Pearson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pearson Surname Meaning

The given name Piers was adopted by the English from the Old French “Pierre” and “Piers,” introduced by the Normans after the Conquest in 1066. In England, because of the Biblical association with the apostle Peter, it was an early favorite. Piers Plowman, for instance, was a narrative poem written by William Langland in the late 14th century.

Pierson, Peirson, and finally Pearson emerged as surnames. The given name Piers to the surname Pierson seems a natural progression. But some dispute this association.  Pierson’s origins in the northeast of England suggest a Viking inheritance. Could there have been a hidden Viking name behind today’s Pearson?

Pearson Surname Resources on The Internet

Pearson and Pierson Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland, Northern England and Sweden
  • to Ireland, America, Canada and New Zealand

Scotland. The Pearson name was thought to have originated in Northumberland and migrated northwards. Wautier Pieresoune, a landowner in Berwickshire, appeared in the Ragman’s Roll of 1296. One hundred years later, David Perisone and his brothers Alexander and John were recorded as Comptollers of the Customs for North Berwick.

The Scottish branch of this family was said to have been founded about 1400 when Christopher Peirson left that area for Wanlockhead near Dumfries. The family, spelt in various forms, was later to be found in Dunfermline and Perthshire.

Thomas Pierson, who died in the early 1500’s, was the forebear of the Pearsons of Kippenross near Dunblane in Perthshire. Their family history was covered in David Pearson’s 1891 book Pearson of Kippenross.  

England.  The 1881 census distribution of the Pearson name was:

  • Yorkshire 24%
  • Lancashire 16%
  • Durham 7%
  • and Staffordshire 5%.

Yorkshire. This county has the largest number of Pearsons. Some have argued that the Yorkshire place-name Persen (long vanished) near Beverly in the East Riding was in fact the source of the name.

In 1452 Thomas Peirson was recorded as the sheriff of Yorkshire. He died in 1490 and was buried in York Minster. A line as Peirson or Pierson appeared in Howden parish in the East Riding in the mid 1500’s.  And John Peirson lived at Lowthorpe nearby in the 1640’s.

The late 1600’s saw Pearsons:

  • in north Yorkshire, where William Pearson was rector of Bolton Percy and chancellor of York Minster,
  • and in south Yorkshire, particularly around Rotherham.

Zachariah Pearson, who was born in humble circumstances in Hull in the East Riding in 1821, was a rags-to-riches-to-rags again story.  He grew rich through shipping, but was bankrupted in the 1860’s for attempting to trade with the Confederate states during the American Civil War.  He is remembered today through his gift of land to the city which is now known as Pearson Park.

By the 19th century the Pearson presence had shifted more towards the West Riding where the industry and the jobs were. Two examples of Pearson enterprise then were:

  • in 1840 James Pearson began cloth manufacture in the village of Golcar near Huddersfield. He crammed all his relatives in the village to help him and Golcar soon had the highest concentration of Pearsons in the county.
  • around the same time Samuel Pearson started a small engineering and construction business in Bradford. The business was transformed at the turn of the century into a large construction company by his grandson Weetman. The Pearson Group was then transformed again over the course of the 20th century into a conglomerate best known in recent years for its publishing arm.

Elsewhere.  The geography of the Pearson name probably stretched from Durham in the north through Yorkshire and Lancashire into Staffordshire. Anthony Pearson of Ramshaw Hall in Durham was an early Quaker in the 1660’s. And the Pearson name was appearing in the records of Kingswinford, Staffordshire near present-day Birmingham by the 1670’s.

Ireland. Pearsons or Piersons in Ireland probably had a past English connection. The Pearsons at Kilmore in Armagh arrived in the 1600’s at the time of Cromwell. Many of them were Quakers. Later, from a family in north Yorkshire, came the Pearsons of Mountcross in county Cork. Pearson in Donegal possibly derives from Pearsane.

America.  Pearsons in America have included Pearsons from England, Scotland, and Ireland, and also a number from Sweden, and a few from Germany.

New England.  Two of the early Piersons in America were related and both came from the same family in Howden, Yorkshire:

  • The first – Henry born in Buckinghamshire – arrived in Lynn, Massachusetts on the Mayflower in 1639. Two related Piersons, the Rev. Abraham Pierson and Bartholomew Pierson, were on the same ship. A year later, Henry moved to Southampton, Long Island.  
  • The second – Thomas from Dewsbury in Yorkshire – came in 1661 and joined his uncle the Rev. Abraham Pierson in Branford, Connecticut. In 1666 they left Branford to found the new town of Newark, New Jersey. Abraham’s son, also named Abraham, in 1701 became rector of what became Yale University.

