Robbins Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Robbins Surname Meaning

Robins and Robbins are patronymic forms of the medieval given name Robin, itself a diminutive of Robert (from the Old German Hrodebert).

Robin came to England originally from France. The name was made popular by Robin Goodfellow, another name for Puck whose mischievous tricks were described in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and by Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest who stole from the rich to give to the poor. The French surname spelling of Robin is to be found in the Channel Islands.

Robins and Robbins are roughly equal in numbers in England. But Robbins predominates in America. Robbins could be Jewish name in America, from Rubin or Rabinowitz or similar names.

Robbins Surname Resources on The Internet

Robbins and Robins Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England, Channel Islands and from Jewish emigrants
  • to Ireland (Ulster, Canada, America, South Africa and Australia

EnglandThe surname appeared initially in non-patronymic form as Robyn or Robin or Robyn in the 13th century before the patronymic Robyns and Robins emerged. The Robbins spelling generally came later.

An early Robyns sighting was at Long Buckby in Northamptonshire where the name appeared as Robinus as early as 1210. Thomas Robyns, born around 1480, lived in the village of Holdenby nearby and from him are said to have come two lines of descent, each of whom had descendants who found their way to America.

West Country. The main numbers of Robins and Robbins, however, have been in the west country. Both names were found in Gloucestershire. If anything, Robins extended southwest into Devon and Cornwall; Robbins into the West Midlands.

One line of Robins in Cornwall was to be found in the fishing village of Megavissey, beginning with Thomas Robins in the mid-16th century. They tended to be seamen or rope makers. The earliest well-documented ancestor was William Robins who died in 1844 and whose headstone still stands in the graveyard of St. Peter’s parish church. Charles Robins of this family departed for Ireland.

Paul Robins meanwhile had sailed with his family for Canada on the Voluna in 1846, keeping a diary of his journey. He was a pioneer of the Bible Christian movement in North America.

Robins held the manor of Matson near Gloucester in the 15th century and possibly earlier. In 1590 the heiress Margaret Robins married Jasper Selwyn who then came into possession of the estate. But the family did produce an early American emigrant; and Thomas Robins, a Gloucestershire artist of the mid-18th century, was thought to have been a descendant. This history was recorded with other Robins history in the Rev. Mills Robbins’ 1908 book Gleanings of the Robins or Robbins Family of England.

The spelling in Warwickshire tended to be Robbins.  A Robyns family in Worcestershire had migrated to Stoulton in Warwickshire by 1500 and became Robbins there. A branch of this family moved to Leicestershire and Richard and Thomas Robbins emigrated to New England. Francis Robbins meanwhile was a yeoman farmer in Lillington in the late 1600’s; and a family line has been traced from Thomas Robbins and Mary Sabin who married in Fenny Compton in 1791.

Channel Islands. The Robin name, originating from France, has applied in the Channel Islands. Raulin Robin was recorded as a landowner in St. Brelade in Jersey as early as 1331.

A much later Raulin Robin was elected Jersey Jurat in 1700.  One of his sons, Charles Robin, saw the potential in Canada’s fishing grounds and formed a company in the 1760’s to exploit these opportunities.  “Charles had great success in Canada and in 1802 returned to Jersey and expanded his home there. He never married and died in 1824 leaving £480 to the poor of the parish.”  

The Robin line did continue in Jersey, but has recently died out.

There were unrelated Robin families on Guernsey dating from the late 1600’s. They were covered in Mendham and Foster’s 1990 book The Robin Families of Guernsey. Nicholas Robin was a prominent Methodist on the island in the early 19th century. Three of his sons – James, Alexis, and Francis – emigrated to South Australia in the 1850’s and prospered there.

Scotland.  Early Robbins were in Scotland, recorded at Stobo in Peeblesshire on the Scottish borders in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, the name has disappeared there.

Ireland.  Robbins in Ireland was probably an English implant. They were recorded in Tipperary from about 1700 onwards. Hymenstown was their home in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Edward Robbins was a farmer at Clara in county Offaly at the time of the Great Famine. The product of his farms was not enough to provide for his large family. In 1849 he therefore emigrated to South America with his wife and eleven children. After a rocky start in Buenos Aires, Robbins worked as shepherd in Cañuelas. He died in 1966.   

America.  Early Robbins were to be found in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and North Carolina. 

