Nixon Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Nixon Surname Meaning

Nick is a short form of Nicholas, itself derived from the Greek Nikolaos meaning “victory people.”  Nickson or more commonly Nixon is its patronymic form. This surname appeared on both sides of the Scottish/English border.

Nixon Surname Resources on The Internet

Nixon Surname Ancestry  

  • from Scotland (Borders) and Northern England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland  Nixons, sometimes Nicksouns, were Scottish border reivers, one of a number that ran rampage during the lawless times of the 16th century.  Their base was Liddesdale in Roxburghshire. The earliest record of them was William Nycson occupying lands in Ermyldoune, Liddesdale in 1376.

The hey-day of the Nixons as border reivers was the early/mid 1500’s when they stole cattle, fought amongst themselves, and burnt villages across the border. Fingerless Will Nixon was said to have got his nickname after one such a raid.

However, by 1603 the Government had stepped in with its pacification program. Many of the border chiefs and their families were hunted down and killed. Others were scattered, some being banished to the Scottish plantations in Ireland. By the time of the 1881 census the Nixon name had pretty much disappeared from the Scottish borders.

England. To the south of Liddesdale lay Cumberland and Nixons were to be found there at Bewcastle (which included the township of Nixons) near Carlisle. Some outlawed Nixons were hanged in Carlisle Castle. Other Nixons remained in the area.

There was a greater concentration of Nixons further south – around Cheshire, north Staffordshire, and extending into Lancashire.

John Nixon was born around 1467 at Over parish near the Vale Royal Abbey in Cheshire. It was said that Robert Nixon, the famous prophesier of Cheshire, was his son, although no one really knows when he was born or lived.

John Nixon married Anne Pownall in Cheshire in 1604. Two of their sons left as soldiers to Fermanagh in Ulster before the later departures of three brothers to America. Their line was covered in Jean Cox’s 1970 book Nixon Family Memorials.

Among Nixons in north Staffordshire were:

  • in Leek. William Nixon, born there in 1632, married Mary Tatton in 1663. Joshua Nixon, a skinner, married Mary Challenor in 1705. His son Jonathan emigrated to Maryland in 1738.
  • in Biddulph. George Nixon was born in 1705 and a line of Nixons descended from him there.

The Nickson spelling was common in Lancashire.

John Nixon, from a humble background, was three times mayor of Oxford in the 1630’s and 1640’s.

Ireland. Nixons in Ulster were initially to be found in county Fermanagh. Three Nixons – Adam Nixon, John Nixon and Thomas Nixon – were among the twelve approved and registered inhabitants of Enniskillen in the early 1600’s. 

In the 1719 History of Fermanagh it was reported:  “The Nixons are of antiquity in county Fermanagh since the reign of King James I. Adam Nixon was a man of learning and sound judgment. He was a Chancellor of the diocese of Clogher and a Justice of the Peace in the county.”  

Their home was at Nixon Hall near Enniskillen until it burnt down in the late 1700’s. Alexander Nixon had married Mary Montgomery in 1758, moved to county Monaghan and adopted the name of Montgomery. Meanwhile the Rev. Andrew Nixon of this family had made his home at Nixon Lodge in Drumlane, Cavan. The family story was narrated in Mark Nixon’s 2015 book The Grass Really Was Greener.

Many of the outlawed Nixons from the Scottish borders ended up in Fermanagh. Some later emigrated to America. At the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the mid-19th century, there were 93 Nixons recorded in Fermanagh versus 50 in Tyrone and 38 in Cavan.

America. There were some Nixons from England during the colonial era, such as Zachariah Nixon from Nottinghamshire who came to North Carolina in 1684 and Jonathan Nixon from Staffordshire who came to Maryland in 1738.

Francis Marion Nixon meanwhile had arrived in Virginia with his parents at about the same time as the American Revolution.  After his parents had been killed by the British, Francis departed in a group under Daniel Boone for Kentucky.  His subsequent life saw him move around a great deal before his death in Arkansas in 1864 at the grand age of ninety-seven.

Irish.  The majority of the Nixon arrivals were from Ireland, some of whom did well from the outset.

Richard Nixon, a shipping merchant from Wexford, made his base in Philadelphia and prospered there, owning Nixon’s Wharf on the Delaware river. His son John took over the business after his death in 1756. John became one of the leaders of the patriot cause in Philadelphia. After the war he helped organize the Bank of North America and served as its first president.

Another American patriot, this time from Leitrim, was Allan Nixon who had first arrived as a young boy in 1748. After the war he made his home in Grimsby township, New Jersey where his uncle John from Fermanagh had earlier resided.

