Reynolds Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Reynolds 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 Resources on

Reynolds Ancestry

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.

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.

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
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
    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.

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

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

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

America. The English
Reynolds in America came first. Early Reynolds settlers
in New England were Robert and Mary Reynolds and their four children
who got there in 1630. Christopher Reynolds from Gravesend
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

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
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),

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

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.


Select Reynolds 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

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

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.

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 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

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.

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.

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.

Select 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)


Select 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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