Reynolds Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Reynolds Surname Meaning

The name Reynolds was a Norman import to England, from Reginald or in Old French Reinold. The earlier root is the Old Norse Rognvaldr, comprised of the elements ragin meaning “counsel” and wald meaning “rule.” Reynold was a Viking leader who harried the English and Irish shores in the 10th century.

Name variants have included Reynold and Reynell. The Irish MacRaghnaill derives from the Gaelic of Randal or Reginald.  This name became anglicized to Reynolds.             

Reynolds Surname Resources on The Internet

Reynolds Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Ireland (Leitrim)
  • to America, Canada, South Africa, Australia and Portugal

England.  The Reynolds name first appeared in Somerset where they were granted lands after the Norman Conquest in 1066. William filius Raunaldi is recorded in the Domesday Book.

SW England. A Reynell family originally from Cambridgeshire transplanted themselves to Devon in the 14th century where they were substantial landowners. They were described as “men of great credit, fidelity, and service to their kings, country and state in peace and in war.” Both the Reynell and Reynolds names were to be found in Devon. A Reynolds family in Plympton produced the great 18th century portrait painter Sir Joshua Reynolds.

The naval Reynolds came from Cornwall. They made their home in the late 18th century at Penair near Truro. And the Reynolds name was also prominent in tin mining at St. Agnes, starting possibly with William Reynolds who was born there in the 1680’s.

Owen Reynolds, a yeoman farmer from Melcombe in Dorset, was five times its mayor in the 1550’s. His nephew Edward benefited from the patronage of the Earl of Essex and died in 1623 in London a rich man.

Kent. A Reynolds line dating back to the 16th century in East Bergholt in Kent included descendants who were among the early immigrants to America.

From a later naval family came George Reynolds who got himself involved in the Chartist movement in the 1840’s. He founded a radical newspaper, Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper, which became popular. The paper continued in a different guise as Reynolds News until 1967.

East Anglia.  The birth of Thomas Reynolds was recorded at Great Chesterford in northern Essex in 1569. He appeared in court in 1598 after a brawl with a neighbor.

One family history dates back to the marriage of James Reynolds and Susannah Wood at Little Bardfield in 1711. In the churchyard of the nearby village of Great Sampford there are a number of Reynolds gravestones of the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Just across the border into Cambridgeshire were the Reynolds of Castle Camps and the Reynolds of Leverington:

  • Sir James Reynolds, a Cromwellian general, had taken a lease on the Castle Camps estate as a safe retreat for his family during the Civil War. His grandson Sir James was appointed Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in 1727.
  • while Richard Reynolds was rector of Leverington near Wisbech in the 1670’s. His son Richard, born there, became the Bishop of Lincoln.  He acquired Paxton Hall in Huntingdonshire in 1730 where the family remained for several generations.

Lancashire.  There was a Reynolds family in Lancashire which inherited the Strangeways estate near Manchester in 1711. Francis Reynolds from this family distinguished himself in naval actions in the West Indies and later took over the family estates at Tortworth in Gloucestershire (his home there is now a country house hotel).

Lancashire received an influx of Irish Reynolds in the 19th century. Mary Reynolds from Mohill in county Leitrim settled her young family in Manchester after the death of her husband during the famine years. Her letters recently published, The Reynolds Letters: An Irish Emigrant Family in Late Victorian Manchester, present a story of Irish immigrants making good in industrial England at that time.

Ireland. The Reynolds name came to Ireland at the time of Strongbow in the 1200’s.  These English invaders took the titles of Earls of Cavan, Lisburne and Mountmorris. A later English invasion in the 17th century gave rise to the Reynells from Devon of Reynell castle.

However, the largest numbers of Reynolds have been home-grown.  From early times the lands around Lough Rynn in county Leitrim were owned and settled by the MacRaghnaill clan. Sean na gCeann or John of the Heads, so called for beheading his rebellious clansmen, was their chief in the late 1500’s.

