Nichols Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Nichols Meaning
Nicholls are the patronymic forms of the medieval given name Nicholas –
from the
Greek Nikolaos (meaning “to
conquer people”), a name popular among Christians because of a fourth
century saint that bore that name.
spellings of the surname were variable. The
spelling became more common in eastern England, Nicholls in western
England. Nicholls is more common in England, Nichols
in America.

Nichols/Nicholls Resources on

Nichols/Nicholls Ancestry

Nicoll was recorded in the village of Islip in Northamptonshire
in 1467, the year that the names John and Ann Nicoll were inscribed in
the chancel of the local church. Matthias Nicoll left the village
for America and was the first English Mayor of New York in 1671. Another
family has been traced back to William Nicholls who acquired Ecton
manor in
1540. His family used the same coat of
as those of
Nicholls of Cornwall and the Nicholls of
Llandwit Major in Glamorgan.

Nicholls has been a relatively common name in
Cornwall. The county ranked second after
London in terms of Nicholls frequency in the 1881 census:

  • the
    oldest family was probably the Nicholls of Penvose near St. Tudy who
    had held a manor
    until 1678 (this family may trace back to a John Nicholl of Bodmin who
    was murdered
    in the town on Easter Day 1398).
  • the Nicholls of Trereife near
    date from about 1600.
  • a
    Nicholls family
    in Redruth has been traced back to the birth of William Nicholls in
  • another William Nicholls was in
    the 1690’s the first in a long line of stonemasons in St.Keverne.
    Sir George Nicholls
    of St. Keverne was
    the 1830’s
    first British Poor Law Commissioner.

in general is a west country
surname. The surname is also common in
Devon, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, and Staffordshire.

Nichols, by contrast, has appeared primarily
on the east coast of England, in a line running south from Yorkshire to
with a particular concentration in Norfolk.
The Nichols, however, are outnumbered by about three to one by
the Nicholls.

Wales. Some
say a Nichols line began in Wales with Nicol de Albini in the 11th
century. A Norman Bishop Nicol of
Llandaff followed. From this line, it is
thought, came the Nicholls
of Landwit Major in Glamorgan, beginning with Nichol ap Thomas in 1465. This family lived in the Great House, a
building later abandoned and then restored in the 1950’s.

Matthias Nicoll, the mayor
of New York in 1671, was
the patriarch of the Nicoll family which settled and
owned much of Long Island. Numerous
place names there bear his name.
Nicolls of Bedfordshire (originally from a Nicholls family in London)
was New
York’s first Governor, although he later returned to England.

However, the main spelling in America has
been Nichols. Francis Nichols from
Sedgeberrow in Worcestershire was an early arrival in New England,
recorded in
Stratford, Connecticut in 1639. Thomas
Nichols was the forebear of the
Nichols of Rhode Island
. They
included two deputy colonial governors
of the state, Jonathan father and son.

Nichols from London came to Pennsylvania in 1681, having received a
land grant
from William Penn. His son, also named
Amos, was a trader along the Chesapeake Bay, but of dubious reputation.

was described on several occasions as
owing debts, being a vagrant, and possibly inciting trouble among the
Indians. He stood trial for both robbery
and forgery, but managed to get acquitted each time.”

Amos Nichols died in Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1725.
His son John was
one of the first settlers of
western Maryland.

Today Texas has the largest number of Nichols. One
early line of Nichols there began in
Virginia with Solomon Nichols at the time of the Revolutionary War. George Washington Nichols and his family
migrated via Tennessee via Arkansas to Texas in 1836 and made their
home in Gonzalez
county. His brother Rowland Nichols came later to Kerr
county in 1856, but tragically
met his death there in 1859 as a result of an Indian attack.

Thomas Nicholls was the seventh son of a Cornishman,
Edward Church Nicholls, who had come to America at the conclusion of
Revolutionary War and settled in Louisiana.
His seventh son Francis was a Brigadier General in the
Confederate army
and served for two terms as the Governor of Louisiana.

