Lewis Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Lewis Surname Meaning

There appears to be both an English and Norman French origin for the surname Lewis. The Old English leofwine, meaning “beloved friend,” was one source. Lodovicus was the founder of the Frankish dynasty and his name came over to England with the Normans. Over time these names became Lewis.  In Wales Lewis could have derived from Llewelyn.

Lewis Surname Resources on The Internet

Lewis Surname Ancestry

  • from Wales and Western England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Wales. The English name Lewis would intertwine with the Welsh Llewelyn, often absorbing it as anglicization proceeded. Thus the 15th century Welsh bard was sometimes called Llewellyn Glyn and sometimes Lewis Glyn.

Thomas ap Lewis was killed at the battle of Banbury in 1469 and his son, a landowner in Monmouthshire, was the first to adopt Lewis as a surname.

There was an old Lewis line in Breconshire and Monmouthshire which DNA testing has linked to Rhys Goch, the lord of Ystrad in Breconshire in the 11th century. John Lewis, born in 1594, was the son of Lewis Prichard and this John was the father of emigrant John Lewis.

His gravestone in Virginia read:  “Here lieth interred the body of John Lewis. Born in Monmouthshire, he died the 21st of August 1657 aged 63 years. The anagram of his name is ‘I shew no ill.'”  

The Lewis family of Van in Glamorgan took the Lewis name in the 1540’s when Edward ap Lewis became Edward Lewis. Thomas Lewis, who died in 1736, was the last Lewis of Van. Richard Lewis, thought to have been a descendant, emigrated to Ireland in the 1850’s. His grandson, born in Belfast, was the writer C.S. Lewis.

The Lewis name is common today in Glamorgan and elsewhere in south Wales. William Lewis, born in Merthyr Tydfil, was a 19th century coal mining magnate.

England. The English Lewises have tended to be in the west country and the counties bordering Wales. One Lewis family which came to England in 1685 were Huguenots fleeing France who had changed their name from Louis to Lewis.

Lewis later was an anglicized name for Jewish immigrants in London. Prominent among these Lewises were:

  • John Lewis who founded the John Lewis department store in London in 1864
  • Ted “Kid” Lewis, the world welterweight boxing champion in 1915
  • and Bernard Lewis, the distinguished Middle East historian.

America. John Lewis came to Virginia from Monmouthshire in 1653, although it is often his son “Councillor” John Lewis who is considered the progenitor of the family. He was one of the richest man in Virginia of his time. He inherited Warner Hall in Gloucester county after his marriage to Elizabeth Warner and the home stayed with the Lewis family until 1934.

Meriwether Lewis, he of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific, was related to these Lewises through the youngest son Robert Lewis of Belvoir. He was buried in what is now Lewis county, Tennessee where a monument was erected to his memory in 1848.

A line from Robert of Belvoir also went to Kentucky with Daniel Boone and later, through Daniel Lewis, was to be found in Alabama and Missouri. A family reunion of descendants was held in Franklin county, Missouri in 1957.

Another John Lewis, this time from Ireland and of probable French Huguenot roots, arrived in Virginia in 1728. He was described as “tall and of great muscular strength and one of the best backwoodsmen of his day.” This Lewis family, pioneers in western Virginia, ran the Lynnwood plantation.

Other Lewises from Wales whose descendants achieved prominence in America were:

  • Francis Lewis from Glamorgan who arrived in New York in 1734 and was an early figure in New York business. His son Morgan Lewis became Governor of New York in 1804.
  • and Nathan Lewis who came to Baltimore in the early 1760’s and later moved to North Carolina. His son Washington Lewis moved to Alabama and a later Lewis, David, was Governor of Alabama in 1872.

Canada.  John and Elizabeth Lewis from SW Scotland departed for Canada a second time in 1844, having previously departed and returned, and made their home on St. Peter’s Bay in Prince Edward Island. Many Lewises were buried at the Catholic church in St. Peter’s. Another John Lewis, this time from Pembrokeshire in Wales, emigrated to Canada in 1891, settling with his family in Victoria, British Columbia. He was a cabinet maker by trade.

Moishe Losz became Morris Lewis on his arrival in Canada in 1921. A Jewish labor activist in Poland, he continued this work in Canada, something which has been followed on in their different ways by his son David, grandson Stephen, and great grandson Avi.

Australia. James Lewis came to South Australia from Wales in the Rapid in 1838. He ended up farming just outside Adelaide. His son John had a wandering life, first in the Northern Territory and then in the Victoria goldfields, before returning to South Australia in 1876. John’s son Essington ascended the ranks of the mining company BHP as its Managing Director from 1926 and its Chairman from 1950.

