Randall Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Randall Surname Meaning

Randall appears to have been an English corruption or shortening of the given name Randolph which has Norse-Viking origins. The Norse name Rondulfr, meaning “shield” and “wolf,” became Randwulf and Randulf and later Randolph in England.  The old English Lord Randal ballad was said to have referred to the 13th century Randolph, Earl of Chester.

Randall was probably originally a first name, Randel or Randle, and later a surname. Early surname forms were Randal and Randle.  The main variants to Randall today are Randell and Randle.

Randall Surname Resources on The Internet

Randall Surname Ancestry

  • from Southern England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England. Randle was an early surname spelling – found in Gloucestershire (Cowley and Minchinhampton), but later generally restricted to Warwickshire in the West Midlands. 

One Randle family in Bedworth and later in Foleshill dates back to the mid-1500’s. Richard Randle was the town clerk at nearby Coventry from 1614 to 1636.  Notably Bedworth and Foleshill were the places with the highest number of Randles in the 1881 census.

However, Randall has been mainly a name of southern England.

SW England.  A notable early family was the Randall family of Bath in Somerset.   This line probably started with John Randall who was born in Bath is 1545 and married Johanna Webb.  Their son Matthew was the Mayor of Bath in 1627.  From his son the Rev. Matthew Randall came John Randall who worked as a draper in London and departed for New England in 1667.

Randalls dated from the early 1500’s at Allington near Bridport in Dorset.  Phillip Randall, born there in 1574, emigrated to New England in 1630.  Meanwhile Lawrence Randall from along the Dorset coast at Lulworth was establishing at that time what was to become the Red Lion inn.  William Randall was the comic innkeeper there in John O’Keefe’s play The London Hermit in the 1790’s.  The Red Lion stayed with the Randall family until 1870.

There were also Randalls in Wiltshire, particularly in and around the town of Warminster.  John Randall was a clothier at Sutton Veny in the early 1700’s.  His pattern and account book have survived.  The Rev. Richard Randall, the vicar at Chicklade in the 1730’s, held the Dominick farm there and it remained with his family until the 1850’s.   The town of Trowbridge in western Wiltshire had a large concentration of Randalls in the 1881 census.

The Randell spelling surfaced in Devon, dating back to the late 16th century.  Francis Randell from Clovelly moved to Carmarthenshire in Wales around the year 1800 and started a shipping business between Wales and SW England that spanned four generations of the family and lasted over a hundred years. William Randell from Sidbury who emigrated to South Australia in 1837 was also a seaman.  He was a pioneer of steamboats on the Murray river.

SE England.  Randall Manor, an imposing manor house near Gravesend in Kent, has long disappeared.  But the Randall surname can still be found in the Kentish Medway towns.

The Randall name also appeared at an early time, in the 1560’s, in the parish registers of Hedgerley and Amersham in south Buckinghamshire.  These Randalls were Baptists.  John Randall, the Puritan clergyman, was born in Great Missenden in 1570; while Giles Randall was recorded as an innkeeper there in 1587.

By the late 19th century the Randall name had spread throughout London and SE England and was more numerous than in SW England.

America.  Randalls came to New England and Maryland.

New England.  Three early Randalls here were:

  • Philip Randall from Dorset who came in 1633 and settled three years later in Windsor, Connecticut.  He died there in 1662 but left no male line.
  • William Randall from London who arrived as a prisoner on the Conception in 1635.  Five years later he was recorded as a cordwainer in Scituate, Massachusetts.  Frank Randall’s 1943 booklet Randall and Allied Families covered his line.
  • and Robert Randall from Buckinghamshire who came to Weymouth, Massachusetts in the late 1630’s.  His line was traced in William Chaffin’s 1909 book Biographical History of Robert Randall and His Descendants.

Jacob Randall of uncertain parentage was born in Boston in 1667 and moved to New Hampshire in 1700.  His descendants were all sea captains until Benjamin, born in 1749, who made a name for himself as the organizer of the Freewill Baptists in New England.

John Randall of the Bath Randalls had come to Rhode Island in 1667 and purchased land in Stonington, Connecticut in 1680.  Here he was probably helped by the fact that his wife Elizabeth was the daughter of Sir William Molton, the founder of New London, Connecticut.

Their son John built the farmhouse at Stonington in 1720.  It stayed with the family until the late 1800’s (it is now an inn and a restaurant).  The Randall family became well-known as abolitionists in the early/mid 1800’s:

“Hannah Randall, who had been born in the house in 1816, often told stories of the slaves’ hiding place there.  She would roll back a hooked rug to reveal a trap door which led into a deep dark hole.  Runaways hid there by day before heading northward to Canada and freedom.”

In the 1750’s Sylvester Randall settled in Colchester, Connecticut and Stephen Randall moved to Long Island where he fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War.  His brother John was one of the first settlers of Durham, Maine.

Maryland.  Christopher Randall had settled in Anne Arundel county around the year 1679.  His descendants moved to Baltimore where an area known as Randallstown has preserved their name. This line is thought to have included James Ryder Randall, author of the famous Confederate hymn Maryland, My Maryland.

