Perkins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Perkins Surname Meaning

The root of the surname Perkins is the probably the French Pierre that was brought to England by the Normans. Pierre often became Peter or Peterkin in England or transcribed to Pierrekin. These forms then corrupted to the patronymic Perkins. The Welsh Perkin came from Perthyn, meaning a relative or belonging to a particular person or family. This later became Perkins.

The suffix “-kins” was generally attached to a personal name as a pet name, usually denoting “the little one.” The suffix was apparently a Flemish import which for some reason became popular in England. 

Perkins Surname Resources on The Internet

Perkins Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England and Wales
  • to America and Australia

England.  Osbert Parkins was said to have provided an early pedigree, possibly back to the 1100’s. By the 14th century both the Parkins (or Parkyns) and the Perkins (or Perkyns) names were to be found, although the former spelling then tended to fade out.

The most well-known early Perkins was a man named Peter Morley alias Perkins recorded in 1381. His origins have been in dispute. But he was at that time an official working for the Despencers, the richest and most influential family in the country. From his family came in the early/mid 1400’s the Perkins of Madresfield in Worcestershire and the Perkins of Ufton in Berkshire:

Some of the Perkins of Madresfield migrated into Herefordshire. However, the most important line established itself at an early time in the parish of Hillmorton in Warwickshire. They were later at Newent in Gloucestershire. A branch of this family took up residence at Orton Hall, just across the border into Leicestershire, in the 1670’s.

The Ufton estate in Berkshire meanwhile remained for several centuries with the descendants of William and Margaret Perkins. Christopher Perkins from Ufton was a diplomat at the time of Queen Elizabeth. There was a branch of the family by this time at Bunny in Nottinghamshire.

Many of the early Perkins lines were recorded in Mansfield Parkyns’ 1916 book The Perkins Family in Ye Olden Times.

Perkins has been primarily a west country name, but has extended into SE England. William Perkins was a merchant tailor in London in the early 1600’s. Sir William Perkins was a wealthy Chertsey merchant in Surrey who founded the school named after him there in 1725.

Wales. The Perkins of Pilston near Llandogo, across the border in Monmouthshire, date from the 1570’s, the origin of these Perkins being a certain William ap John ap Perkin from north Wales. Christopher Perkins was Sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1666. The Perkins lived at Pilston until the death of Edward Perkins in 1747.

The Perkins name also cropped up in Pembrokeshire. David Perkins was churchwarden at Llanwnda in 1543. The main cluster of the name was to be found at St. David’s, starting in the 1600’s. The earlier spelling was Perkin. It later became Perkins.

There were and are larger Perkins numbers in Glamorgan in south Wales. Edward Perkins was an under-Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1664, followed by Moore Perkins in 1665. Moore Perkins lived at Saint-y-Nyll in St. Brides-super-Ely parish. A descendant a century later was John Perkins of Llantrithyd.  His Diary of a Gentleman Farmer in the Vale of Glamorgan, 1788-1801 was published and has been preserved. There was also a long-established Perkins family at Rhos-y-Gelli in the Gower Peninsula.

America. Many of the early Perkins arrivals in America were Puritans who came for religious reasons. Many might have been related.

New England.  The earliest arrival, just ten years after the Mayflower, was John Perkins on the Lyon. He reached Boston with his family in February 1631 and they later made their home in Ipswich, Massachusetts. His grand-daughter Mary was among those accused of witchcraft during the hysteria of the Salem trials and, although convicted, managed to escape punishment.

John Perkins’ descendants remained in Ipswich for the next two hundred years, although a branch of the family did depart for Maine in the 1760’s. Another line led to a distinguished family of lawyers in Hartford, Connecticut:

  • they started with Enoch Perkins in the early 1800’s and then ran to Thomas, Charles, and Arthur in the next three generations.
  • while the women in this family were equally distinguished. Enoch’s daughter Emily married Roger Baldwin, Connecticut Governor and Senator. One generation later came Charlotte Gilman nee Perkins, a prominent writer, lecturer and feminist of the early 1900’s.

George Perkins’ 1889 book The Family of John Perkins of Ipswich narrated the family history.

Possibly related to John as brothers or cousins were Isaac and Abraham Perkins. Isaac spent some time in Ipswich before he and Abraham moved in 1639 to Hampton, New Hampshire where they had adjoining land sites.

Also possibly related was the Rev. William Perkins, who moved from Ipswich to Topsfield, Massachusetts. His descendants included Roger Perkins who settled in New Hampshire after the Revolutionary War; Commodore George Perkins, a Union naval hero during the Civil War; and his daughter Isabel who married into wealth.  

