Jenkins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Jenkins Surname Meaning

The surname Jenkins comes from the personal name Jenkin, which contains the elements Jen, a pet name for John, and -kin, a diminutive suffix. Thus Jenkin might describe the younger John, the son of John, or little John.  John, meaning “God has granted me with a son,” was introduced by returning Crusaders from the Holy Land in the 12th century.

Jenkins Surname Resources on The Internet

Jenkins and Jenkin Surname Ancestry

  • from South Wales and SW England
  • to America, Canada, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand

Wales. Jenkins in one of those “-kins” surnames, like Hopkins and Watkins, that established itself in Wales. According to H. Harrison’s Surnames of the United Kingdom, the Jenkins name might have been brought to Wales by Flemish immigrants who were settled in Pembrokeshire in the 12th century.

There were increasing references to Jenkin as a personal name from the 13th century, mainly in south Wales. It was pronounced and sometimes spelt as “Siencyn.” The old Welsh patronymic style was still in place in the 16th century (thus Richard Roberts of that time was the son of Robert Jenkin). But it was beginning to be displaced by English-style surnames. In this process, Jenkin became Jenkins with the suffix adoption of “s” as “son of.”

Judge David Jenkins, the son of Jenkin Richard, was born in Hensol House in the vale of Glamorgan in 1582 (the house was said to have been built by the judge’s great grandfather). He himself was a fervent Royalist who narrowly survived the Civil War. Another Royalist, born nearby, was Sir Leoline Jenkins. He made his mark as the Principal for Jesus College in Oxford.

A Jenkins who also went to Jesus College was the cleric and antiquary John Jenkins – from the Jenkins family of Llangoedmor in Cardiganshire. In 1807 he was appointed the vicar of Kerry in Montgomeryshire. There he adopted the name Ifor Ceri and began to promote Welsh singing and bardic skills through local eisteddfods.

By the late 19th century, the Jenkins population in Wales had become fairly heavily concentrated in Glamorgan, in particular in the industrial belt of west Glamorgan around Port Talbot and Neath. From this working class area came the coal miner’s son Richard Jenkins who became the actor Richard Burton and the trade union leader Clive Jenkins:

“His family had a small terraced house with an outside toilet and ‘no carpet, just coconut matting.’ They bathed once a week in front of the fire in an old zinc tub, sharing the same water.”

The mezzo-soprano opera singer Katherine Jenkins grew up in a council house in Neath.

The Jenkins name was also to be found in Pontypool in Monmouthshire where coal mining was important.  John Jenkins from the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire arrived there in the 1840’s.  His son Thomas and grandson Arthur were both coalminers.

Arthur rose in the trade union ranks and became the MP for Pontypool in 1935.  He was the father of Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Home Secretary in the Wilson and Callaghan Labour Governments.

England. The Jenkin name began in England in its southwest corner, in Cornwall. There were some early suggestions that the Cornish were of short stature, hence the “little Johns.” Jenkin has persisted in Cornwall without the “s” suffix.

Cornwall  One Jenkin family has been traced to St. Stephen in Brannel in the 1600’s. They moved to St. Austell in the early 1800’s to work in the tin mines but then emigrated when the work there stopped.

“James Jenkin went to Australia to meet his brother Edward; but by the time he had arrived Edward had already left for the US. So the two never met. James was killed in a mine accident in Australia, leaving a wife and nine children.”

Jenkins were also to be found in Magdon north of Penzance from the 1650’s. They were for many generations village blacksmiths. The family emigrated to South Africa in 1911. Other Jenkins in Cornwall stayed, notably the historian Kenneth Hamilton and the politician Richard, both very much committed to the Cornish cause.

Devon  There were Jenkins in the neighboring county of Devon. The Jenkins of Hartland near Bideford in Devon in fact date back to the 1550’s.

Scilly Isles  The first Jenkins came to the Scilly Isles in the 1730’s. John Jenkins, born in 1723, was one of the early arrivals. His grand-daughter was named Elizabeth and there is a photograph of her that still remains, taken in her old age sometime in the 1860’s. Over the years the Jenkins numbers grew and the Jenkins today in the Scillies represent a significant proportion of the population of the Tresco and Bryher islands.

Kent  Kent has been a Jenkins outpost. The Jenkins of Kent date from the time that William Jenkin was mayor of Folkestone in the 1550’s. Their most illustrious family member was probably the Victorian inventor Fleeming Jenkin who came up with the idea of the aerial tramway. Descendants have been the politicians Patrick and Bernard Jenkin.

America.  John Jenkins, who arrived from England in the 1660’s, was one of the earliest settlers in North Carolina. He served as governor of the colony at various times during the 1670’s. William Jenkins, born in Virginia in 1675, was the forebear of the plantation-owning Jenkins family of Cabell county in what is now West Virginia. Another Jenkins Virginia family settled in Gaston county, North Carolina.