Lewis Surname Miscellany

From Rhys Goch to Lewis.  The line from Rhys Goch was said to have gone:

  • Genillin ap Rhys Goch,
    born around 1070 in Breconshire
  • Idris ap Genillin
  • Ieuan ap Idris
  • Ieuan Fychan
  • David Mwnton
  • Hywel Hir ap David
  • David ap Hywell Hir
  • Gwilym ap David
  • John ap Gwilym
  • Thomas ap John
  • and to Lewis ap Thomas, born around 1510 in Breconshire

His son Richard Lewis was the first to adopt Lewis as a surname.  He was born sometime in the 1530’s at the family home at Llangatock near Crickhowell in Breconshire.  Richard’s grandson John was a Royalist at the time of the Civil War, was banished during the Commonwealth period and, after a brief sojourn in Barbados, ended up in Virginia in 1653. 

The Lewis Family of Van.  This prominent Glamorgan family was characterized by its lengthy pedigree and its aptitude for the acquisition of property.

Edward Lewis was the first that took the surname. He built the older portions of the Van estate near Caerphilly and enclosed the park. He was three times sheriff of Glamorgan in the 1550’s.   Son Thomas and grandson Sir Edward were also sheriffs of Glamorgan in their time.  Sir Edward added considerably to the family estates, the most interesting of these purchases was St. Fagan’s castle, acquired in 1616 and now the Folk Museum of Wales.

Thomas Lewis who died in 1736 was the last Lewis of Van.  He was an MP for a number of constituencies in his life and died in England (in Hampshire). Elizabeth, his only daughter and his heiress, succeeded him and married the Earl of Plymouth. 

Lewis French Huguenots.  The Lewis family were originally French Huguenots and left France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.  Three brothers, William, Samuel and John, fled to England. While crossing the English Channel they changed the original name of Louis to Lewis.

Shortly afterward William removed to the north of Ireland, where he married a Miss McClelland. Samuel fixed his residence in Wales, while John continued in England. General Robert Lewis and Colonel John Lewis were sons of Samuel and came to America in 1635.

John Lewis’s Tombstone.  John Lewis had left Ireland a fugitive, having stabbed his Irish landlord, and had taken refuge in Portugal before fleeing Europe for America in 1728.  He became a true American.  His tombstone read:

“Here lie the remains of John Lewis, who slew the Irish Lord, settled Augusta county, located the town of Staunton, and furnished five sons to fight the battles of the American Revolution.”

Meriwether Lewis.  Meriwether Lewis was the grandson of Robert Lewis of Belvoir and the son of William Lewis and his cousin Lucy Meriwether.  He became private secretary to Thomas Jefferson and a close neighbor to him at Monticello.  When Lewis was wanted at Monticello, Jefferson would signal him with a mirror reflected in the sun.

While Jefferson was President he appointed Lewis in 1804 as leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to explore the NW territory which the United States had bought from France in 1803.

On his return from this famous journey, Lewis was appointed Governor of the territory of Louisiana in 1806, a post which he held until his death. In 1809 he was murdered and robbed of his money, watch and valuable papers as he was crossing through Tennessee on a trip to Virginia from St. Louis.  The watch that was stolen was later found in a pawn shop in New Orleans. This watch, his revolver, diary, compass and many other articles that he used on the Western expedition are now at the Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis. 

The John Lewis Department Store.  John Lewis was the founder of the John Lewis department store on Oxford Street in London.  He was born in 1836 in Somerset into a Jewish family but became an orphan at the age of seven. He was brought up by an aunt.

Having served as an apprentice to a local draper from the age of fourteen, he moved to London to become a silk buyer in the capital, working in Peter Robinson’s department store at Oxford Circus by the time he was 20.  

In 1864 John Lewis opened his own small drapery shop, John Lewis & Co, at 132 Oxford Street, on part of the same site as the present John Lewis department store.  The business flourished and expanded and was rebuilt in the 1880’s to form an all-encompassing department store.

Lewis Names

  • Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition made the first overland trip across America to the Pacific coast.
  • Isaac Lewis was the American inventor of the Lewis gun which saw service during the First World War.
  • John L. Lewis was the labor leader for the miner workers in America in the 1930’s and helped found the CIO (Council of Industrial Organizations).
  • C.S. Lewis was the Christian writer and scholar, best known today for The Chronicles of Narnia.
  • John Lewis was the African American civil rights activist and long-term US Congressman who died in 2020.
  • Carl Lewis was an American record-breaking sprinter.
  • Bernard Lewis is a distinguished Middle East historian.
  • Daniel Day Lewis is an Academy Award winning actor, the son of the Anglo-Irish poet Cecil Day Lewis.
  • Lennox Lewis was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1999 to 2003.
  • Michael Lewis is a financial journalist and author of such best-selling books as Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Big Short and Flash Boys.

Lewis Numbers Today

  • 198,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 185,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 69,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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