Little Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Little Meaning
The common explanation of the Little surname was that
it originally was a nickname describing a little man. Alternatively,
it might signify the younger of
two men bearing the same name. Little has
its surname counterparts as Klein in Germany and Petit in France
However, many with the name of Little originated from the Scottish
border clan of Little. The early spelling seems to have been
Lidil or Litil. The meaning here is unclear.

Little Resources on

Little Ancestry

Little surname
in Scotland may have been English. The name
then appeared at the time of William Wallace in the late 1200’s.
Soon afterwards the Littles were to be found in Dumfriesshire on the
Scottish borders. In 1426 Simon
Little became the first Laird of Meikledale.

Border Reivers.
For three centuries the Littles
shared with the Armstrongs and Beatties the steep-sided dales
immediately to
the north and west of the present town of Langholm at the extreme east
end of
Dumfriesshire. These clans
thrived during the lawless times of the 1500’s on the
Scottish borders. One source of income
was sheep.
Another source was stealing
horses, from the
English or wherever they could find them.

1568 over a hundred Littles rode with the Armstrongs and other Border
in John Maxwell’s raid on Stirling. Family tradition has it that
the Littles
returned with many more horses than they set out with.”

1603 King James of Scotland and England was determined to put down this
lawlessness. His wish was carried through with sword, noose and torch. Chiefs were hanged and those who survived
were forced to quit their lands.

David Little was to be the
last Laird of Meikledale. He was given
work as a groom at Windsor castle and his line died out a century later.

Elsewhere. The Littles of Liberton in
Edinburgh, burgess
merchants, were a branch of the border clan that dated from around
Clement Little was a founder of the University of Edinburgh Library in
His son William Little was twice Provost of Edinburgh.
These Littles later became Little

The Border Littles had begun to
scatter in the early 17th century, fleeing from persecution, poverty
overcrowding. They crossed the English
border into Cumberland and to the Ulster plantations.
Littles in both Cumberland and Ulster now
outnumber those in Dumfriesshire.

England. The English county of
Cumberland was a
natural settling point for Border Littles, the town of Carlisle being
twenty miles south of the Scottish western Marches.
Littles found work there as cloth

William Little, born in 1676 and
a tenant farmer in Stapleton parish, seems to have been the ancestor of
Littles, both in England and in America (a descendant Thomas Little
for South Carolina in 1806).

There were
Littles, probably unrelated, in SW England.
William Little and his son George were merchants in
Dorchester, Dorset in the 1630’s
. Thomas Little departed Devon for Plymouth,
Massachusetts in 1631. John Little of Corsham in
Wiltshire was transported to Barbados in 1657. Other Littles
Wiltshire included John Little who
married Margaret Wait in Corsham in 1761 and Joseph Little who married
Jones in Trowbridge in 1790.

Ireland. Little is a name found in
Ulster. Interestingly the largest numbers
in Griffith’s Valuation of the mid-19th
century were in the inland counties of Fermanagh and Tyrone. Fermanagh was where many Armstrongs had
migrated and Littles had followed them there.

Robert and Jane Little had four children born in Enniskillen between
1676 and 1682. They had descendants at
Aghalurcher and elsewhere in Fermanagh. Meanwhile a Little family
had been leasing land at Pubble township near Enniskillen from 1744. Archibald Little of this family married
Isabella Potters
around 1788 and they later emigrated to America. Francis
Little was born near Clones in
in the late 1700’s

The Gaelic surname O’Beagain
was derived from beag meaning
“small” or “little.” This sometime got
as Little in Munster.

America. The first Littles in America were English.

English. Thomas Little who sailed from
Devon was first recorded in Massachusetts in 1633.
He later made his home in Littletown,
Marshfield. George and Nathaniel Little,
both born in Marshfield, fought in the Revolutionary War:

  • George was a Navy officer who was captured
    by the British,
    imprisoned, but later escaped. His
    capture of a French vessel in 1800 caused controversy.
  • while
    Nathaniel served on land as a captain
    during the Revolutionary War. He later
    made his home in Ohio.

Another English
arrival, from London, was George Little who came to
Newbury, Massachusetts in 1640. His
descendants included Colonel Moses Little
and Colonel Joshua Little,
remarkable men of vigor at the time of the Revolutionary War, and
Coffin Little, born in Maine, who co-founded the publishing company of
Brown & Co in 1837. George Little’s
1877 book Descendants of George Little covered
this line.

to family legend (although unproven), John Little was born about 1675
Scotland and came to what was then East Jersey sometime in the early
1700’s. He was the forebear of a notable
New Jersey family based in Monmouth county.
He and his son John were both sitting Judges on
the Court of Common Pleas in the county.
Interestingly, these Littles of Scottish
extraction all married Dutch women between the years 1735 and 1820.