Three well-documented Jenkins families began with immigrants from Wales in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s:

  • William Jenkins came to Maryland and his descendants were to be found in Baltimore county for many generations. They later moved to South Carolina and then onto Georgia and Texas.
  • David Jenkins settled in Chester county, Pennsylvania. The old Jenkins homestead at Churchtown there remained with the family in succeeding generations. The family history has been traced in Robert Jenkins’ 1904 book The Jenkins Family Book.
  • the Quaker John Jenkins came around 1730 and settled in the Welsh community of Gwynedd, Pennsylvania. A 19th century descendant Howard Jenkins was a local newspaper publisher.

Another Jenkins family from Maryland included a Captain Thomas Jenkins who owned a number of sea-going vessels. He transported arms, at considerable peril to himself, to the patriots during the Revolutionary War. His line was traced in Edward F. Jenkins’ 1985 book Thomas Jenkins of Maryland.

Lewis Jenkins fought in the War and received bounty land in North Carolina. In the 1820’s he moved his family to Georgia. Charles J. Jenkins left South Carolina for Georgia a little later. He served as Governor of the state during Reconstruction. Jenkins county in Georgia is named in his honor.

These and other Jenkins appear in the Jenkins’ version of Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Canada. Nicholas Henckel from Hesse in Germany took the name of Jenkins from his English first wife. He and his family arrived in the maritime province of Prince Edward Island in 1783, describing the place then as “a wilderness.” He has had a large number of descendants, many apparently in the Little Pond area. Doug MacDonald’s 2009 book A Genealogy of the Jenkins Families of Prince Edward Island has traced this genealogy.

In 1820 the Rev. Louis Jenkins, bound for Quebec, was driven by contrary winds to Charlottetown in PEI where he assumed the rectorship of St. Paul’s. His descendants ran the Upton farm near Charlottetown. Dr. Jack Jenkins was a cattle breeder and farmer in the 1920’s and his wife Louise one of the first female pilots in Canada.

South America.  There are Jenkins in Argentina. Aaron Jenkins and his family were part of a group of Welsh colonists who came to Patagonia in 1865 to settle and farm. Sadly he was murdered in 1879. Alfred Jenkins was an orphan from Bristol who arrived in Argentina in 1907 as a Christian missionary. He married there but died young in his forties.

Australia. Jenkins came from Wales, England and even from Ireland and America.

John Jenkins from Kent had arrived in NSW as a convict in 1821. His initial years were harsh. But his wife and children joined him in 1827 and he received his Ticket of Leave two years later. They later settled in Berrima, NSW where John died in 1886 at the ripe old age of 97.

Among later Jenkins arrivals were:

  • Robert Jenkins, who arrived in Tasmania from Worcestershire in 1835. One of his sons PW Jenkins was a pioneer grazier at Nimmitabel in the Monaro region of NSW. He lived until 1954 on his Clifton farm.
  • John Jenkins, who came to Victoria from Cornwall during the gold rush times of the 1850’s.
  • and Joseph Jenkins, a tenant farmer from mid-Wales who in 1868 suddenly abandoned his home and family to seek his fortune in Australia. He didn’t find this fortune. But he left behind a series of diaries which, after his death, have been published and acclaimed.

Kay Jenkins’ 2002 book From the Mountains of Wales: Jenkins Family History traced a Jenkins family from Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire to Australia.

New Zealand.  William Jenkins known as “Bill the Steward,” came to Kapiti island from Kent in 1836. He was a whaler, but later settled down to farm and ran an accommodation house at Te Uruhi.

Katherine Jenkins’ Ancestry

The great great grandmother of the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins was a cockle picker named Martha Jenkins.

Just click below if you want to read more about this story:

Jenkins Surname Miscellany

Jenkins 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, most notably Jenkins.  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 (%) In England
Atkins Adam      10 4   spread
Dawkins David       2 4   Southwest
Dickens Dick       3 3   West
Hopkins Hob (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. 

Judge David Jenkins.  Judge Jenkins was a man of great force of character, nicknamed “Heart of Oak” and “Pillar of the Law.”  Being a staunch Royalist he took an active part against the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, condemning many to death for activities deemed treasonable.

Then he was captured in 1645 and sent to the Tower of London.  He was impeached for high treason but survived.  After the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II he was liberated in 1656 and returned to his estates in Glamorgan.

The Jenkins of Kent.  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote a memoir of his friend Fleeming Jenkin in which he had this to say about his family ancestry:

“In the reign of Henry VIII, a family of the name of Jenkin were to be found settled in the county of Kent.  It may suffice that these Kentish Jenkins must have undoubtedly derived from Wales and, being a stock of some efficiency, they struck root and grew to wealth and consequence in their new home.