America may have other origins. An early
example was a Hessian soldier Christoph Nicolaus who defected during
Revolutionary War and stayed in Charleston, South Carolina as
Nichols. More recent examples have been
Jewish, like the film director Mike Nichols and the comedian Dan

Canada. Some
of the first Nichols in Canada were Loyalists who crossed over the
border after
the Revolutionary War was lost. Captain
John R. Nichols arrived from Long Island and settled with his wife
Katherine in
Digby, Nova Scotia. Another John
Nichols, this time originally from Rhode Island, was in Quebec by 1790. William Nichols of New Haven, Connecticut
never made it, as he died in 1783. But
his wife and five children reached Wilmot, Nova Scotia where they
compensation from the British Government.

From Devon in England in 1836 came George and Sarah Nicholls, followed
by George’s brother John. They settled
in Binbrook, Ontario.

John Nichols, arrested for stealing in London,
was one of the First Fleeters transported in 1788 on the Scarborough
to Australia. He
obtained his release in 1791 and took up a grant of land.
He and his wife Ann raised eleven
children. Kaye Purnell’s 1988 book The Story of John Nichols narrated his
story and those of his descendants through five generations.

brothers, Henry and Charles, left London for Melbourne in 1853 and
headed for
the Victorian goldfields. Their hopes of
organizing miners into a cooperative ended in failure.
Henry pursued a life as a journalist and
ended up as the editor of the Hobart Mercury. One of his sons, Herbert, became Chief
Justice of Tasmania. Lake Nicholls in
the Western Highlands was named after him.


Nichols/Nicholls Miscellany

The Nicoll Inscriptions in Islip Church, Northamptonshire

“John and Ann Nicoll, 1467.

Here lies John Nicoll and Ann his wife
They had twelve children in their life
Six sons, six daughters, they had over
Three sons went to London to work, to learn
To his children he was full kind
May God in heaven maybe it find
He was a good man to God and to holy Church
For he caused many good deeds there to work
His soul has passed to God in full even
The year our our Lord 1467
On whose soul God have mercy
Amen for charity.”

Matthias Nicoll who died in America in 1687.

“The screen together with the stalls and reredos were
erected by Delaney and Benjamin Nicoll of New York in the year 1911 to
commemorate their ancestor Matthias Nicoll who as secretary for
the Duke of York’s expedition departed to America in 1664 and after the
of New Amsterdam became Mayor of New York in 1671, Speaker of the First
Colonial Assembly, writer of the Duke’s laws, and died on December 22,
1687 and
was buried at Manhasset, Long Island.”

The Nicholls of Trereife in Cornwall.  These Nicholls
date back to 1590 when William Trereife married Elizabeth Fleming at
Madron in
1590 and their oldest son assumed the name of William Nicholls.  The family resided at Trereife House on the
outskirts of Penzance.

John Nicholls, a
successful London barrister in the early 18th century, rebuilt the
house into
the mansion which stands today.  There is
a plaque to him in Madron church:

this place in the grave of his fathers whom he honoured lies interred
the body
of John Nicholls of Trereife esquire, who being born in the year of our
1663 was sent to London in the year 1680 and having served a laborious
clerkship was in 1688 sworn as one of the Clerks of the High Court of
Chancery.  Having with great industry and
integrity increased the paternal estate of his family, he was in the
year 1705
called to the Bar by the Middle Temple.
Having for some years practiced with success there, he retired
to the
seat of his ancestors and, having made many improvements, departed this
the 3rd day of August 1714 in the 53rd year of his life.”

His nephew
Frank, born in 1699, practiced medicine in Cornwall and later became
to George II.  Frank’s son John went
on to become an MP and took the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds.

The Nicholls
line at Trereife ended when William Nicholls, also a London barrister,
died unmarried of the ossification of the joints in 1815 at the age
of  28.

London’s Harvey Nichols Store.  In 1831 Benjamin Harvey opened a linen shop in a terraced
house on the corner of Knightsbridge and Sloane Street in London. The
passed onto Harvey’s daughter on the understanding that she went into
partnership with a Colonel Nichols, selling Oriental carpets, silks,
and luxury
goods alongside the linens.