John Randall, born in 1750, had come from a planter family in the Northern Neck of Virginia. As a young man he established himself as an architect in Annapolis and was three times its mayor in the early 1800’s.  After his death in 1826, his son Alexander inherited his home near the Maryland statehouse and his descendants owned that house until the 1950’s.

Wisconsin.  Randall was a name in the early history of Wisconsin.  There were in fact two early Randalls there:

  • Alexander W. Randall, the son of Phineas Randall of upstate New York, arrived there in 1840.  He became Governor of Wisconsin in 1858 and was later the US Postmaster General.  His brother Edwin moved from there to Florida where he was appointed the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court in 1869.  
  • while Benjamin Randall came in 1845 from Rhode Island and later served in the Wisconsin State Assembly; as did his son Barber. 

Canada.  Joseph Randall from Stonington was a Loyalist who fled with his family to Canada after the Revolutionary War.  Many of them eventually returned. But Amos Randall did make a new home for himself in Argyle, Nova Scotia.

Two later Randall arrivals from England were poor families who had assistance – William and Ann Randall from Wiltshire who came with their family to Adelaide township in Ontario in 1832; and another William Randall, this time from Suffolk, who arrived in Quebec in 1838, married his wife Sarah there, and later settled in Elmira, Ontario.  Sarah Randall lived until 1906.

Australia.  John Randall was tried and convicted of the theft of a watch in Manchester and transported to Australia on the Alexander in 1787, a first-fleeter.  He had been a black slave in Connecticut (probably of the Randalls of Stonington) who had enlisted in the British army during the Revolutionary War and came to England afterwards.

He became a town constable in Sydney, moved to Tasmania in 1814.  Reports that he was murdered there by a convict in 1817 are incorrect.  It was another John Randall who was murdered.

Randall Surname Miscellany

The Lord Randal Ballad.  Lord Randal is one of the oldest traditional ballads in the English language.  It is thought that Lord Randal might have been Randolph, 6th Earl of Chester who died in 1232, having been poisoned by his wife.  Langland’s Vision of Piers the Ploughman has a reference which may be to this ballad when a character said: “I ken rhymes of Robin Hood and Randolf Earl of Chester.”

In the ballad Lord Randall returns home to his mother after visiting his lover. Through the mother’s inquiry, it is gradually revealed that the Lord has been poisoned by his lover.  The song usually includes details of Lord Randall’s bequeathing his goods to his relatives.

The following are some stanzas from the Anglo-Scottish version of the ballad.

  • “And what did she give you, Lord Randal, my son?
  • And what did she give you, my handsome young man?
  • Eels fried in a pan; mother, make my bed soon,
  • For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie down.
  • And wha gat your leavins, Lord Randal, my son?
  • And wha gat your leavins, my handsome young man?
  • My hawks and my hounds; mother, make my bed soon,
  • For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie down.
  • And what became of them, Lord Randal, my son?
  • And what became of them, my handsome young man?
  • They stretched their legs out and died; mother, make my bed soon,
  • For I’m wearied wi huntin, and fain wad lie down.
  • O I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randal, my son!
  • I fear you are poisoned, my handsome young man!
  • O yes, I am poisoned; mother, make my bed soon,
  • For I’m sick at the heart, and I fain wad lie down.”

Randall Manor in Kent.  On the hills above the rolling fields of Shorne near Gravesend in Kent lies Randall Wood.  The name is very old, probably Saxon.  In those days, before the trees had grown up, it was called Rundale and it was a manor with its own fields and woods and its marshland down by the Thames.

In 1091 Bishop Gundulph approved a gift to Rochester priory of the tithes of Rundale.  A hundred years passed. There was a family living in the nearby village of Cobham who took their name from that place.  Henry de Cobham bought the manor of Cobham and also some land in Shorne.

His Randall Manor at Shorne dated from the early 14th century. For a couple of generations Randall was a famous manor house from which members of the de Cobham family rode forth as sheriffs, knights of the shire and lords of Parliament.  Henry built Randall chapel in Shorne church and his effigy as Lord of Randall still rests, armed with mail and cross-legged, in the rebuilt chapel.  On his death his son Stephen succeeded to the barony and for something like a hundred years the manor remained an important part of the life of the village.

The manor house has now disappeared, but the site is identifiable.   Today, under a tangle of roots and coppice woodland, traces of the old building show that it had substantial stone foundations standing on a rectangular plateau surrounded on three sides by a moat and fishponds.

The Randall Family of Bath.  Matthew Randall, the Mayor of Bath, was born about 1571 in Bath, the son of John and Johanna Randall.  He married Agnes Cullen in 1596 and they had eight children.

Only four of their sons lived to adulthood and produced children.  Two died in infancy, as did a daughter Elizabeth. It was also widely reported that their son Richard died in childhood.  However, at least one contemporary source claimed that Richard actually immigrated to Scituate, Massachusetts in 1640 and later settled in Maine.