Then also a Puritan and also possibly related was Edward Perkins who came to the New Haven colony from London in 1648.  “In 1790 Roger Perkins stated that his father had given to him a powder horn that had belonged to his grandfather’s grandfather Edward Perkins who was a half-brother to the Rev. William Perkins, a clergyman and early settler of Ipswich, Massachusetts.”  

Edward’s genealogy was recounted in Judge Paul Perkins’ 1980 book Genealogy and History of One Branch of the Perkins Family.

There was some speculation that Edmund Perkins, found in Boston from about 1650 onwards, was related to one or more of these Perkins, but no evidence has been produced to that effect.

His line did lead to James Perkins, a Boston merchant who founded the family fortunes in the 1760’s, and to James and Thomas Handasyd Perkins of the China trading firm of J&T Perkins & Co. Their success as merchants and as owners of ships that plied the China trade became legendary in Boston in the early 19th century. At the same time, they were well known for their philanthropy, being among the leading Boston Brahmins of their time.

Elsewhere. Perkins arrived elsewhere, but apparently unrelated and in fewer numbers.

Francis Perkins, a laborer, was one of the 104 original settlers of the Jamestown colony in 1608. He wrote home that winter:  “The cold was so intense that one night the river at our fort froze almost all the way across, although at that point it is as wide again as the one in London.”  

Neither Francis nor his son of the same name was on the Jamestown census list of 1624 (they may not have survived). Some have claimed that the line from Humphrey Perkins of Old Rappahannock county dated back to Francis, but there is no evidence that this was true.

Richard Perkins arrived in Maryland from Devon in 1674 (some have him being transported there). He was a cooper by trade and made his home in Baltimore county. Later Perkins of this family were to be found in Virginia and North Carolina.

Ute Perkins headed up a Perkins gang that marauded Maryland and Virginia in the 1750’s. A later Ute Perkins, who fought with the North Carolina militia during the Revolutionary War, was a pioneer settler in Hancock county, Illinois in 1826. Moses Perkins, who also fought in the War, ended up in Georgia.

Australia.  Early Perkins in Australia were convicts. Samuel Perkins arrived in NSW on the Pitt in 1792, Richard Perkins on the Hillsborough in 1799. For both it was a hazardous experience. The insanitary conditions onboard caused a considerable loss of life during the voyage due to overcrowding and disease.

  • Samuel Perkins was pardoned in 1801 and joined the NSW Corps as a private. However, he died unexpectedly five years later at the age of 33.
  • Richard Perkins attempted to escape in 1800 by stealing a boat on the Hunter river. Despite this escapade (for which he was initially sentenced to death), he was pardoned. He was subsequently recorded as an emancipated seaman.

Both men have left a sizeable number of descendants in Australia. Samuel’s descendants celebrated the bicentennial of his arrival in 1992.

Perkins Surname Miscellany

Perkins and “Kins” Surnames.  Various “-kins” surnames became popular in the west of England and in Wales, including Perkins.  The table below shows the main “kins” names and their degree of penetration into Wales (the numbers here are taken from the 1891 census):

Name Pet form of: Numbers (000’s) Share in Wales (%) Found in England
Atkins Adam      10 4   spread
Dawkins David       2 4   Southwest
Dickens Dick       3 3   West
Hopkins Hobb (from Robert)      19 23   spread
Jenkins John      35 56   Southwest
Perkins Peter      14 8   spread
Watkins Walter      16 38 West Midlands
Wilkins William      13 7 West Midlands

The Hopkins, Jenkins, and Watkins surnames have strong Welsh connections, Perkins less so although it is to be found there.  Instead, the Perkins name has been widely spread over the southwest of England and the West Midlands.

The Perkins and the Despencers.  In the 1380’s Peter Morley alias Perkins was in the employ of Hugh Despencer, one of the most powerful men in the land.   Traditionally this man is thought to have been Pierre de Morlaix, a younger son of the French Morlaix family that had fled to England in the train of the Despencers. Whether he was really a scion of French nobility or simply a man from Shropshire, as many genealogists have suggested, is uncertain.

In any event his son Henry Perriken or Perkins and grandson John Perkins the Seneschal remained in the employ of the Despencers until the early 1400’s.  John Perkins was recorded as holding land at Madresfield near Malvern in Worcestershire in 1390. Then came William Perkins, bailiff to the Duke of Gloucester, the brother of Henry V and guardian to the young Henry VI during his minority.  William became the Lord of  Ufton in Berkshire sometime in the 1420’s.

Perkins at St. David’s, Pembrokeshire.  Perkin can be found as a first name in Pembrokeshire from the late 14th century.  Therefore it was no surprise that Perkin and later Perkins developed there as surnames. The main cluster was in the town of St. David’s on the western tip of the county.