William Jenkin was mayor of Folkestone in 1555 and, no less than twenty three times in the succeeding century and a half, a Jenkin – William, Thomas, Henry or Robert – sat in the same place of humble honor.  Of their wealth we know that in the reign of Charles I Thomas Jenkin of Eythorne was more than once in the market buying land; and notably in 1633 he acquired the manor of Stowting Court near Folkestone.

Stowting Court became the anchor of the Jenkin family in Kent.  Though passed on from brother to brother, held in shares between uncle and nephew, burdened by debt and jointures, and at least once sold and bought back again, it has remained to this day in the hands of the direct line.”

Leading Welsh Counties with Jenkins.  The table below shows the leading Welsh counties with Jenkins in the 1881 census.

County Numbers
1. Glamorgan    8,973
2. Monmouthshire    2,694
3. Cardiganshire    2,226
4. Carmarthenshire    1,892
5. Pembrokeshire    1,594

The War of Jenkins’ Ear.  England and Spain went to war in 1739 over what came ot be called “the war of Jenkins’ ear.”

Returning home from the West Indies in command of the brig Rebecca in 1731, Jenkins’ ship was stopped and boarded by the Spanish.  The Spanish commander had Jenkins bound to a mast and he sliced off one of his ears with his sword.  He was said to have told him to say to his King: “The same will happen to him if caught doing the same.”

When Captain Robert Jenkins returned to England, he spoke of his affront but it received little attention. However, the story was printed in The Gentleman’s Magazine and in 1738 he repeated his story before a committee of the House of Commons.  In a bellicose atmosphere the House decided to initiate maritime reprisals against Spain.  A naval war formally started the next year.

Reader Feedback – Jenkin Line from Wales to South Africa.  I am the daughter of Dawid Justin Mortimer Jenkin, born in 1919 and grand-daughter of Rev.  Albert Jenkin, born in 1872 and the Welsh rugby captain in 1893. I was born in South Africa and have no contact with my family.

Sarah Jenkin (

Reader Feedback – Jenkins from Pennsylvania to North Carolina and Tennessee.  I descend from Hugh Jenkins, but I have never established whom his father might have been.

I find Hugh to be born around 1720 in possibly Lancaster or Chester county, Pennsylvania. I do believe that he was Welsh and Protestant and non-Catholic. He eventually migrated to Rowan County, North Carolina about 1755-1758. He was a Justice of the Peace in Salisbury…but I have not been able to locate a gravestone.

His descendants were to be found in neighboring Lincoln county, North Carolina and some in the portion of Lincoln county that became Gaston county.  My line, his son Samuel Jenkins, migrated to Lincoln county, Tennessee about 1820 to the portion of the county that later became Moore county.

Do you know anyone who might be able to help me determine who Hugh’s father might have been? I have not been able to prove that he is related to the well-known Jenkins of Churchtown, Lancaster county in Pennsylvania. However, they lived within no more than five miles of each other.

William Jenkins (

The Jenkins Plantation House in West Virginia.  Built by slaves in the 1830’s for Captain William Jenkins, the Jenkins Plantation House was also the home of Confederate Brigadier General Albert Gallatin Jenkins.   At the height of their prosperity this family was one of the largest landowners in what is now West Virginia, owning more than 4,000 acres.

The story of the Jenkins plantation is also the story of more than fifty slaves who worked and lived at Green Bottom, within yards of potential freedom.  Their years of hard labor, death, confinement and possible poor treatment on the plantation could have left an ineffaceable mark on the environment of the home and land.

Over the years there have been numerous reports of “paranormal activity” at the Jenkins plantation.   Most commonly, people report seeing the apparitions of two young children playing in the front yard.  People have seen men in Civil War clothing standing and sitting around in the yard.  People have also seen a man, believed to be Colonel Jenkins, riding a misty gray horse.  And there have been other apparitions at the plantation house and at the hollow where the slave shacks are thought to have been.

The plantation house has survived and has recently been restored.

The Jenkins Battle Hymn of the Republic

  • “The ancient plan of Jenkins raised their standard to the sky:
  • They held her name in honor and their aims were ever high:
  • They always did their duty and were not afraid to die.