Matthew’s son Robert married Joan Richards and had twelve children.  Only two survived to adulthood.  His son John became a butcher and moved to London. He later inherited a portion of his grandfather Matthew’s estate in Bath.  Matthew’s son John, born in 1609, began an apprenticeship as a woollen draper at the Drapers Company in London and eventually became a master draper.

Another surviving son, Matthew, who had been born in 1600, was ordained as a pastor in 1627 and was a rector first in Somerset and later in Cornwall.  His son John, born in 1640, came to London also as a draper’s apprentice, like his uncle. This John was the emigrant to New England, first being sighted in Westerly, Rhode Island in 1667.

The Comic Innkeeper of Lulworth.  William Randall was born in 1728 in the home of his ancestors in Lulworth, Dorset.  He could justifiably be called a character – although the following contemporary account may be a bit of an exaggeration:

“He was tall, thin and bony, with a long sal­low face and dark staring eyes.  His dress consisted usually of a short white flannel coat, a scarlet waistcoat with brass buttons, brown stockings and thick solid shoes with iron buckles. When speaking he gesticulated wildly, swinging his arms and head about and continually stammering over the many long and fine sounding words with which he endeavored to embellish his speech.”

He was the eldest son of a local innkeeper and farmer.  But the mid-1700’s was a time of depres­sion in Dorset with poverty al­ways round the corner.  Once he walked to London to look for employment.  When he got to Tyburn Gibbet (now Marble Arch) he found himself con­fronted with the body of a fel­low villager.  Quite distraught, he walked back home and never left Dorset again.

The arrival of King George III and his Court at Weymouth in the last two decades of the century brought a wave of prosperity to the Dorset coast.  The doctors had told the King that sea bathing was a cure for his incipient insanity.

One of the early visitors was the playwright John O’Keeffe.  There is no doubt that he was fascinated by Lulworth and his hosts.  When he returned to London he proceeded to enshrine for all time the Randalls and their inn the Red Lion in his play The London Hermit.  William Randall was held up there to some ridicule.  But the public loved the show.

All of those who had seen or heard about The London Hermit called to sample William’s Dorset Lamb or Scotch Scollops at the Red Lion and doubtless to smile indulgently at the rustic antics of those who were portrayed in the play.  The visitors even included the King who dined there in 1802 and sung its praises.

Stephen Randall’s Revolutionary War.  The Revolutionary War broke out when Stephen Randall was a young man.  He cast his lot with the Continentals.  Nearly all of his neighbors on Long Island, however, especially those in Wading River, joined the British.

He lived in a sparsely settled section on the main road between Wading River and the south side of Long Island, the road used by the British when they crossed over from Connecticut. The British soldiers soon made it very uncomfortable for him by using his barns for their horses and feeding them at his expense.  Stephen got tired of this aggravation and formed a company for his home protection. They did good service until Stephen himself was captured.

Two soldiers were taking him to Halifax when they stopped at a Tory house in Wading River to get dinner.  They left Stephen bound in the kitchen with the Tory man’s wife.  While she was preparing dinner she set him free, telling him that she would not inform his captors of his escape for the next two to three hours.

Stephen Randall hurried home, got his gun, dog and some warm clothing and remained in hiding until peace was declared.  That old gun remained in the possession of his family and was highly prized.

Sarah Randall of Elmira, Ontario.  The Elmira Signet in SW Ontario reported on July 12, 1906:

“Almost a Centenarian.  There died at Berlin last Monday Mrs. Sarah Randall, a former resident of Elmira, aged 99 years, 6 months and 15 days.

The deceased was well known in Elmira, having lived here from the time that Elmira was but a hamlet until a few years ago when she removed to Berlin to live with her son Charles.  She was in spite of her high age able to be about until within the last year or so.  She was the mother of a large family and many of her descendants still live in Elmira and vicinity.”

She had outlived her husband William Randall by eight years.  Had she lived to the next Christmas she would have made it to a hundred.  At time of her death she had 13 grandchildren, 50 great grandchildren, and 7 great great grandchildren.

Reader Feedback – John Randall Murdered in Tasmania.  The John Randall murdered in Tasmania was not the FF convict John Randall.  The John Randall who was murdered arrived in NSW on the ship Atlas in 1816 and was sent to Tasmania that year.  Myree Bliim (pp4@iinet.net.au)

Randall Names

  • Banjamin Randall was the main organizer of the Freewill Baptists in New England in the late 1700’s. 
  • Jack Randall, known as the Nonpareil, was the leading bare-knuckle boxer in England in the 1820’s. 
  • James Ryder Randall is best remembered for his poem Maryland, My Maryland which became the war hymn of the Confederacy during the Civil War. 
  • Sir John Randall was an English physicist who pioneered the development of cavity magnetron, an essential component of radar and later of microwave ovens. 
  • Tony Randall, born Arthur Rosenberg, was an American actor best known for his role as Felix Unger in the TV adaptation of The Odd Couple
  • Ruth Rendell has been an English author of thrillers and psychological murder mysteries with her Chief Inspector Wexford creation.

Randall Numbers Today

  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 25,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



Written by Colin Shelley

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