The Littles
were Patriots during the
and suffered brutality from the British as a result. After the war one son Thomas became a member of the New Jersey legislature. Another son Theophilus purchased several
thousand acres of land in Pennsylvania in an area that was to become
county. His family moved there in stages
between 1803 and 1813. His son Thomas,
known as Squire Little, moved to Ohio in 1815 and there were later
descendants in Illinois.

Captain George
Little from Dumfries arrived in South Carolina and fought in the
War. He was severely wounded during the
fighting, leaving him a cripple. He died
in Kentucky. His son John migrated to
Tennessee and then to Texas. William
also from Dumfries and also in South Carolina, was killed in 1781
during the
Revolutionary War. His son William Joseph
Little settled in Georgia, fought in the Creek Indian War, and was a Justice
of the Peace in Carroll county.

German. There were also Kleins who became Littles in
America. Johann Peter Klein, also
known as Peter Little, was the founder of Littlestown in Adams county,
Pennsylvania in 1760. Colonel Peter Little was a US Congressman for
Maryland in
the early 1800’s; while Henry Little settled in Frederick county,

Another Klein/Little line began with Johann
Daniel Klein who became Daniel Little in Rowan county, North Carolina. Pauline Shook’s 1994 book was entitled Captain Daniel Little and His Contemporaries. Daniel’s descendants started a family
organization at their reunion in Hickory, North Carolina in 1978.

Caribbean. George and
Matthew Little left Dumfriesshire for Jamaica in the early
1800’s. Both died young there in their twenties within a year of
each other. But they left descendants.

Australia and New Zealand.
Francis Little from Dumfriesshire came out to
Australia on a convict ship in 1823. His
brother Archibald followed him two years later.
They were early settlers in Hunter Valley, NSW.
Archibald later returned to Britain. Francis
stayed. On his death in 1860 his Invermian estate reverted to his eldest son William who
held it for
another seventeen years.

James Little
was a shepherd in Midlothian who came to New Zealand in the
1860’s. He worked initially as a
shepherd at the Corriedale station in Otago, SI before leasing land in
Canterbury. There he became a successful
sheep breeder.


Little Miscellany

Little Origins in Scotland.  The Littles
in Scotland may have had English origins.
In the 12th century the Scottish King David I appointed Walter fitzAlan, an Anglo-Norman from Shropshire, as his High
Steward.  In his capacity
as Steward, Walter then granted lands at Cairntable in
north Ayrshire to Alan Little, a former neighbor of his on the
Shropshire-Cheshire border.

Edward Little was recorded in the late 1200’s by Blind Harry the Minstrel in his poem The Wallace in commemoration of the Scottish freedom fighter William Wallace.  “And Edward Littil his sisters sone so der Full wel graithit in till thar armour cler.”  This Edward Little was said to have had Anglo-Norman lineage.

By 1300 the Littles had settled in
Dumfriesshire where Nicol Little was recorded as a Conservator of
the Peace
for Lochmabenston (near Lockerbie) along the Western Marches.

In 1426 Simon Lytil was granted tenure
of Meikledale, Sorbie and Kirktoun in Ewesdale, Dumfriesshire.   This Simon
Little, the first Laird of Meikledale, is considered to be the first
chief of
that name.

Clan Little and Their Sheep.  Clan Little lived in the valley of Ewes, so beautiful that it earned this line of praise by the visiting poet Killarney while looking into the valley:

“Angels often pausing there
Doubt if Eden were more fair.” 

To the clan the valley of
Ewes outside of Langholm was their Eden.
Langholm was a market town to receive wool from the surrounding
moors where sheep were raised.  Meikledale
in the valley of Ewes was a glen within a great expanse of endless
moors that
could graze thousands of sheep across its hills.

The moors and flocks were of
such size that shepherding was achieved on horseback. The men were
meaning that they both shepherded and fought on horseback. The men of
Little clan became expert horsemen, herding the sheep with the
cooperative help
of all the other horsemen and their intelligent sheepdogs.   This daily shepherding teamwork on
carried over to agile teamwork in mounted defence, battle and
retrieving stolen
animals from raiders.

A poem of the times ran as follows:

“They ran their steads on the Langholm holm,
They ran their steeds with might and main:
The ladies looked from their high windows,
God bring our men well back again!”

When animals were stolen a retrieval party was launched on
horseback. One rider held aloft a spear-pierced cut of heather sod, lit
fire, so that the fiery torch could be seen across the moor. This was
visual signal to call for the help of the other men. All of the men
expected to join the reiver ride of retrieval once they saw the torch.
process of retrieval was called “reiving” and the men “reivers.” 

Littles from Clones in Fermanagh.  David Little, the son of Francis Little, was born in Fermanagh in 1814.  His birthplace and that of his brother,
William, was at Cortessna.  Other
brothers and sisters were born at the family home near Clones. Their
Francis Little, taught school at Ah Drumsee and had charge of the
church for
thirty nine years.  The old stone
schoolhouse, several hundred years old, is said to be still standing
with its
original stone benches.

