Pollock/Polk Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Pollock Surname Meaning

Pollock is a Scottish place-name in Renfrewshire (near present-day Paisley), derived from the Gaelic poll meaning “pool” or “pit.” The family which received these lands in the 12th century took Pollock as their name. The name spread to Ireland in the 17th century. The main spelling variants have been Pollok, Polloc, Polk, and Pogues.

Pollock can also be a form of the German or Jewish Polak, describing someone from Poland. But the Americanized version is generally Pollack.

The shortened version of Pollock, Polk, is common in America. Its use started with Robert Polk, the forebear of the many Polks prominent in its early history. Today there are almost as many Polks as Pollocks.

Pollock Surname Resources on The Internet

Pollock and Polk Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Lowland), Northern England and from Jewish emigrants
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Australia and South Africa

Scotland. Pollock is one of the oldest family names in Scotland. The Pollocks can trace their origin to Fulbert the Norman (or possibly Breton) who had come north in the service of Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland.

Fulbert’s son Petrus de Pollock was granted lands in 1163 in Renfrewshire in recompense for his father’s service. When Petrus died without male issue, the lands passed to his brother Robertus from whom later Pollocks have been descended.

The Pollocks divided their Pollock estate with the Maxwell clan. Known as Pollock-of-that-Ilk, they remained major landowners in the area. John Pollock forfeited some of his land for supporting Mary Queen of Scots in the fighting during the 1560’s. But other Pollocks acquired estates nearby in the following century.

Thomas Pollock, who had made money as a merchant in Glasgow, bought Balgray House in 1684 (his son Thomas became a colonial governor in North Carolina); and Alan Pollock took over Arthurlie in 1695 (his son Thomas building Arthurlie House soon after). Robert Pollock of Pollock was made a baronet in 1703. However, his line ended with the death of his grandson in 1783.

The Pollock name extended into Ayrshire. For instance, the firm of Stephen & Pollock, booksellers, was for years one of the best-known stores in Ayr. Hugh Pollock of this family was the first husband of the children’s writer Enid Blyton.

England. David Pollock of Berwick came down from Scotland to London in 1739 and was appointed Saddler to King George III. His line was covered in Alexander Pollock’s 1939 book Family of David Pollock. David had three distinguished sons:

  • the eldest, Sir David, who became a judge of the High Court in Bombay
  • Sir Frederick, the eminent lawyer and Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer (forebear of a notable line of judges)
  • and Sir George, the field marshal who won his victories in Afghanistan (commemorated by the Pollock Medal).

Pollocks also drifted south into northern England. Robert Pollock from Ayrshire, for instance, married in Yorkshire in 1776, stayed, and lived and worked and raised a family in Wakefield. Other Pollocks in the 19th century headed for industrial Lancashire.

Ireland.  The first Pollock in Ireland is thought to have been the Robert Pollock who took a large grant of land near Coleraine in county Derry in 1608. His family later became Presbyterian and settled in Donegal.

A number of repressive measures were taken against these Presbyterians after Charles II’s restoration in 1660. To escape this situation, some of them planned emigration to America – including a certain Robert Pollock.

John Pollock, a soldier with Cromwell’s army, is thought to have settled in Newry, county Down. Later Pollocks became prominent there in the linen trade. There were also Pollocks in Bangor and Cumber nearby.

It was said that two Pollock brothers came to Donegal in the early 1700’s, settling on land just north of Stranorlar. A Pollock family has been resident (and still is) in Mountainstown Lodge, Meath since 1780.

From the mid 1700’s for various reasons, there began a Scots Irish exodus to America. This included many Pollocks. A number had been in Ireland for generations, others – like John Pollock below – for a much shorter time.  

“Family tradition says that John Pollock eloped with the step-daughter of Lord Russell and fled from Scotland to Northern Ireland. They lived in Northern Ireland for about thirty years before coming to America in 1800 and settling in Ohio.”

John and his family came first to Pennsylvania before making their home in Harrison county, Ohio in 1811.

America.  There were early Pollocks and Polks in America, as well as variations on those names. The Rev. Horace Hayden’s 1883 book Pollock Genealogy traced that of Oliver Pollock, US agent in New Orleans and Havana from 1776 to 1784.

The first Pollock in America appears to have been the Robert Pollock in 1680 who settled on land granted to him in Somerset county, Maryland.

Polk.  This Robert Pollock (or his son William) shortened the family name to Polk and they were the forebears of the illustrious Polk family of America. Their history was covered in William H. Polk’s 1912 book Polk Family and Kinsmen and retold in William Polk’s 1999 book Polk’s Folly: An American Family History.

Descendants have included:

  • many patriots of the Revolutionary War (Polk county, North Carolina was named after Colonel William Polk)
  • the 11th President of the United States, James Knox Polk
  • the Confederate general Leonidas Polk (the son of Colonel William Polk)
  • and Senator Trusten Polk of Missouri (expelled from his seat in 1862 for his support of the South).

The Polk name distribution in the United States showed a typical Scots Irish pattern, initially into Virginia and the Carolinas, inland to Kentucky and Tennessee, and then south to Mississippi and Texas.