The next century saw the English taking over Leitrim and the Irish, including the McRaghnaills, being gradually pushed out. A second exodus occurred at the time of the potato famine. Even so, nearly half of the Reynolds in Ireland today come from Leitrim.  The Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds was born in nearby Roscommon.

Portugal. A Reynolds family from Kent has been in Portugal since 1820, first as cork importers and then as wine producers.

America. The English Reynolds in America came first.

English.  Early Reynolds settlers in New England were Robert and Mary Reynolds and their four children who got there in 1630. Christopher Reynolds from Gravesend in Kent arrived in Virginia in 1622 on the Francis and John. Their family line is documented in Stephen Tilman’s 1959 book, The Rennolds-Reynolds of Virginia and England.

Members of this family were subsequently involved in the freighting business in upstate New York. They later moved west:

  • P.G. Reynolds became a mail contractor and stage operator in Dodge City for the trails heading south to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.
  • his brother Milton, who adopted the writing name of Kicking Bird, covered Indian council meetings as a roving reporter and became an advocate for Western settlement.
  • another Milton Reynolds, but of German origin, introduced the first ballpoint pen to an unsuspecting public in 1945.

Abraham Reynolds was a poor tobacco farmer in Virginia in the early 1800’s. His son Hardin started a plantation at Rock Spring in Patrick county. Hardin’s son RJ, the second of sixteen children born there, embarked on a plan to build his own tobacco factory at Winston Salem. It was he who developed the huge tobacco empire that is RJ Reynolds.

Irish. Irish Reynolds also came to America. John Reynolds arrived in Virginia in the 1770’s. His descendants moved onto Kentucky and Missouri.

Robert and Margaret Reynolds from Louth reached Tennessee in 1784 and then continued to Illinois. Their son John rose to be the fourth governor of that state. Nineteenth century arrivals were more numerous. And many Reynolds went to Canada at that time as well.

Canada. Early arrivals had been Empire Loyalists, such as William Reynolds, leaving America after the Revolutionary War. William had been a coronet in the British army and led a group of Loyalists out of New York in 1796. He and his family ended up in Dorchester (near London), Ontario.

Bernard and Mary Reynolds came in the late 1830’s from county Leitrim and settled in Renfrew county, Ontario. Other Reynolds followed, from both England and Ireland, as the 19th century proceeded.

South Africa. In 1850 two Devon farmers, Thomas and Lewis Reynolds, set off on the Justina for South Africa to seek their fortunes (their uncle Charles had previously emigrated to Australia).

The brothers’ business took them to sugar refining in Natal. But it was the next generation – Frank and Charles Reynolds – who are generally considered as the founders of South Africa’s sugar industry. Frank built the family home of Lynton Hall at Pennington on the south coast. It now operates as a luxury hotel.

Australia. Two brothers, Richard and Edward Reynolds, were convicted of petty theft in Chelmsford and were transported to Australia in 1791. They were educated and literate and Edward kept a diary of the hardships of the journey. The brothers later surfaced in Hawkesbury, NSW. Richard petitioned for a land grant:

“The petitioner arrived in this colony on the Atlantic in 1791, has been free about 28 years, has endured all the hardships to which and infant colony could subject him, and has reared a family of ten children to the habits of industry.”

His petition was successful. He died in Wilberforce in 1837 and left a large number of descendants.

John Reynell from Devon was an early settler in South Australia. He came in 1838 and started the first commercial vineyard in the colony. Meanwhile Thomas and Mary Reynolds arrived in Western Australia from Oxfordshire in 1842. Their descendants are still to be found there.

Charles Reynolds from Devon came to Tocal in the Hunter valley in 1844 and worked there until his death in 1871. In his time he was recognized an an expert on horse and cattle breeding in New South Wales.