Three Nixon brothers from Fermanagh had in fact arrived in America in the 1730’s, John settling in New Jersey, George in Virginia, and James in the Brandywine Hundred in Delaware. James Nixon was the ancestor of Richard M. Nixon, the US President from 1968 to 1974.

Other Nixons who came to America from Fermanagh were:

  • George Nixon who settled in Hopewell township in Bedford county, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1760’s.
  • John Nixon from Macguiresbridge who arrived in New Orleans around the year 1804. He made his mark as a lawyer in the city and later settled in Biloxi, Mississippi.
  • and William and Rachel Nixon, descended from the Nixons of Nixon Hall, who came with their family to New York in 1869.

Andrew Nixon came to America from county Tyrone in 1797, later settling in Adams county, Ohio. He died in 1869. His youngest son Andrew moved west, first to Iowa and then to California. He drowned in Sunset Beach in 1877, aged 33.

Canada. Allen Nixon from Ireland who had served in the British army was a Loyalist who departed America for Canada in 1787. He and his family were granted land in the Niagara peninsula where they settled. His grandson Charles in 1853 built the Nixon homestead in South Dumfries which is still standing today. Charles’s grandson Harry had a long political career, representing Brant from 1919 to 1961. He was briefly in 1942 Premier of Ontario.

Also from Ireland much later came the Rev. Harpur Nixon, the son of an Anglican minister Alexander Nixon in Donegal. A well-to-do gentleman, he came to British Columbia with his wife and acquired Twin Islands off the coast in 1912. But he was only to live there for three years. A blast mysteriously exploded in his face, severing part of his lower jaw, and he died soon after.

Australia. Religion and painting rang in the family of the Rev. Francis Russell Nixon who came to Hobart in 1843 to be the first consecrated Anglican Bishop of Tasmania.

His father, the Rev. Robert Nixon, had been an enthusiastic amateur painter in Kent (like his elder brother John) and his grandfather Robert a wealthy Irish merchant in London. His son George, who grew up in their Runnymede family home in Hobart, was an accomplished artist and draughtsman.

New Zealand.  The Ramilles which arrived in Auckland in 1847 was full of British soldiers and their families from the 47th Foot Regiment. Included in their number was Adam Nixon from Cavan and his family. Adam’s son Edward settled in Wanganui.

Another ex-soldier in New Zealand was Marmaduke Nixon who arrived in Auckland on the Cresswell from India in 1852. He represented his local district in Parliament until his death in 1864 when he was killed in a skirmish against the Maoris during the New Zealand wars.

Nixon Surname Miscellany

Nixon Border Reivers.  The Nixons of Liddesdale were described as having “many loose men” and were “a troublesome breed.”  They were an important part of the Armstrong-Elliot-Nixon-Croser reiver family axis. Although they lived in lands controlled by the Armstrong lairds, they were big enough to have other Border families under them.

Over time Nixons were on both sides of the border with England and often crossed back and forth, either moving or raiding.

One Nixon leader regaled in the name of Fingerless Will Nixon. He was recorded around the year 1514 as burning villages such as Haltwhistle and Hexham across the border in Northumberland.   In 1529 it was said that about thirty Nixons and Crosers crossed the border into Bewcastle and carried off a herd of cattle from Thirwall.

In 1569 the situation in Liddesdale was apparently so bad that the Scottish East and Middle Marches, in a memo to the Privy Council, declared themselves to be enemies to all the thieves of Liddesdale.  In March of that year some 4,000 men attacked Liddesdale, devastating the whole valley. A second attack occurred in October.

The tide had definitely turned by the early 1600’s.  Nixons were prominent among the three hundred declared outlaws by the Government.  Many were later hanged.  Some got off with a warning, others were banished to Ireland. 

Nixons in Ulster.  Edward MacLysaght wrote the following about Nixons in his 1964 book Supplement to Irish Families.

“Nixon is numerous in Ulster, especially in Antrim and Fermanagh.  The most notable immigrant family of the name settled in Fermanagh in 1609.  Fifty years later we find Nixson listed in Petty’s census as a principal name in two baronies of that county.

Testators of the name are numerous in the prerogative wills from 1677 to 1811.  There were 27 Nixons, of which ten were of Fermanagh or neighboring Ulster counties and nine of Dublin.”

John Nixon, Mayor of Oxford.  John Nixon was mayor of Oxford three times in the 1630’s and 1640’s.  A contemporary Anthony Wood wrote:

“John Nixon, alderman of Oxford and founder of the free school there, departed this life in 1662.   He was born in Bletchington the son of a laborer there.  He built a free school in 1658 and when he died he left a special order in his will that no privileged man’s son should be educated there although he had got all of his estate from the University.

When he grew rich he was a bitter enemy of scholars and, being a Justice of the Peace, put into the stocks a minister Thomas French for being drunk.  He had a smooth flattering tongue and was very hard in his dealings, hard and smooth like any slick stone.”