Jeffferson Polk, born in Kentucky, headed out to Iowa in the 1850’s. He was one of Des Moines early settlers and pioneered its street transportation system.  “In the 1890’s he substituted electricity for horse motive power and gave Des Moines the second electric railway in the United States and the fastest railway service in the country.”

Pollock.  In general, Pollocks in America have been a mixture of immigrants from Scotland, Ireland and in later times Pollacks of Jewish Polish origin.

Dr. Thomas Pollock, Scots Irish from Coleraine, arrived in Pennsylvania with his family sometime in the 1730’s and made his home in Carlisle.

James Pollock came to Pennsylvania from Ireland later on in the 1780’s.  His son, also named James, was reportedly aged 103 when he died in 1885.  He had moved to Ohio in the 1820’s and his son John settled in Indiana forty years later.  A descendant William Edwin Pollock died of the Spanish flu in Indiana in 1918, aged only thirty.

William’s son Donald changed his name to King after his mother had remarried.  Donald was the father of the author Stephen King.  Donald, however, abandoned his family in 1949 when Stephen was just two.  Stephen King’s books now compete with John Grisham’s at the top of the fiction best-seller lists.

In a contrasting switch, Jackson Pollock – the well-known American abstract expressionist painter – was brought up in Wyoming where his father, born LeRoy McCoy, had taken the name of Pollock from a neighbor who had adopted him.

Polish.  Samuel Pollock was a Jewish immigrant from Poland who came to Altoona, Pennsylvania in the early 1900’s.  He started Pollock’s Department Store in the nearby town of Gallitzin in 1914.  His son Melvin took over the store after Samuel’s death in 1948.  Sadly Melvin lost both of his sons to AIDS in the early 1990’s.

Australia.  Robert and Agnes Pollock had emigrated to Australia from Glasgow on the Portland in 1838. They raised four sons and six daughters in Araluen, NSW. These brothers combined in business in 1883 to form Pollock Bros, cordial manufacturers. However, there would appear to have been family disagreements because, within five years, three of the brothers had departed to set up their own manufacturing plants.

Irish Pollocks came to Australia as well, including convicts such as William Pollock from Newry in 1840 and settlers such as Alexander Pollock and his wife Mary Jane from Stranorlar in 1870. Alexander and Mary Jane settled in the Goulbourn valley in Victoria and five of their sons later bought land in the Balldale area.

South Africa. South Africa has had a Pollock cricketing dynasty of recent vintage – batsman Graeme, bowler Peter, and Peter’s son allrounder Shaun. An earlier Pollock, Andrew Maclean Pollock, had been a Scottish doctor who had settled in South Africa.

Pollock and Polk Surname Miscellany

Petrus de Pollock.  Petrus de Pollock, who inherited the lands of Pollock from his father Fulbert in 1163, was the first to use Pollock as a surname.  One surviving document charters the lands to Petrus through Walter Fitzalan, the High Steward of Scotland.

Petrus (or Peter) was apparently a man of eminence and a law unto himself.  He was of the Crusade knights and a supporter of the struggle to free the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Moslems.  He was widely known for “valor on the field of battle and prowess in the chase.”  Many minstrel lays were written about him.

In the 1170’s he granted the churches of Pollock and (through his brother Helias) Mearns in his lands to the monastery of Paisley. When Petrus died his lands passed to another brother Robertus, through whom the Pollocks are descended, as Petrus himself had no male heir.

There is a cast of a seal used by the Robertus’s son, which shows a boar crossed with a dart.  This seal is in the British Museum and dates from around 1200.

Pollock History.  The  lineage of the family of Pollock-of-that-Ilk was first recorded by George Crawford in his General Description of the Shire of Renfrew, originally published in 1710 and revised by George Robertson in 1818.

A more modern source of Pollock information has been that developed by Kennet Pollock in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  When Kennet died in 1968, his information passed onto his eldest son David who in turn died in 1982.  Much was thrown away at that time.  But much remained.  Two large cardboard boxes and three carrier bags – crammed full of folders, letters, papers, pedigrees, photographs and written histories – have proved to be a fascinating hoard of Pollock family history.

This material, now available in eight Pollock family books, covers the Pollock families of Over Pollok and Balgray in Scotland, those of Newry and Balleyedmond in Ireland, related families, and other material on the Pollocks in England and America (including a pedigree for James Polk, the 11th President of the United States). 

The Pollock Medal.  The Pollock Medal has been a prize awarded to the best army cadet of the season, first at the East India Company’s Military Seminary and then at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst.

The medal came about because, in 1844, the British residents of Calcutta had raised a subscription of 11,000 rupees – to commemorate the victories of Sir George Pollock’s in Aghanistan after the disastrous retreat of the British army from Kabul in 1842.

The original gold medal, valued at sixteen guineas, was first presented in December 1847.  It had the following inscription:

“To commemorate the eminent services of Major-General Sir George Pollock K.C.B. Bengal Artillery, Kabul 1842.  Treachery avenged; British honor vindicated; disasters retrieved; British captives delivered; Khyber Pass forced; Jellalabad relieved; victories of Mamoo Khail, Jugdulluck, Tezeen Istalif.”

