Mason Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Mason Surname Meaning

The surname Mason derives from the occupation of stonemason (the word itself coming from the Old Central French word macon or masson). The trade was a skilled and highly regarded one in medieval England.  A mason was generally recognized as someone who had already served his time as an apprentice to a master craftsman.

Mason craft guilds may have been the origin of the freemasonry which began in Scotland in the early 18th century, but there is no strong evidence that this was the case.

Mason Surname Resources on The Internet

Mason Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to Ireland, America, St. Helena and New Zealand

England.  The Mason name started to appear in the 13th century and had become quite widespread by the 14th century, although with many different spellings. 

Mason came to predominate.  But the Norman form of Machin persisted, notably in Gloucestershire and later in Nottinghamshire.  Machins accounted for 7% of the Masons in England by the time of the 1881 census

There were some early Masons in south and eastern England:  

  • a Mason family resided at Necton Hall near Swaffham in Norfolk from the late 15th to the early 20th century.  Captain Arthur Mason of this family died in tragic circumstances at Gallipoli in 1915.  
  • Sir John Mason, the Tudor diplomat, was the son of a cow-herd in Abingdon in Berkshire.  John Mason School in Abingdon was named after him.  
  • while Thomas Mason at this time was a yeoman farmer at Monkton in Kent. He bequeathed to his son William 100 pounds with the instructions that he should educate himself. He did so and became a lawyer and an MP in 1626.   

Generally, however, Mason developed more as a surname in the north of England.

Anthony Mason was born at Dent in the Yorkshire Dales in 1620 and his descendants became prosperous landowners there in the 18th century. From these roots came Miles Mason, the forebear of the famous Mason family of potters in Staffordshire.

Hugh Mason, one of the prominent early 19th century Lancashire mill owners, was the son of a family that had moved north from Derbyshire.

Ireland.  Christopher Mason from Sion in Middlesex arrived in Waterford in 1627 and settled there.  His grandson John was four times mayor of Waterford between 1696 and 1712.  Another line via Robert Mason came to Galway in the 1690’s.  Their home was Masonbrook.  This line became the Monck Masons and they made their mark as writers.

Scotland.  The Sinclairs of Rosslyn laid claim to be the hereditary Grand Master Masons of Scotland, although Sir James of that family did resign his position there in 1736. Masons in Scotland have sometimes been thought of as a sub-sect of the Sinclair clan.

One Mason family line has been traced back to 1750 in Troqueer parish in Ayrshire.  The Masons of Moredon in Edinburgh were granted a coat of arms in 1795.

America.  The first Mason with connections to America was undoubtedly Captain John Mason, even though he never set foot in New Hampshire.  But from his land grants came the Mason claim to the state. 

New England.  Another Captain John Mason did come to Massachusetts in 1632.  He later settled in Windsor, Connecticut and served as Deputy Governor of Connecticut. He was the forebear of a large number of Mason descendants in America, including Jeremiah Mason, the US Senator for New Hampshire, and John S. Mason, a Union general during the Civil War. There is a statue of him on the Palisado Green in Windsor.

Sampson Mason, a Puritan caught up in the English Civil War in Lancashire made his escape to America in the late 1640’s and settled in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.  He too had many Mason descendants in America.

A notable 19th century Mason family in Massachusetts included Lowell Mason, a leading figure in American church music, and his sons Henry and William and grandson Daniel, all involved in music in different capacities.

Virginia.  George Mason, a Royalist captain, fled England after their defeat at Worcester and came to Virginia in 1652.  He was the progenitor of a powerful landowning and political family in Virginia. Their base was the family plantation at Chopawamsic in Stafford county.

This line led to great grandson George Masonknown as “Father of the Bill of Rights” and one of the “founding fathers of the United States.”  His home was Gunston Hall in Virginia. The Mason line then went via: 

  • his eldest son George who, however, died only three years after his father in 1795.   
  • and his son John, the father of James Murray Mason, US Senator for Virginia from 1847 to 1861 and a fervent supporter of the South during the Civil War.

And there was a younger son Stevens, the US Senator for Virginia from 1794 to 1803.  Stevens’ two sons were also distinguished – Armistead as US Senator for Virginia (later killed in a duel) and John, an important figure in the early history of Texas.  John’s son Stevens, known as the “Boy Governor,” became Governor of Michigan in 1835 at the age of 23.  Mason county in Michigan was named after him

St. Helena.  Richard Mason arrived on the Atlantic island of St. Helena sometime in the early 1700’s. A later Richard Mason met Captain Cook when he visited the island in 1775.  And William Mason was a British officer guarding Napoleon at St. Helena after his defeat at Waterloo in 1815.  William then migrated back and forth between St. Helena and South Africa before settling in Cape Town in the 1850’s. 

The main line of descent in South Africa then was via his eldest son Edwin.  A younger son Richard died at sea in the 1860’s while en-route for Australia.

New Zealand.  George Mason from Gloucestershire came on a whaler to Kapiti island on North Island in 1837. He married twice in New Zealand – first to Hemi Hamaka in 1842 and then to Elizabeth Rix in 1854.  In total, there were 21 children born to these two marriages.

Mason Surname Miscellany

Early Masons in England.  The Mason name had started to appear in different forms in England by the 13th century.  But it is not quite clear from the examples below whether the name is a surname or simply refers to the occupation.