Reynolds Surname Miscellany

Reynolds Origins.  Reynolds emerged as a family name in Somerset where Sir Richard Reynell was seated at Pitney and was given custody of the castles of Exeter and Launceston by Richard I when he went to the Holy Land in 1191. Many of the junior branches of the family had joined Strongbow at that time in his invasion of Ireland.

In England the main line was forfeited.  But Sir Richard’s son recovered the lands and became the Earl of Devon.

The MacRaighnaill Clan.  After gaining the lordship of Muintir Eolias, the MacRaighnaill clan made Lough Rynn their main seat and built a stone castle by the shores of the lake.  Like other clans in their area, they devoted much of their time to simply holding onto their land and their cattle.

The Annals of the Four Masters makes several references to the exploits of the MacRaghnaills, recording many excursions and battles between them and their neighbors. When the fighting was close to home and Lough Rynn proved unsafe, the MacRaghnaills would seek refuge at the nearby monastery at Mohill.

By the 1500’s, the clan way of life – with its feuding, Brehon laws, and bardic tradition – came under threat from the English government.  The English destroyed the Mohill monastery in 1540 and sent a large army against the local clans in 1590.  Thirty years later, Leitrim was one of the first counties to be handed over to English settlers (the lands around Lough Rynn and the town of Mohill being given to the Crofton family).

Later, when the Penal Laws were introduced, Irish Catholics like the MacRaighnaills were barred from owning land, had no inheritance rights, and were forbidden to hold arms or to vote.

Gloria Reynolds in Portugal.  Thomas Reynolds, a Kentish seaman and merchant, arrived in Portugal in 1820, lured by the wine business. He set up in the northern town of Porto with his two sons, Thomas and Robert.  For several years they supplied their London commercial store with a diversity of Iberian products.   In 1838 they entered the cork industry and set up a number of cork factories in Portugal and Spain.

The elder son did not remain in Portugal, however.  Stirred with the spirit of entrepreneurship, Thomas and his family set sail for New Zealand with a huge herd of merino sheep.  They never returned to Portugal.

His brother Robert remained in Estremoz to take care of the family business.  This soon expanded with the purchase of new land and the production of quality wine.

Meanwhile the Alentejo was to become the birthplace of future Reynolds in Portugal.  Robert’s first son Robert Rafael and grandson Carlos were born there.  Carlos’s first child was a daughter whom he named Gloria, to honor his mother and all his ancestors who had lived in the Alentejo.  Gloria’s son Julian produces a quality wine that carries his mother’s name, Gloria Reynolds.

Early Reynolds in America

Date Reynolds Location
1622 Christopher, Elizabeth Isle of Wight co.
1637 Thomas and Mary Isle of Wight co.
1630 Robert and Mary Boston, Mass
1634 William and Alice Duxbury, Mass and Cape Porpoise, Maine
1634 John and Sarah Watertown, Mass and Stamford, Conn
1635 Katherine (and Edward Starbuck) Dover, NH and Nantucket
1643 James and Deborah North Kingstown, Rhode Island

Milt Reynolds – Kicking Bird.  It was at Medicine Lodge in 1867 that Milt Reynolds came near losing his life at the hands of Black Kettle, the most bloodthirsty of all the Plains Indians.  He became offended at Reynolds and was at the point of tomahawking him when old Kicking Bird, another Cheyenne chief, interfered and saved Reynolds’ life.

Kicking Bird and Reynolds became great friends after that, the old chief calling Reynolds “the Paper Chief,” a name by which he was known to many of the Indians.  After the death of old Kicking Bird, Reynolds adopted his name in all of his newspaper correspondence.  The name “Kicking Bird” became as well known to the reading people of the West as was the original of the name among the Indians of the Plains during the days of Indian warfare.