Marriages have been recorded at its parish church since 1724.  From then until 1812, no fewer than 56 marriages were recorded there where either the bride or groom was a Perkin or a Perkins. Among that number were:

  • John Perkins and Ann Meyler in 1736
  • Simon Pardo and Elinor Perkin in 1761
  • William Harry and Martha Perkin in 1767
  • and George Perkins and Ann Beymon in 1773

George and Ann Perkins lived at Porthlisky farm outside St. David’s.  There were eight children and 41 grandchildren to this family after Ann’s death in 1826.

John Perkins’ Passage on the Lyon to America.  No one can be sure of John’s motives for immigrating to America.  Some believe that two local Puritan parsons preaching at his Hillmorton parish in Warwickshire had influenced him.  In any event he came with his wife Judith and five children to Bristol in December 1630 to board the Lyon for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Conditions of the voyage were difficult, as the following account suggests:

“We had a stormy passage there and lost one of the sailors not far from the shore. He in a tempest, having helped to take in the spirit sail, lost his hold as he came down and fell into the sea.  There after long swimming he was drowned to the great dolor of those in the ship who beheld so lamentable a spectacle without being able to minister help to him.  The sea was so high and the ship drove so fast before the wind, even though her sails were taken down.”

The Lyon arrived safely in Boston in early February 1631 after a voyage of 67 days, even though a great drift of ice had threatened them in the final passage.  To the people of Boston who had survived a harsh winter and shortening rations, the arrival of the vessel was truly welcomed.

John and his family stayed in Boston for the next two years.  They then moved to Ipswich where they settled.  John took possession of a large island at the mouth of the Ipswich river that became known as Perkins’ Island.  It remained with the family for over two hundred years.

Samuel Perkins’ Passage on the Pitt to Australia.  Samuel Perkins, then aged 18, was sentenced at the Old Bailey in London  in 1791 to seven years transportation after being found guilty of stealing a pair of velvet breeches, a pair of stays, a cloth coat, a silk cloak, and other goods,

He was transported to Sydney on the Pitt, a ship of 775 tons which sailed on July 17, 1791 carrying 344 male and 58 female convicts.  Following complaints of overcrowding, the number of prisoners was reduced from 443 to 402 before sailing.

The passage of the Pitt was protracted as she did not reach Port Jackson until February 14, 1792 –  212 days after departing from England.

Apart from smallpox and scurvy amongst the prisoners, a malignant fever caused 27 deaths amongst the seamen and military guards.  Her crew was so depleted that some of the convicts had to be recruited to help navigate her. When she arrived at Port Jackson, 20 male and 9 female prisoners had died on the passage and 120 men were landed sick, many of whom died in the weeks following.  While her death-toll was heavy, statements that at the end of the year only 29 of her prisoners were still alive are believed to have been a gross exaggeration.

The Monument to Commodore George Perkins.  George Perkins died in 1899 and three years later a monument to his memory was erected in his home town of Concord, New Hampshire.  Beneath the statue of him was the following inscription:

“George Hamilton Perkins, Commodore US Navy.

  • Born at Hopkinton, New Hampshire on October 20, 1835.
    Died in Boston, Massachusetts on October 28, 1899.
  • He entered the Navy as a midshipman in 1851 and served his country with honor for forty eight years. Genial and lovable as a man, able and resourceful as an officer, gallant and inspiring as a leader.
  • His intrepid conduct at the passage of the forts below New Orleans, his heroism in the surrender of that city, his skill and daring on notable occasions on the Mississippi river and in the Gulf of Mexico, his achievements in Mobile Bay when as commander of the Chickasaw he compelled the surrender of the Tennessee,
  • Won from the Navy unqualified admiration and from Admiral Farragut these words: ‘The bravest man that ever trod the deck of a ship.’” 

Dorothy Perkins.  The real Dorothy Perkins was the grand-daughter of the American rose-grower Charles H. Perkins. He named his creation after her back in 1901, fostering a trend for naming roses after people.  The vigorous plant immediately began to win prizes and become so famous and popular that the H. P. Newman Stores in England changed its name to Dorothy Perkins in 1919.

Nearly a hundred years later, the name Dorothy Perkins is still emblazoned on shop-fronts the length and breadth of Britain.

Perkins Names

  • William Perkins was one of the leaders of the Puritan movement in the Church of England during Elizabethan times. 
  • Colonel T. H. Perkins was a wealthy Boston merchant who traded as far as China in the early 19th century. 
  • Anthony Perkins was an American actor best known for his role as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho
  • Carl Perkins was an American singer-songwriter from Tennessee who was called the King of Rockabilly. His best-known song is Blue Suede Shoes.

Perkins Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 47,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Perkins and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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