Early Polks and Pollocks in America

Name Birth Life Span
Robert Polk  c. 1625 from Ireland to Maryland (died
there in 1703)
progenitor of many Polks in
Thomas Pollock   1654 from Scotland to North Carolina
(died there in 1722)
colonial Governor of North
Robert Poage  c. 1700 from Ireland to Virginia
(died there in 1773)
Captain Charles Polk   1732 from Pennsylvania to North
Carolina (died there in 1821)
Oliver Pollock   1737 from Ireland to Mississippi
(died there in 1823)
financier for the Revolutionary
Robert Pollock  c. 1740 from Ireland to Tennessee (died
there around 1805)
Captain William Polk  c. 1744 died in Virginia in 1805
John Pollock  c. 1750 from Scotland to Ohio (died
there in 1819)
Samuel Pollock  c. 1756 from Pennsylvania to Ohio

Polk and Pollock.  Back in Ireland Thomas Pollock was a cousin of the man who became President of the United States, James Knox Polk.  Thomas had left Belfast for America with his family in 1824 and settled in Iowa.

In 1848 his son John, aged twenty-four at the time, was summoned to Washington D.C. by President Polk.  Polk asked his relative John to accept an appointment as an Indian Agent in Oregon Territory. His assignment included studying Native Americans and promoting an understanding between the increasing numbers of settlers and tribes.

John left for the Pacific Northwest in 1849 with his brother Robert. They shipped on a sailing vessel rounding Cape Horn and then headed north to California. After landing at San Francisco, they traveled by horseback northward to Oregon Territory and then farther north to the Lewis River area.  There he served as an Indian Agent and as a Justice of the Peace.

In 1868 John was traveling one time in the dead of night in cold, wet and windy weather. He suffered a bad cold that turned to pneumonia after arriving home.  He died at the young age of forty-four.

Polk’s Folly: An American Family History.  As a young boy growing up in Texas in the 1930’s, William Polk listened excitedly to stories from his aging grandmother Molly Harding Polk.  Molly was a child and later bride of the American Civil War and had grown up listening to stories from her grandfather born during the Revolutionary War.  “So in just two memories,” William related, “I had laid out for me tales of the entire history of the United States.”

In his book Polk’s Folly: An American Family History published in 1999, William Polk has sketched the exhausting Polk saga, from Robert Pollok’s 1680 arrival in what became Somerset county, Maryland to stirring accounts of various Polks’ heroism in World War Two.

The story also included an Indian trader, an early drafter of the Declaration of Independence, heroes and rascals on both sides of the Civil War, Indian fighters, a World War One diplomat, and Polk’s own brother, a journalist who reported on the Nuremberg trials.  The book’s center of gravity, however, is the meticulous diary kept by America’s 11th President James Polk, never intended for publication, which provided a behind-the-scenes account of the Mexican War.

As one reviewer commented:

“Named for the parcel of swampy land where the Polks first settled in America, Polk’s Folly says as much about one family’s adventures and misadventures as it does about the grand processional of American history.”

Lou Pollock of Asheville, North Carolina.  Lou Pollock was well-known as a merchant in the Asheville community and the President of Pollock Inc.  He went into business in the city in 1910, by his own account with only sixty dollars in capital.

His shoe store on Patton Avenue in Asheville was opened in 1920 and he was joined there by his brother Ben as his partner.  That same year he also started a store in Greenville, South Carolina and he followed that with a store in West Palm Beach, Florida.   He is perhaps best remembered for the annual Christmas party for needy children which he prepared each year.  During the party, Pollock gave away hundreds of pairs of shoes to children who had no means to purchase the shoes.

The Jewish presence in this part of western North Carolina had been was early and was pervasive.  Lou himself was held in regard and esteem in the community. An expression of this, in 1949, was that the name of the Mount Sinai Jewish Cemetery in Asheville was changed to the Lou Pollock Memorial Park.

Reader Feedback – Dean Pollock of Iowa.  My great grandparents lived in College Springs, Iowa.  Grampa’s cousin Dean Pollock wrote Joseph, Chief of the Nez Perce.  Bill Clinton wrote that it was his favorite book as a child.

Judy Pollock (pollock@tera.org),

Pollock and Polk Names

  • Robertus de Pollock was the forebear of the Pollock clan in Scotland.
  • Robert Polk who came to Maryland from Ireland in the 1680’s was the forebear of the illustrious Polk family in America.
  • James Polk was the 11th President of the United States (from 1845 to 1849).
  • Jackson Pollock was a well-known American abstract expressionist painter. He was brought up in Wyoming where his father had taken the Pollock name from a neighbor who had adopted him.
  • Sam Pollock of the Montreal Canadiens was one of the most successful NHL executives of all time, leading his side to nine Stanley Cup wins during his fourteen year tenure.
  • Graeme Pollock was an outstanding South African cricketer of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Pollock and Polk Numbers Today

  • 9,000 in the UK (most numerous in Stirling)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

Pollock and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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