These and other early Pearson lines in New England, as well as their antecedents in England, were described in Richard Pierson’s 1997 book Pierson Millennium.

Quaker Pearsons.  Thomas Pearson and his brother John came from Cheshire to Philadelphia in 1683. Samuel Pierson from Yorkshire was there by 1699.

Another immigrant with Quaker roots was Peter Pearson in Cumberland. He sailed to Virginia in 1701. He was a shoemaker by trade, but left his local Quaker community when he married a non-Quaker. His descendants settled in Perquimans county, North Carolina. Meanwhile another Quaker, Joshua Pierson from Armagh, came with his son to Chester county, Pennsylvania in 1760.

Swedish. The Swedish-American name could be Person, Persson, or Pearson or even possibly Peterson.

Many Pearsons settled in Iowa in the early 1900’s. Louis Person arrived in Colorado at that time with his four brothers, Andrew, Nels, Sam, and Peter. Interestingly, Nels, Sam and Peter kept the Person spelling; while Louis changed his name to Peterson and Andrew to Pearson. There was also a case of a Per Mortenson who changed his name to Martin Pearson.

Canada.  Many of the Pearsons living in Québec are descended from Charles Pearson. Charles Pearson, born in London, came to Quebec on a ship on which he was forcibly detained in 1808. He settled in the area of Rivière-Ouelle and became the town’s miller. René Lévesque, the former Premier of Québec, was a descendant of one of Charles Pearson’s daughters.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearsons’s roots were in Ireland and the Methodist church. His grandfather, the Rev. Marmaduke Pearson, had arrived from Ireland in the 1870’s and was the Methodist minister at Collingwood, Ontario. His father Edwin was an itinerant preacher and would move his family around southern Ontario a great deal.

New Zealand.  Charles and Maria Pearson were married at Portsea in Hampshire in 1872 and departed for Wellington on the Euterpe with other assisted emigrants two years later.  They settled first in Palmerston North and then in Dannevirke.  Their family numbered eleven children and sixty four grandchildren.

Pearson and Pierson Surname Miscellany

The Pearsons of Kippenross.  James Pearson, the minister at Dunblane, brought a successful civil suit against James Kinross of Kippenross for arrears of vicarage dues in 1626. With the proceeds, he built a comfortable house over the ancient tower of Kippenross, which was gradually extended over time.

However, a descendant William Pearson, who had got into financial difficulties, lost the freehold to one John Stirling of Kippendavie in a game of dice or cards in 1778. It was, as someone recalled at the time, on the night of the worst storm in years. But that was nothing compared with the storm that erupted when he told his wife.

Pearsons in Rotherham and Stainton.  Dr. George Pearson, the well-known physician who popularized the cowpox vaccination, had been born in Rotherham in 1751.  His grandfather Nathaniel for years had been vicar in the nearby village of Stainton.  He died there in 1767 at the age of 88.  Contemporary Pearsons in Stainton were Thomas Pearson who held the Car House Farm and Joshua Pearson who had held the Holme Hall Farm until his death in 1722.

His uncle George, after whom Dr. Pearson was named, had been a wine merchant in Doncaster and twice mayor of the town.

Pearsons in Golcar.  The name of Pearson features prominently in a display at the Colne Valley museum at Cliffe Ash at Golcar, a Yorkshire village on the outskirts of Huddersfield.  A row of three cottages, known as Spring Rock and built into the hillside, was put up by James and Sally Pearson, independent cloth manufacturers, in the village between 1840 and 1845 and have now been restored.  The datestone, which is located on the chimney stack of the end cottage, is inscribed “J&SP 1845.”

They were weaver’s cottages.  The museum provides an insight into what life was like for a weaver in the early 1850’s. The museum includes a clog maker’s workshop, a handloom chamber, a spinning room, a cropping room, kitchen, and living rooms.

In 1851 James and Sally Pearson lived in one cottage, together with their five unmarried children.  One married son, Edwin, lived nearby.  All the children were hand-loom weavers, but later became power-loom weavers.  The other two cottages were occupied by relatives – including Henry Pearson, a grand nephew of James and Sally Pearson, with his wife Hannah and their seven children.

James’s son John stayed with the textile industry and made an unusually good living out of it.  He managed to buy a part share in Victoria Mill and by the close of the century his four sons jointly owned the whole mill.