Massachusetts.  Robbins lines here were:

  • Nicholas Robbins, a shoemaker possibly from Kent who came to Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1635 and settled in Duxbury three years later. His line was covered in Larry Robbins’ 2008 book The Nicholas Robbins Family.
  • Richard Robbins from Stoulton in Warwickshire who was in Charlestown, Massachusetts by 1640. One line led to the Robbins Cape Cod families. Another line led to Edward Robbins, Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1802 to 1806.
  • George Robbins, a farmer and mill owner possibly from Oxford who lived in Chelmsford, Massachusetts from 1667 onwards. He was married three times and was the father of eleven known children. The lineage here can be found in Omer and Elsie Robbins’ 1992 book A Robbins Family History.
  • Robert Robbins who was resident with his wife Mary in Concord, Massachusetts in 1671 and subsequently moved to Groton. His line has sometimes got tangled up with that of George Robbins.
  • while William Robbins was a soldier in King Phillips’ War who stayed on and lived in Reading, Massachusetts until 1691. He later was one of the first settlers of Walpole. Dana Robbins’ 1949 book History of the Robbins Family of Walpole has been the reference point here.

New Jersey. Daniel Robins was originally Daniel Robinson and had come from Scotland. He had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and transported to Connecticut as an indentured servant.

Freed from this bondage, Daniel married in 1663 and he and his wife Hope migrated to New Jersey. His descendants there generally adopted the Robbins spelling and many of them became Quakers. One Quaker branch owned the Seven Stars Tavern in Woodstown, New Jersey from 1807 to 1927.

Virginia.  Colonel Obedience Robins from Northamptonshire was one of the most influential early Virginia colonists. He owned 2,000 acres on Cheriton Creek, his Cherrystone plantation, and represented Accomack county in the Assembly between 1629 and 1642. In 1642 he was instrumental in having the name of Accomack county changed to Northampton, some say, in order to honor his homeland.

Another Northamptonshire line may have extended to Thomas Robins, first found in Westmoreland county around the year 1695. Others have connected him to the New England immigrant Nicholas Robbins of Duxbury. Thomas’s son, also named Thomas, settled in North Carolina. Later Robbins moved south and west. Gladys Wrenn’s 1995 book The Robbins Family – from Virginia to Texas covered the descendant line.

North Carolina. There were Robbins appearing in Rowan county in the 1750’s and later in Randolph county. Some have them coming from a dissenting Baptist family in England.  The first Robbins in Randolph county was probably William Robins, a blacksmith, whose will was recorded in 1786.

Ahi Robbins, born there in 1799, helped found a local school known as the Union Institute. This later became Trinity College and then Duke University. Three of his sons were killed during the Civil War. Franklin survived and became a prominent North Carolina lawyer.

Jewish.  Robbins has also been an adopted Jewish name in America. Examples are:

  • Harold Robbins, the best-selling writer
  • Irv Robbins of Baskin & Robbins ice-cream fame
  • Jerome Robbins, the Broadway producer behind West Side Story and Fiddler on the Roof
  • and Leo Robbins, the author and playwright who was killed in a plane crash off New York in 1957.

Canada.  There were Robins and Robbins who left America for the Canadian maritime provinces after the Revolutionary War was over:

  • John Robins from New Jersey came to Charlottetown in 1782 and later settled in Bedeque, PEI.
  • and Joseph Robbins from Massachusetts departed for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia in 1790. His son Abel became a prominent merchant, shipowner, and entrepreneur in the town.

Abijah and Amariah Robbins were Loyalist brothers from Herkimer, New York who came to Ontario as young boys in the early 1800’s. Both fought in the War of 1812. Abijah made his home in Mono township, Simcoe county; Amariah in Moore township, Lambton county. Anna Mason’s 1985 book The Robbins Family History covered the family lineage from the perspective of Amariah’s son John who married Mary Ann Gray.

South Africa.  Elijah Robbins was a Christian missionary from Massachusetts who came to South Africa in 1859 to spread the Gospel among the Zulus at the Adams mission station. His son Whitman was a dentist in Durban.

Herbert Robinski escaped Nazi Germany for South Africa in 1936, building a new life for himself and his family in Port Elizabeth under the anglicized name of Robins. His son Steven Robins wrote about the tragedy of the family left behind in Nazi concentration camps in his 2016 book Letters of Stone.

Australia. Three Robbins had brief lives down under.

John Robins from Plymouth in Devon was a First Fleet convict on the Charlotte in 1788. He survived the voyage but died on Norfolk Island three years later. While fishing, Robins “endeavored to get from one rock to another, fell into the sea, and went down like a stone.”

