.

Their son William, born
in Wales about 1692, appears to have been their favorite son.  He moved to New Britain in Bucks county and
died there in 1778.  His was the forebear
of most of the James family who settled there.
Isaiah James of his family was a prominent member of the Bucks
Assembly in the 1830’s. 

William James and His Rebellious Son Henry.  William
James, Scots Irish,
had come to Albany, New York penniless and in 1795 opened a dry goods
there.  His roving eye soon saw business
opportunities elsewhere.  He made a
fortune speculating in land along the newly opened Erie Canal and a
fortune by exploiting a new method of extracting salt.
He died in 1832 a very rich man, some say the
second richest man of his time after John Jacob Astor.

son Henry James or HJ was the fifth of a generation of eleven children
abstained from business in what he called a “rupture with my
tradition and attitude.”  He rebelled
against the moralistic prescriptions of his father’s stern Presbyterian
faith and
was forced to contest a punitive last will and testament in order to
obtain his
share of the estate.  HJ also suffered in
his youth a serious accident which resulted in the
amputation of his leg below the knee.

used his inheritance to
follow his calling as a peripatetic Swedenborgian philosopher and
social controversialist.  A friend of
notables such as Ralph Waldo
Emerson and Thomas Carlyle, he was always on the move – between Albany
and Manhattan
and Albany, between America and Europe, and through a succession of
family homes.  These included homes in
Cambridge, and Manhattan in America and more homes in Paris, London,
Boulogne, and Bonn in Europe.
HJ had
five illustrious children by his wife Mary:

  • William
    James (WJ), the psychologist
    and philosopher
  • Henry
    James (HJ) the writer
  • Garth
    Wilkinson James (known as
  • Robertson
    James (or Bob)
  • and
    James (AJ) the diarist.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.  Jesse James
was killed by Robert Ford in an ambush on April 3, 1882 at St. Joseph
Buchanan county, Missouri.

Jesse, Frank
and everyone around them knew that time had run out.
As the inevitable drew closer, everyone was left
to grapple with their own self.  In the
most clear, spare and simple images, Jesse can be seen with his family,
his cousins, and with his assassins.
Jesse grew more lonely and alone.
His star was burning out like a comet and everyone was going
down with

Pitt played Jesse James in
this movie.  He stripped away the
myth.  He stripped away the legend and
the lore.  He stripped away the western
and all its gratuitous violence.  What he
left us with was the man himself, Jesse James.


Select James Names

  • Jesse James was a legendary outlaw of the old West.
  • Henry James was an American-born writer in England during Victorian times of novels such as The Portrait of a Lady.  His brother was the philosopher William James.
  • Alex James was a Scottish
    footballer, one of the Wembley wizards who thrashed England in 1928.
  • Elmore James was a blues
    guitarist from Mississippi, known as “the king of the slide guitar.”
  • C.L.R James was the
    Trinidad-born writer and journalist, best known for his cricketing book, Beyond A Boundary.
  • P.D James is a popular English crime writer.
  • LeBron James is considered one of the greatest basketball players ever, having won with three different teams four NBA championships and four MVP awards.

Select James Numbers Today

  • 152,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 80,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 54,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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