  • Virile, worthy, brave and loyal! Let us sing “
  • Pergesed Cau-te!” The clan goes marching on!
  • “Mae-narch, Richard, John and Seth for fathers of our clan;
  • Posterity of David and Benjamin never ran.
  • Joseph was quite virile, Thomas was a sturdy man.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • Our fathers dwelt in England, Scotland, Ireland and in Wales;
  • Where English tongue is spoken now the Jenkins name prevails.
  • How could the nations but advance when Jenkins never fails!
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • “Richard was in Parliament – he was among the peers;
  • Thomas was High Sheriff – of his foes he had no fears;
  • Henry Jenkins lived a hundred-nine-and-sixty years.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • John was a guide to Washington and with him at Yorktown;
  • With famous man of Georgia, Charlie’s name is written down;
  • Albert was in Congress and, in Dixie of renown.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • The Jenkins Clan is mighty with a hundred thousand strong;
  • In Seventy-six, four-hundred Jenkins fought to right a wrong.
  • Seven towns bear Jenkins name. Sure, let us sing that song,
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • When danger threatened country for a battle to be won,
  • Our righteous causes need defenders or work to be done,
  • Brave Jenkins were right there, and never did a Jenkins run.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • The Jenkins sons have courage any task or foe to face;
  • The Jenkins girls are lovely with their beauty, charm and grace;
  • The Jenkins leaven is a blessing to the human race.
  • The clan goes marching on!”

Reader Feedback – Jenkins in Canada and Oklahoma.  Joseph Jenkins in Oklahoma was my great grandfather and I can’t find his father who migrated from Tredegar in Wales to Upper Canada. Nor can I find Joseph Jenkins mother’s name on records anywhere. Names William and Joseph were in the family.  Linda Stevens (

Aaron Jenkins in Argentina.  Aaron Jenkins and his family were from Mountain Ash in mi-Glamorgan and they arrived with 152 other Welsh settlers on June 28 1865 to what is today the city of Puerto Madryn.  The sea journey took two months.

The first few years were the hardest since the majority of settlers weren’t farmers and the desert made the wheat crops fail.  It was Aaron’s wife Rachel who worked out a form of irrigation, diverting water from the Chubut river.  In March 1868 the first crop of wheat was successfully grown.

In 1879 Aaron, who was one of the most popular of the colonists, was murdered.   The Welsh decided to take the law into their own hands and caught and killed the murderer.  Since that time, it was said, they were never bothered by “the mixed race Indian-Argentines that frightened the area.”  Aaron Jenkins was buried in the cemetery in Gaiman.

How Richard Jenkins Became Richard Burton.  Richard Burton was born Richard Jenkins in the village of Pontrhydyfen near Port Talbot in Wales.  He grew up in a working class, Welsh-speaking household, the twelfth of thirteen children. His father was a short, robust coal miner, a “twelve-pints a-day man” who sometimes went off on drinking and gambling sprees for weeks. Richard later said:

“He looked very much like me. That is, he was pockmarked, devious, and smiled a great deal when he was in trouble.  He was also a man of extraordinary eloquence, tremendous passion, and great violence.”

Richard Jenkins was less than two years old in 1927 when his mother died after giving birth to her 13th child. His sister Cecilia and her husband Elfed took him into their Presbyterian mining family in nearby Port Talbot.  He said later that his sister became “more mother to me than any mother could have ever been.”  His father rarely visited.

Richard showed a talent for literature at grammar school and, inspired by his schoolmaster, Philip Burton, he excelled in school play productions.   At the age of sixteen, he left school for full-time work.  But when he joined the Port Talbot squadron of the Air Training Corps as a cadet, he re-encountered Philip Burton.

This time Burton, recognizing Richard’s talent, adopted him as his ward and Richard returned to school.  Philip Burton tutored his charge intensely in school subjects and also worked at developing the youth’s acting voice.  In 1943, at the age of eighteen, Richard Burton, who had by now taken his teacher’s surname, was allowed into Exeter College, Oxford for a special term of six months study.

Paul and Ruth Jenkins’ Farm in the Scillies.  Paul and Ruth Jenkins will be pleased to welcome you to their farm.  Paul was born on Bryher and his family history goes back several generations in 1735.

Their farm is a working farm in the center of Bryher.  In spring and summer they sell vegetables, salad crops, soft fruit, cut flowers, and free range eggs from their roadside stall.  All produce is fresh and available to guests and islanders to purchase.

Jenkins Names

  • David Jenkins was a Royalist judge in Glamorgan who survived the upheavals of the Civil War.
  • Fleeming Jenkin was the Victorian inventor who came up with the idea of the aerial tramway.
  • Richard Jenkins was the given name of the actor Richard Burton.
  • Roy Jenkins was the Labor politician from Monmouthshire who served as British Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1960’s and 1970’s and later defected to start the Social Democrat party.
  • Katherine Jenkins is a Welsh mezzo-soprano singer, popular for her crossover music.

Jenkins Numbers Today

  • 58,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glamorgan)
  • 74,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 33,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Jenkins 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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