Charles Robbins, a seaman from Barnstaple in Devon, came out to Australia in 1802.  He made a name for himself through his exploration of the coastal regions of New South Wales and Tasmania. Robbins Island and Robbins Passage off the northwest coast of Tasmania were named after him. However, he then went missing and presumably died in 1805.

James Robbins from Monmouthshire on the Welsh borders came to Australia with his wife Tamar in 1855 in search of gold. Finding none, he enlisted with the British army to fight in the Maori Wars in New Zealand. He was badly wounded there in 1864 and died soon afterwards.

Tasmania.  Robins from the west country made it to Tasmania:

  • William and Jane Robins and their twelve children came on the Ann from Cornwall in 1833.  Four more children were born in Hobart.  Many in the family later settled in Victoria.
  • while William Robins from Worcester and his wife Sarah arrived in Tasmania sometime in the 1840’s.  They raised six children in Launceston.  William died there in 1867.

Robbins and Robins Surname Miscellany

Robins and Robbins Today

Numbers (000’s) Robins Robbins Total
UK    12    13    25
America     4    33    37
Elsewhere     4     6    10
Total    20    52    72

The Robyns of Northamptonshire and Two Lines of Descent.  Thomas Robyns, married to Joan, was living at Holdenby in Northamptonshire in 1531 when he wrote his will. Factions among the family descendants have disputed the number of their children.

Some have claimed there were just two boys, Thomas and Richard.  Each of these boys married and had children of their own. Richard Robins II, the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Robins, was not yet of age when his grandfather Richard Robins I wrote his will in 1582.  He died at Long Buckby in 1634, leaving bequests to his wife Dorothy and to his sons Obedience, Edward, John and Thomas Robins.  These sons grew up to be staunch Royalists at the time of the Civil War.

Colonel Obedience Robins, born in 1600, was the most notable of the sons.  He was in America as one of the earliest settlers there and over time transported many men and their families across the Atlantic, both as settlers and as indentured servants.

However, others have claimed that there were other male descendants of Thomas and Joan Robyns, as evidenced from Long Buckby parish registers.  One line here led to Thomas Robbens, married to Elizabeth in 1563.   Their son John died at sea in 1622 while immigrating to America.  He had a son, also named John, who was born in Long Buckby in 1595 and embarked for America as well. John died in Gloucester county, Virginia in 1655.

Joseph Robbins and His Daughter Abigail.  After the British defeat in the Revolutionary War, Joseph Robbins departed Massachusetts with his family in 1790 for Nova Scotia.  His daughter Abigail was just two years old at the time.

The story goes that when they landed at Chebogue Point, Joseph handed the baby to a boy on shore, saying: “‘hey, here is a wife for you.” That boy was John MaGray, thirteen years older than the baby.

When in later years John wanted Abigail for his wife, the parents objected.

“‘But”said John, “you gave her to me for a wife when you handed her from the boat and I claim her now.” And he got her.

At the age of 15 Abigail married him and they had 10 children.

Charles Robbins’ Disappearance.  In 1804 a privateering expedition out of Australia to South America had pirated two vessels in Spanish-held Peru and surreptitiously brought them back to Australia, hiding them at Deal Island off the coast of Victoria. Under orders, Lieutenant Charles Robbins of the Royal Navy found the ships and brought them to Sydney.

The next year Robbins was promoted to be master of the ship Integrity and sent to Peru under a flag of truce to make arrangements for the return of the two vessels. Unfortunately, neither Robbins nor the Integrity was ever seen again. It is unclear whether the ship sank or was captured; for war was declared between England and Spain later in 1805.

The Robbins and the Seven Stars Tavern in New Jersey.  The Seven Stars Tavern along the King’s Highway in Woodstown, New Jersey was popular with travelers in the 18th century. The tavern had been built by Joseph Wood in 1751. Eleven years later Peter and Elizabeth Louderback bought the log building and lived there while the current structure was constructed.  In 1762 the old sign was hung at the new building and the Louderbacks operated it as a tavern and inn.

In 1807 however, the property was sold to the spoilsport Robbins, a Quaker family who took down the sign and closed the tavern.

The Robbins owned the place from 1807 to 1927.  For most of this time it was Annie Lawrie Robbins, an unmarried Robbins daughter, who kept house there.  She did leave a collection of prose and poetry and a diary of life in the south Jersey Quaker community, as well as some genealogical material on her Robbins family.