F.T. Little, a descendant living in Kansas, wrote the
following in 1934:

“When our son Will
went to Ireland two years ago, I directed a letter to the Methodist
preacher at
Clones.  He met Will and went with him to
the old home which is four miles south of town.
It is just across the road from the Ah Drumsee church.  The people in the old home were very kind and
allowed Will to go through the house where grandfather Francis Little
lived and
where all of his children were born, except father who was born at
and Uncle David.

Grandfather Francis located there about 115 years ago.  Grandfather and grandmother are buried in the
same grave not more than four rods north from the church door which is
in the
back of the church facing north. The stone is laid down on the grave.  I remember seeing a stone-cutter putting
grandfather’s name on it.”

John Little and the Revolutionary War in New Jersey.  In Monmouth county, New Jersey the Presbyterians formed the hard cord of rebellion against the British.
The British officials in America constantly complained that the
against the English was a Presbyterian plot.

John Little and his fellow rebels
were the special object of British hatred and reprisal as they raided,
plundered and laid waste to plantations and sometimes to whole sections
of the
county with as many as seven or eight hundred men. Thereafter the lives
property of John Little and his children were in
constant peril and remained as such for six long years.

Because of his
activities as a rebel committeeman, John Little was a marked man.  His slaves, livestock and wagons were
requisitioned by the British and his plantation laid to waste in 1779.

Meanwhile his son John
Little had been killed by Hessians in 1777, leaving an only son John
Little (later known as Chestnut Plains John).
Another son Lieutenant Thomas Little was captured in 1777,
confined in
irons on a war vessel and later moved to the prison ship Jersey.
He was a prisoner of war on parole until 1781 when he was
freed as part of a prisoner exchange.  Thomas
later served in the NJ State Legislature and became the acting
Governor of New Jersey.

After the War was over in
John Little dedicated the remaining two years of his life to reclaiming
plantation and restoring the first Presbyterian Church in Shrewsbury
that his
father had built and saw chartered before he died in 1751.

Colonel Moses Little in the Revolutionary War.  Colonel Moses Little was more than fifty years of age when the war broke out.

However, at the first tidings of the encounter at Lexington, he
raised a company and marched to the American headquarters in Cambridge,
Massachusetts.  At the Battle of Bunker
Hill he was in
command of a regiment, led his men across Charlestown Neck under
terrible fire
from the British batteries, and arrived at the scene of action just
before the
third and final charge of the enemy.
Though unwounded, he had several narrow escapes, men on each
side of him
being killed, and his clothes were bespattered with blood.

Called home in August
to attend to the funeral of two of his children, he rejoined his
command after
an absence of just two days.  He was
present at the disastrous engagement on Long Island and later fought at
and Princeton.  By this time he had become acquainted with
Washington who held him in
high regard and often relied on his judgment.

Early in 1777 he was obliged on
account of ill health to return home.
Four years later he lost his speech as paralysis set in.

The Mysterious Lynching of Frank Little.  Frank Little had been involved in the American West in organizing lumberjacks, metal miners, migrant farm workers, and oil field workers into industrial
unions, often as part of free speech campaigns.
This made him a lot of enemies.

On August 1, 1917 his murderers parked in front
of 316 North Wyoming Street in Butte, Montana shortly after 3 am.  One stayed by the car while the others – six
of them, all masked – entered the boarding house. They roused the
owner, a
woman named Nora Byrne.  “We want Frank
Little,” they said.  Terrified, she
directed them to room 32. They kicked in the door.

Their quarry, a slender,
dark-haired man, had been sleeping. They hauled him out in his
giving him no time to dress or grab his crutches, and bundled him in
the car.
They drove a short distance, stopped, tied him to the rear bumper and
him over the street’s granite blocks.

Out on the Milwaukee bridge, just outside
town, they beat him.  Then they attached
a rope to a railway trestle and strung him up.
“Cause of death: strangulation by hanging,” said the coroner’s

ended the short, eventful life of Frank Little, labor leader, strike
and anti-war protester.  A crippled,
one-eyed, itinerant activist, he had taken on a giant corporation and
the US
Government and lost.  He was buried in Butte’s Mountain View
Cemetery.  His grave marker reads:
“Slain by capitalist interests for organizing and inspiring his fellow



Little Names

  • Simon Little, the Laird of of Meikledale in 1426, is considered the first chief of the Scottish border Little clan.   
  • Frank Little was an American labor
    union leader of the early 1900’s who was murdered by his opponents in 1917
  • Arthur D. Little founded the chemical engineering consulting company of Arthur D. Little in Boston in 1909.  His nephew Royal Little, the founder of Textron, is generally considered as the father of conglomerates. 
  • Malcolm Little, better known as Malcolm X, was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was assassinated in 1965. 
  • Tasmin Little is a highly acclaimed English classical violinist.

Select Little Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 37,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 23,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Little and Like Surnames

The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays.  Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way.  Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified.  There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster.  These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.



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