Nixon’s free school lasted for 235 years, finally closing its doors in 1894.

Allen Nixon, Early Settler in Niagara.  Allen Nixon, son of William and Katie Nixon, was born in 1758 and came to America from county Down in Ireland before the Revolutionary War.  He was of English descent and served as an officer in the British army.  He settled in New Jersey where he married Mary Moore.

In 1787 Allen, with his wife and small son, joined other Loyalist families and journeyed from New Jersey to Canada. He was granted a lot in Grimsby township, Niagara and he built his log cabin close to the shore of Lake Ontario.

Later, when years of prosperity came, he erected a spacious farmhouse on the upper road.  He also built the stone shop which, during the War of 1812 and thereafter for many years, was used as a blacksmith shop. This is one of the earliest buildings still standing there, now known the Stone Shop Museum.

Reader Feedback – Francis Marion Nixon.  My family line began in Scotland or England. They were known to be in South Carolina and then Virginia where the parents were killed by the British and the kids escaped. Francis Marion Nixon showed up with Daniel Boone in Kentucky where he married. He moved to Alabama, back to Kentucky, and then to Arkansas near Ozark where he was buried. He was my three times great grandfather.

Larry Nixon (

Nixons in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The Nixons were a prominent family in Biloxi since the time that John Nixon had moved there from New Orleans in the late 1830’s. He had arrived in that city from Ireland in 1805, shortly after it had become American territory under the Louisiana Purchase.

John Nixon was a prominent lawyer in New Orleans and through these connections came into the ownership of some 15,000 acres of swamp timberland around New Orleans.  In 1815 he married Adelina Copp, the daughter of a lawyer who had been murdered ten years earlier in a New Orleans gambling house.  They raised eight children.

By the 1840’s the Nixons were firmly established in Biloxi, owning the Nixon House Hotel there. In 1848 John Nixon was entombed in the Biloxi city cemetery.  Nixon and Copp Streets in Biloxi were named after the family.

Of the offspring, two sons deserve note:

  • John W. Nixon moved to Georgia and was the US Navy and then Confederate Navy paymaster.
  • while Richard A. Nixon was sire to a prominent southern legal family.  A descendant Walter L. Nixon, the Chief US District Judge in Biloxi, was impeached by Congress in 1986 on perjury charges and sentenced to five years in prison. 

From James Nixon to Richard M. Nixon.  James Nixon had arrived from Ireland to the Brandywine Hundred in Delaware sometime in the 1730’s.

His grandson George Sr., born there in 1784, moved to Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s and died there on July 3, 1863 at the time of the Civil War.  On that very day his son George Jr, fighting on the Union side, was badly wounded during the Battle of Gettysburg.  Taken to a field hospital, he died of his wounds eleven days later.

George Jr’s son Samuel moved to Ohio and was an earnest Methodist there.  His son Francis made the move west to Los Angeles in the early 1900’s. Influenced by his wife Hannah, they moved to the Quaker community of Whittier where Richard Milhous Nixon was born in 1913.

Richard Nixon on his mother Hannah’s side was a descendant of an early American settler, Thomas Cornell, who had arrived in Boston in 1638.  This Thomas was an ancestor of Ezra Cornell, the founder of Cornell University.

Reader Feedback – Irish Nixons in the Bahamas.  As I am a Nixon that was born in the Bahamas, my Dad told us a little of our descendants coming from Ireland.  But he didn’t know much. I wish I could of really trace our former father’s line.

Elizabeth Nixon (

Reader Feedback – William Nixon in New Zealand.  William Nixon (1833–1925) emigrated to Canterbury, NZ in 1862 from London. He was born to John Nixon (b. 1812) and Margaret Moffet in 1836 in the Presbyterian church in Kilmore parish in county Down.

He married Mary Jane Withers, also from Ireland, in 1864. They had nine children.  He was a prominent land owner and sheep farmer who won many awards at shows in Australia and New Zealand.

Irma Williams (

Nixon Names

  • Fingerless Will Nixon was a leader of the Nixon border reivers in the early 1500’s. 
  • John Nixon was a patriot financier of the American Revolutionary War in Philadelphia. 
  • David Nixon was a stage magician and a popular personality on British TV in the 1950’s. 
  • Richard M. Nixon was the 37th President of the United States, elected in 1968 and had to resign in 1974.

Nixon Numbers Today

  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in Northern Ireland)
  • 13,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Nixon and Like Surnames

The surnames found here cover most of the US Presidential surnames since the first President, George Washington.  Click on the surname below if you wish to know more of that particular President and his name.

ClintonJacksonNixonVan Buren

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Written by Colin Shelley

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