R.J. Reynolds’ Homestead.  Hardin Reynolds, a poor young farmer in Virginia who had been twice burned by price gougers, had vowed that he would never again be at the mercy of tobacco buyers.  He convinced his father Abraham that, rather than sell raw leaf to the manufacturers, they should make and sell their own sweet twist of chewing tobacco at more of a profit.  Later, Hardin’s two sons, Abram and RJ, would follow in his entrepreneurial footsteps.

The Reynolds’ homestead in Patrick county, more formally called the Rock Spring plantation, was built in 1843 by Hardin on land inherited from his father, an early settler in the area.  It was in this two-story brick plantation house that Hardin’s wife Nancy gave birth to their sixteen children, including the second-born Richard Joshua (RJ).  The house and grounds have recently been restored to their 19th century state.

In the kitchen hangs a picture of Kitty Reynolds, the slave who according to tradition had saved Hardin’s life by distracting a raging bull that was attacking him.  Another Hardin slave, Jacob Reynolds, fought and died in the Civil War.

Reader Feedback – Henry Reynolds in Tennessee.  My ancestor Henry Reynolds came out of Henry county, North Carolina in the 1790’s and wound up in Savannah, Tennessee. There are still several Reynolds here.

James Reynolds (

Henry was a constable in Mecklenburg, North Carolina and was supposed to have discovered the French Broad river.  Born in 1779, he married Suzannah Clay in Henry county in 1808, Rebecca Smith in Hardin county, Tennessee, and then a third wife.  He died in 1834.

His son RW Reynolds fought at Shiloh with NB Forrest and at other places. He lived through the Civil War with two uncles still alive and many cousins as well.

Do you have documentation that Bartlett and Anne were Henry’s parents?

Patricia Reynolds (

Reader Feedback – Reynolds from Tennessee and Kentucky.  My late mother was born Emma Reynolds to Billy Reynolds and Ada Caulk Reynolds in Taylor county, Kentucky. My great grandparents were LaFayette Reynolds and Emeline Saunders Reynolds, originally from Tennessee and later Kentucky. They had sixteen children, two of whom were girls.

June E. Milby (

John Reynell in Australia.  John Reynell was born in 1809 from a Devon farming family and departed for Australia in 1838.  He is thought to have established the first commercial vineyard and winery in South Australia by planting vine cuttings that he had bought at the Cape of Good Hope.  The first vintage was produced in 1842 and he built the Old Cave cellar (which still survives today) in 1845.

His company Hardy Reynella Winery remained family owned until 1992.

Reader Feedback: Relatives of Thomas and Lewis Reynolds in South Africa.  Charles Reynolds of Tocal, NSW in Australia was the uncle of Lewis and Thomas of Natal in South Africa. Jane Reynolds of Undoni Park in Natal in a letter informed me that the Reynolds of Portugal are also related.

Thomas Reynolds of Portugal migrated to New Zealand where he became a politician much like his South African cousin Sir Frank Reynolds who received his knighthood for his contribution to the sugar industry in Natal.

Regards.  Lionel Thring (

Reynolds Names

  • Walter Reynolds was the son of a Windsor baker who became a favorite of King Edward II.  The king made him Archbishop of Canterbury.
  • Sir Joshua Reynolds from Devon was a leading English portrait painter of the 18th century.
  • R.J Reynolds, a Virginia tobacco farmer, founded the R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company in 1890.
  • Richard S. Reynolds, nephew of RJ, founded the American Metals Company in 1919 and developed it as one of the world’s leading aluminium companies.
  • Paul Revere Reynolds, a descendant of the American patriot Paul Revere, was the first literary agent in New York, in 1893.
  • Milton Reynolds, a Chicago businessman, introduced the first ballpoint pen on the market in 1945.
  • Albert Reynolds was the Irish Prime Minister in the 1990’s.
  • Debbie Reynolds, born in Texas, is an American actress and singer.
  • Burt Reynolds is a well-known American actor.

Reynolds Numbers Today

  • 85,000 in the UK (most numerous in Cambridgeshire)
  • 76,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Reynolds and Like Surnames

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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