Their Knightsbridge store was opened in 1880 and
Harvey Nichols position as an upmarket department store began.  In 1919 Harvey Nichols was bought out
by Debenham. 

Nichols and Nicholls Worldwide.  Nicholls is more common in England, Nichols in America.  They following are estimated numbers today.

Numbers (000’s) Nichols Nicholls
UK    13    35
America    48     2
Elsewhere    15    16

The Nichols of Rhode Island.  Most of
the Nichols families of Rhode Island are descended from Thomas Nichols,
first of that name to settle in the state.  He married Hannah
Griffin in
Newport in 1659 and they raised a large family.

Where Thomas came from is unclear.  Reference can be seen in the
literature to two brothers, Thomas and Edmund, from Llandwit Major in
Glamorgan who escaped the turmoil of the English Civil War in
their own boats, heading first for Barbados and then for New
England.  It is hard to know what truth there is to the story.

does seem that much confusion and mischief was
caused by the publication in 1919 of a monograph titled Origins of the Nichols
Leon Nelson Nichols, an 8th generation descendant of the first Thomas
of Newport, Rhode Island.  He was a
librarian in the New York City Library system and availed himself of
resources of the library to pursue his family research interests.

In this
monograph, he discussed his supposed findings on the European origins
of his
family.  He found various historical connections to documented
and families of prominence in Britain, including:
1) the Nichols family at Llandwit
Major in Glamorgan
2) the first Norman bishop at Llandaff, Wales (Urban)
and 3)
a chieftain of Normandy (Nigel or Niel Aubigne).
He further embellished
his tale by using documents and books which did not refer to the
Nichols family
at all.

Most of this research was exposed as a fraud by George Louis
Nichols in a forward to the 1988 revision of his book A Nichols Genealogy,
which he
entitled: “Nichols Family History as Told by Leon Nelson Nichols is a
Fairy Tale.”

The Death of Rowland Nichols in Kerr County, Texas.  The following report appeared in Bob Bennett’s book Kerr County 1856-1956.

“In 1859 there lived five miles above Kerrville a settler
named Rowland Nichols. One evening, he went out about a mile from home
to kill
a turkey. When he failed to come back at night the family became
alarmed and
the neighbors were notified.

Daniel Adolphus Rees, first county clerk of Kerr
County, was one of those who responded, but nothing could be done until
morning. In company with others, Rees followed the trail of the missing
man up
a draw to a point about one mile from his home. Here the trail turned
in another direction and the plain trail of numerous Indian tracks told
tale.  Nearly a mile from this point the body of Nichols was found
against a

had halted there and got the tree between himself and the Indians.
The tracks showed that the pursued man had circled around the tree
the bark was raked from the tree all around where he had held to it
with both
hands in a vain endeavor to keep the trunk between himself and his
foes.  The
settler had one arrow in the breast and one arrow and one bullet wound
in the body.
The bullet and arrow had first struck the left arm about halfway
between the
elbow and shoulder and then penetrated the body not more than a

back to the spot where the Indians sign was first discovered, it
was evident that here was where the settler had received the arrow in
breast from ambush. The prints of his knees were in the sandy soil
where he had
come down to either fire his rifle, or from the shock of his
wound.  If from the
latter, he dropped his gun without firing, but recovered and ran to the
where the body was found.  His gun was discovered after a search,
covered up in
the sand where the Indians had left it. The gun was still loaded.”

Despite Rowland’s death the Nichols family
proliferated in and around Goat Creek Road in Kerr county and have
held reunions.


Nichols/Nicholls Names

  • George Nichols from Oxford was an
    English Catholic martyr during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
  • J. C. Nichols was a prominent real estate developer in Kansas City in the first half of the 20th century.
    His projects included America’s first suburban shopping center. 
  • Herbie Nichols was the American jazz pianist and composer who wrote Lady Sings the Blues.
  • Mike Nichols, born Mikhail
    Peschkowsky, is a well-known American film director. He arrived with his parents in America as Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

Select Nichols/Nicholls Numbers Today

  • 48,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 54,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Nichols and Like Surnames   

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




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