1200 Roger le Mason Oxfordshire (Oseney Abbey)
1203 Godfrey le Mascun Essex fines
1279 Osbert le Masson Oxfordshire rolls
1279 Adam le Machon Northumberland assizes
1284 Richard Machen Staffordshire assizes

The Machen and Machyn spellings would probably reflect the Norman pronunciation.

A clearer example of the occupation becoming a surname is shown in the 1379 Yorkshire rolls by John Mason, a mason in Ripon.

Machins/Machens in Gloucestershire.  The forebear of these Machins was said by some to have been Robert Machin of Bristol, the man who might have discovered Madeira (the island not the wine) back in the 1340’s.  This Machin may be a character of invention rather than of fact as there have been many tales weaved about him.  Still, the town of Machico on Madeira is thought to have got its name from Machin.

Thomas Machin was a mercer of Gloucester who was three times its mayor in the 1570’s.  He died in 1614, leaving a considerable estate.  A monument to him survives, one of the more elaborate to be found in Gloucester Cathedral. In it he is represented kneeling in his mayoral robes, facing his wife.  Also featured are their thirteen children.

A coat of arms was granted to his son Edward Machen a year later. These Machens established themselves at Eastbach Court in Bicknor parish, close by the Forest of Dean.  They remained there until the 1880’s when Charles Machen of the family moved to Bicknor Court nearby. 

The Mason Potters.  It was, as the Masons said, both luck and love that got Miles Mason started in the ceramics business.  He had come to London in the 1770’s to work as a clerk for his uncle on Chigwell Row. By chance, his next door neighbor was Richard Farrar, a prosperous glass and china merchant who sold mainly porcelain imported from China.  Farrar’s daughter, Ruth, was only nine when her father died in 1775 and she inherited his fortune.  Seven years later, when she was sixteen, Miles married her.

Miles started his own porcelain business, firstly in partnership with others and later with the assistance of his three sons. It was his third son Charles James (known as CJ) who was destined to become one of the outstanding figures of the Staffordshire pottery industry.  His most famous work was a porcelain known as Ironside China. His business boomed, both in England and America.

But the boom was only to be short-term.  In England his type of porcelain went out of fashion.  In America it began to be copied at a cheaper price by others.  In 1848 CJ went bankrupt.

The Monck Masons.  The first of the Monck Masons was John Monck Mason, born in 1726 and the son of Robert Mason of Galway and Sarah Monck of Dublin. He was an Irish politician and a man of letters (his works including Shakespearian commentaries).  He died without issue.

Via another line through his brother Henry came Henry Monck Mason, also a writer and the founder of the Irish Society (although he spoke no Irish). Then there was Thomas Monck Mason who was a flute player, writer, and balloonist.  He was reported to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a balloon in 1835.  This turned out to be a hoax.  Thomas impoverished himself in the 1840’s when he rented out London theaters to stage operas.

There were Monck Masons who had more conventional careers.  George Monck Mason went out to India and served as the British Resident at Jodhpurs.  He was killed in the 1857 Indian Mutiny.  A later George Monck Mason of this family, a noted Orientalist, was British consul in Iraq, but was killed during the riots in Mosul in 1939.

The Mason Claim to New Hampshire.  Captain John Mason from Norfolk, an early explorer and cartographer in the New World, is considered the founder of New Hampshire, even though he never set foot in the territory.  He did start a colony along the Piscataqua river in 1629.  His family inherited this property on his death five years later.  They then pursued a claim for the state of New Hampshire that was off and on for the next hundred years.

It was John’s grandson Robert who initiated this Mason claim.  Then in 1691 the family sold out their interest.  A later John Mason of this family, who described himself as a mariner of Boston, revived the Mason claim in 1738.  He subsequently his rights to a group called the Masonian Propriety.  The claim eventually petered out. 

George Mason, US Father of the Bill of Rights.  Although highly respected by his peers Washington, Jefferson and Madison, Mason did not aspire to public office in the 1770’s.  When he was asked to take Washington’s seat in the Virginia legislature, a slot vacated when Washington was named Chief of the Continental Army, Mason reluctantly agreed.

In 1776 he was Fairfax county’s representative to the Virginia Convention and was appointed to the committee to draft a “Declaration of Rights” and a constitution to allow Virginia to act as an independent political body.

Complaining about the “useless members” of the committee, Mason soon found himself authoring the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  Drawing from the Enlightenment philosopher John Locke, Mason produced words that have since become famous:

“That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”

His document was the first in America to call for freedom of the press, tolerance of religion, proscription of unreasonable searches, and the right to a fair and speedy trial.

In 1787, Mason was chosen to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, where he was one of the most vocal debaters. Distressed over the amount of power being given to the Federal Government and the Convention’s unwillingness to abolish the slave trade, Mason refused to sign the Constitution.  One of three dissenters, Mason’s refusal to support the new Constitution made him unpopular and destroyed his friendship with Washington, who later referred to Mason as his former friend.

Mason Names

  • Sir John Mason was a  prominent diplomat and councillor for four Tudor monarchs in the 16th century.
  • George Mason through his drafting of the Declaration of Independence is considered one of the founding fathers of the United States.
  • Perry Mason was the fictional lawyer in the TV series based on the books of Erle Stanley Gardner.
  • James Mason was a well-known British actor of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
  • Jackie Mason, born Yacov Moshe Maza, has been an American stand-up comedian for over forty years.

Mason Numbers Today

  • 74,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 45,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Mason and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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