The Rev. Abraham Pierson at Branford and Newark.  In 1647 the Rev. Abraham Pierson with part of his congregation attempted a settlement on the Connecticut shore where they organized and formed the town of Branford.

There, for 20 years, he “enjoyed the confidence and esteem not only of the ministers, but the more prominent civilians connected with the New Haven colony.”  It was said that he early interested himself in the Indians, made himself familiar with their language, and prepared a catechism for them that they might know of God.

However, in 1665 he opposed the union of the two colonies of Connecticut and New Haven. Consequently he departed Branford with most of his congregation – including his nephew Thomas Pierson – for the Passaic river in New Jersey where they purchased land from the Indians and laid the foundations for the town of Newark.

During 1666 and 1667 some sixty five men came from Branford and two neighboring towns to Newark.  Each man was entitled to a homestead lot of six acres.  They brought their church organization with them from Branford, which became the First Church of Newark, and afterwards became a Presbyterian church.  At Newark, for 12 years, Abraham led his flock of devoted followers.

A Quaker Pearson Line.  Lawrence Pearson of Pownall Fee in Cheshire was an early follower of George Fox.  His son Thomas and wife Margery came to Philadelphia in 1683, one year after William Penn’s arrival.  Their descendants migrated to Virginia in the 1730’s and later to Newberry county, South Carolina where there was a Quaker colony.

However, South Carolina was a slave state and Joseph Pearson uprooted his family in 1809 because of his religious convictions and moved them to southwest Ohio. Pearsons are still to be found there.

Pearsons in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
England   1,054    72
Ireland     179    12
Scotland      95     6
Sweden     112     8
Germany      27     2
Total   1,467   100

Reader Feedback – Pearsons from Tennessee and Nebraska.  My grandmother was Alice Marie Pearson (maiden name) and she was born in Nebraska around 1898.  She moved to southern California in childhood.

I know almost nothing about her parents, especially her father. She never talked about him and I got the impression he was a disappointment to her mother.  He was from Tennessee and “played the fiddle.”

Diane Putnam (

Pearsons from Sweden in Iowa.  Many Pearsons from Sweden settled in Iowa in the early 1900’s, including:

  • Peter Pearson who came to America in 1877 and was subsequently living in Clinton, Iowa.
  • Magnus Pearson who arrived in America in 1887.  In the 1900 census he was recorded as a railroad track foreman in Cherokee, Cherokee county.
  • Oatal Pearson who immigrated in 1895 and appeared as a farm laborer in the 1900 census in Silver Creek township, Ida county.
  • Lars Pearson who arrived in 1904 and in 1918 as a janitor in Denison, Crawford county.
  • Olof Pearson who was registered as a laborer in Denison, Crawford county in 1909 when he filed a declaration of intention for citizenship.
  • Peter Pearson who came to America in 1913.  He was recorded as a farmer in the 1920 and 1930 censuses in Liberty township, Cherokee county.  He died there in 1952 at the age of 63.

Alfred J. Pearson, born in Sweden in 1869, was a Professor at Drake University in Des Moines and subsequently served as US Minister to Poland and Finland in the 1920’s.  The Pearson Distinguished Professorship in Swedish Studies at Bethany College in Kansas was endowed by a generous gift from Gerald Pearson of Okoboji, Iowa (whose parents were Swedish immigrants).

Reader Feedback – Pearsons from North Yorkshire to Montreal.  James Pearson married Marguerite Beauchamp in 1818 at the Anglican Christchurch Cathedral in Montreal.  Their descendants are in the Montreal region and in all parts of Canada and America.

The Pearsons originated in north Yorkshire and go back to about 1540-1600 in our family.  Relatives are confirmed in Aysgarth, Askrigg, Bedale, Northallerton, Burneston, Kirkby Fleetham, Richmond and similar areas.

Liane Forest (

Reader Feedback – Pearson in Canada.  My father told me stories about our great great (I don’t know how many greats!) grandfather Charles Pearson came to Canada as an indentured slave sold by his family to a ship’s captain.

Chad Pearson (

Pearson Names

  • Weetman Pearson expanded his family’s firm in Yorkshire into one of the world’s largest construction companies in the early 1900’s. He was ennobled as Lord Cowdray. 
  • Karl Pearson has been credited with establishing the discipline of mathematical statistics. He founded the world’s first university statistics department at University College London in 1911. 
  • Lester B. Pearson was Canada’s Prime Minister from 1963 to 1968 and the man who introduced universal health care there.

Pearson Numbers Today

  • 63,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 41,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Pearson and Like Surnames  

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


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *