Johnson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Johnson Meaning
Johnson is a patronymic name meaning “son of
John.” John became popular as a first name in England, rivalling
William, in the 13th century. It was first recorded as a surname
(Jonessone) in 1287.  
Johnston and Johnstone are found in Scotland and
Ireland.  These names frequently became
Johnson in America, as did like names from Scandinavia.
Select Johnson Resources on The Internet

Select Johnson Ancestry

England. Early Johnsons – who claimed descent from the
Norman fitzJohns
– were to be seen in Lincolnshire.
Johnson was a Puritan divine from Stamford in the 16th century. Later Johnsons were found in the village of
Witham and acquired Ayscoughfee Hall near Spalding, one of the
landmarks of the
Lincolnshire fens, in the 17th century.

Maurice Johnson of this family was known
as the “antiquary” because of his founding of the Spalding Gentleman’s
which included such notables as Alexander Pope, Isaac Newton, and Lord
Tennyson. Maurice and his wife Elizabeth
raised 26 children.

Samuel Johnson, the composer of the first English
dictionary, was born in Lichfield, Staffordshire in 1709, the son of a
bookseller who was described by Boswell as “a native of Derbyshire of

Like the other “-son” surnames, the Johnson name
distribution was more north than south. In the 19th century, one
third of
all Johnsons in England were to be found in Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Andrew Johnson, a 19th century fish merchant in Hull,
was of Danish extraction. His descendant
Amy Johnson was a pioneering English aviator.
She made the first solo flight from England to Australia in 1930


Johnston or
, from “John’s town” or John’s settlement in
Dumfries, have been the more common names in Scotland.
Sir John Johnston of Dumfries was a Scottish
landowner who signed the Ragman’s Roll in 1296.

The Johnstons from Annandale were, until dispersed in
the early 17th century, one of the larger Border reiver clans. Their
war cry was:
“Light Thieves All,” a demand to the enemy to dismount and
surrender. Because of
their ferocity, they were known ironically as “the gentle Johnstons.” To keep their chief onside after the Border
pacification, he was ennobled as the Earl of Annandale.

Johnstones have come
from the town of Perth which was once called St. John’s Toun (the local
football team is still called St. Johnstone). Other lines were to
be found at
Caskieben near Aberdeen and Strathspey in the Scottish Highlands. The Strathspey family supported the Jacobite
cause in 1715 and 1745 and then scattered.

Ireland. Johnsons or
Johnstons in Ireland could be transplanted Scotsmen (mainly in
Fermanagh) or
anglicized names from the Gaelic Mac Sean (MacShane) or Mac

(McKeown). One MacShane line may have produced the Johnsons of
Meath and
William Johnson of colonial New York repute.
However, it was the Scots Irish who generally predominated.

Walter (Watty
Roe) Johnston was in Fermanagh by the early 1600’s and his descendants,
starting with the Rev. Hugh Johnston, settled at Magheramena. The Johnston name would appear frequently
among the High Sheriffs of Fermanagh during the 18th century. George Johnston from Antrim was a leading
figure during the siege of Londonderry in 1689.
His son William engineered and built the waterworks of Belfast
and was
known as “Pipewater Johnston.” Many
of the Scots Irish Johnstons emigrated to America.

America. The first Johnson in America
was John Johnson
from Scotland who came to Virginia around 1615, survived the Indian
massacre of
1622, and thereby earned the title of “the ancient planter.”
Meanwhile Antonio, a
Negro, had been brought to Jamestown as a slave in 1621.
He subsequently became free, married a white
woman, and adopted the name of Anthony Johnson.
He and his family prospered and moved to Maryland in 1665.

Another John Johnson, from Norfolk in
England, settled in Northampton county, Virginia in the 1650’s; while
Johnston, Scots Irish, was in Isle of Wight county by 1670.
Thomas Johnson, also
from Norfolk, emigrated to Maryland around 1690. His
grandson Thomas was in 1777
the first Governor of Maryland.

Some Johnsons in America have Dutch origins.
Jan Willemszen Van der Loosdrecht came with
his family in 1661 and settled in Bergen, New Jersey. The surname
became Johnson
when his son Willem adopted that name in Staten Island, New York in
1677. Later Johnsons of this line married
with the
Vanderbilt family. Nathaniel Johnson, a
Loyalist, left Staten Island for New Brunswick in the 1780’s.

William Johnson’s arrival in America in 1737
owed everything to the patronage of his maternal uncle Admiral Sir
Warren. He was born into an Anglo-Irish
tenant farming family in Smithstown, Meath.
But once in America he started up a trading post with the
Indians in the
Mohawk valley of New York and soon prospered there.
He died in 1774, knighted and a wealthy
landowner. His son Sir John, a Loyalist,
departed for Canada in 1783 and made his home in Montreal.

Two American Johnsons became President:

  • Andrew
    Johnson, President in 1865 after Lincoln’s assassination.
    He grew up in North Carolina from ancestors
    who were probably Scots Irish Presbyterians and had come to America
  • and Lyndon Baines Johnson, President in 1963 after Kennedy’s
    assassination. His lineage has been traced
    to John Johnson, a Revolutionary War veteran from Georgia.
    His son Jesse was a cattle rancher who moved
    to Texas in 1848.

in America outnumber UK Johnsons by more than
two to one. This is because the US has absorbed Johnsons from other
– in particular those from Scandinavia, the
Jonssons and Johanssons in
Sweden, the Johansens and Johnsens in Norway, and even the Jorgensens
Denmark. Johan Johansson, for instance,
who came to America from Sweden in the 1890’s settled in Minnesota as

States like Minnesota with
Scandinavian immigration have a high proportion of Johnsons. Foremost among the Swedish-American Johnsons
have been the Minnesota
Governor John A. Johnson
and the Hollywood actor Van

As a result of the Scandinavian influx, Johnson is the second most
common surname in the United States.

Many of the early Johnsons in Canada came from the United States. They could have been of Dutch origin
(Nathaniel Johnson in New Brunswick) or of American Indian or African
American origin.

Jacob Johnson, a
Mohawk chieftain in New York, had gained his surname from Sir William
Johnson, the
Superintendent of Indian affairs, who had acted as his godfather in a
baptism. His Mohawks later migrated to Canada and the line
there extended to
his son Smoke Johnson and to his grandson George Johnson who married an
woman. George’s daughter Pauline became
well-known for her writings in which celebrated her Mohawk heritage.

The Johnson name in Canada could also have
been African American. The Johnsons of
Dresden in SW Ontario can be traced back to Jacob and Margaret Johnson,
born in
slavery in New Jersey before the American Revolution.
A later Jacob and his three sons escaped from slavery in
Maryland and reached the black community of Dresden
sometime in the 1850’s. Jennie Johnson,
born there in 1868, became the first ordained woman Baptist minister in
and lived to be almost a hundred.


Johnson/Johnston Miscellany

FitzJohns and Johnsons.  The FitzJohns were an Anglo-Norman family which had
established themselves in England by the 12th century.
The first of the FitzJohn line at Rippingale
in Lincolnshire was said to have been Hugh FitzAlan. Later
came his great grandson Sir Adam
FitzJohn, living there in 1324.

The Johnson family of Ayscoughfee Hall in
Lincolnshire claimed descent from these FitzJohns (although records of
family only go back to the early 17th century).

Johnston and Johnstone.  The Scottish spelling may be either Johnston or JohnstonePresently
the clan chief spells
his name Johnstone and the head of the house of Caskieben spells his
Johnston. Either spelling may be used by Annandale or Caskieben
although the “e” is more common among those of Annandale.
The Scottish pronunciation of either name
tends to be”Jawnson.”

in the U.K. the pronunciation tends to
be “Johnston.”  But Americans
usually pronounce Johnstone as “Johnstoan” and Johnston as
“Johnston,” suggesting two different names.

Johnston, Johnstone and Johnson in Scotland 

Scottish 1911 Census Johnstone Johnston Johnson
Numbers (000’s)    13    17     2
Percent    40%    53%     7%

John Johnson, Ancient Planter.  John Johnson earned
the title of ‘Yeoman and Ancient Planter’ by arriving in Virginia from Scotland before 1616, remaining for at least three years, receiving patents of land from
the Virginia Company under their rules issued in 1618, and surviving the
massacre of 22 March 1622.

He lived on 15 acres on Back River in the northeast
portion of Jamestown island and raised crops, probably
including tobacco, on 85 acres on Archer’s Hope Creek in the area called Jockey’s Neck.

His wife Ann may have been one of the
“maids” imported in 1619.  They
apparently voyaged back to England in the mid-1630’s, since his heirs were
granted 450 acres in Surry county in 1638 for re-importing his family of four
and bringing five servants.  John died
soon after their return.  Ann died around 1653.

Their children John and Ann
inherited the estate of this “ancient planter.”
Ann Johnson left her name to Ann Johnson Lane on Governor’s Land at Two Rivers.

Johnsons in America by Country of Origin

Johnsons in America by Country of
England   25%
Scotland     4%
Ireland     9%
Sweden   44%
Norway    11%
Elsewhere     9%

 John A. Johnson of Minnesota.  John A. Johnson, born in a frontier cabin in St. Peter, Minnesota in 1861, was the eldest child of an impoverished Swedish
family that had been abandoned by its alcoholic father.
He left school at 13 to support his mother
and siblings. Local Democrats, impressed with this enterprising young store
clerk, asked him to join their party and edit the strongly Democratic St. Peter Herald. His journalistic
success attracted statewide attention and fostered political

He ended up being elected Governor of the state three times and was also touted as
a possible Presidential candidate.  He
died in office in 1909 during his third term.


Johnson Names

  • Ben Jonson, a contemporary of Shakespeare, was a dramatist and poet, best known for his satirical
  • Samuel Johnson was the famous compiler of A Dictionary of the English Language.
  • Howard Johnson was the founder of Howard Johnson restaurants.
  • Robert Wood Johnson and his two
    brothers James and Edward were the founders in 1885 of the company that
    became Johnson & Johnson.
  • Jack Johnson was the first black heavyweight boxing champion of the world in 1908.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th President of the United States.
  • Philip Johnson was a very
    influential late 20th century architect.
  • Michael Johnson has held the fastest times in the world for the 200 and 400 meters.
  • Boris Johnson became the British Prime Minister in 2019.

Select Johnson Numbers Today

  • 215,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 602,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 127,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Johnson is the #2 ranked surname in America and the #11 ranked in the UK.


Select Johnson and Like Surnames  

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “son” suffix is more common in northern England than in the south and in lowland Scotland.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.





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