Robert Brooks and his wife, Marjorie, a descendant of the Robbins, bought the place in 1962 and later had it added to the National Register of Historic Places. Upon Marjorie Brooks’ death in 1993, the house was willed to the Salem County Historical Society. It is said to be haunted.  However, the haunting pre-dates the Robbins tenure and harks back to the Louderback time.

Paul and Ann Robins, Cornish Missionaries to Canada.  Paul Robins was the son of a tin mine manager in Kenwyne who in 1819, against his father’s wishes, had converted to the Bible Christian church, an evangelical Methodist sect which had been formed just four years earlier.

Ann Vickery also converted in the same year and they both became itinerant preachers in the UK southern circuit, as did Paul’s brother Matthew.  Paul and Ann married in 1831 and they had two children, Sampson and Samuel. Sampson became a Bible Christian minister for one year, before he changed to the teaching profession.

In 1846 Paul and Ann Robins were appointed to serve on the Peterborough circuit in Ontario, Canada.  They set sail from Cornwall in April that year, arriving in June.  In 1849 the family left Peterborough for Cobourg and in 1852 moved to the Darlington station in the Bowmanville area.

There, on September 5. 1853, Ann Robins was “much struck” by the news of a brother’s death.  Eight days later, while her husband was travelling the circuit and her sons were in Toronto, she was taken seriously ill.  After exhorting several members of her class meeting to seek holiness and counselling her husband and family on spiritual matters, she died in September at the age of 53.

Ann Robins and other female preachers, although an early feature of the Bible Christian Church in England, were not widely accepted in pioneer Canada despite their zeal and commitment.  Her husband had noted in 1848: “There appears to be a prejudice in the minds of the people against female preaching.”

After Ann’s death, Paul Robins returned briefly to Cornwall where he married Mary Taylor, another itinerant preacher. They both returned to Canada.  Paul died there in 1890 and Mary two years later.  They and Ann Robins were all buried in the same graveyard in Darlington.

Edward Robbins, Irish Emigrant to Argentina.  Edward Robbins was a farmer at Clara in county Offaly at the time of the Great Famine.  He decided to emigrate to Argentina.  He recorded his thinking in his journal.


This was a sad year for Ireland.  The potato crop almost all got black and unfit for use.  This year I had seven acres of potatoes.  The yield was very fair but they paid nothing as they were almost all black.


This was a fearful time for the poor of Ireland. Fever and dysentery to an awful extent in many parts of it.  Provisions of every kind doubled the usual prices.  The poorhouses filled to overflowing.  I had not one rood of potatoes sowed this year and those who had met with a poor return.


On the 23rd day of March my sister Rose died and was buried at Noughville in county Westmeath.  I was at the September fair of Banagher and dined at uncle John Deehan’s for the last time.  I began to think of leaving Ireland.  My family was large, my two farms too far asunder and both too small apart to support my family, and I could not brook the idea of getting into difficulties and perhaps into prison for debt.


Early in the month of March I left for Liverpool and I arranged for a passage to Buenos Aires for myself and my family.  There was much sickness on board from the neglect of the Government inspectors at Liverpool.  One man and a child died at sea.  My family and myself suffered very much.  We arrived in Buenos Aires on the 13th of July and were in quarantine until the 22nd.  My family and myself counted 13, of which 10 had to go to the Irish hospital.”

On the 10th of August 1849 the Robbins left the Buenos Aires Irish Hospital.  But the outcome of the trip was appalling for the family:  Edward’s wife Ann Ryan died on 21 August, their son Bernard died on 29 August, and Ann Ryan’s daughter Mary Ann Coffy died on 4 September.

Reader Feedback – William Robins in Tasmania.  There are the Robins in Australia who are descended from William Robins, who was born at St. Peters, Worcester in 1805 (he died in Launceston in 1867), and from Sarah Emily Hicks, who was born at Annapolis, Nova Scotia in 1814 (she died in Launceston in 1877).

I am not the “keeper” of the genealogy but you might find some of the information interesting.  Wayne Robins.

Robbins and Robins Names

  • Benjamin Robins from Gloucestershire was a pioneering English scientist, mathematician, and military engineer of the early 18th century. 
  • Charles Robin was an 18th century entrepreneur from the Channel Island of Jersey who traded between Britain and the maritime region of Canada. 
  • Harold Robbins, born Harold Rubin, was an American author of popular novels, one of the best-selling writers of all time. 
  • Jerome Robbins, born Jerome Rabinowitz, was a Jewish-American choreographer, director, and theater producer probably best known for his work on West Side Story.

Robbins and Robins Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in Gloucestershire)
  • 37,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Robbins and Like Surnames  

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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