Robinson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Robinson Meaning
Robinson is a patronymic name meaning “son of
Robin.” It was said that the name Robin was originally made
by Robin Goodfellow, whose mischievous tricks were later described in
Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and perhaps even more so
by Robin
of Locksley, otherwise known as Robin Hood.

Robinson Resources on

Select Robinson Ancestry

England. The first recorded reference was to a Richard
Robynson in Yorkshire in 1324. It has been mainly a Yorkshire and
of England name since that time.

was a wealthy York merchant in
Elizabethan times. His descendants played a notable role in
politics, one as Lord Grantham as Foreign Secretary in 1782 and
another as Viscount Goderich briefly as Prime
Minister in 1827.

Other Yorkshire Robinsons included:

  • the Robinsons at Cleasby in
    north Yorkshire who went back to Elizabethan times.
    Robinson of this family embarked
    for America in 1670.
  • a Robinson family from Brignall in north Yorkshire which had
    acquired the Rokeby estate in 1610. They later held estates in
    Kent and
    Ireland. Matthew Robinson was an eccentric 18th century member of
  • and Richard Robinson who heard George Fox preach at Sedbergh
    in 1652
    and was an early Quaker convert at his home at Countersett Hall on

Robinson family founded the Robinson brewery in Houghton-le-Spring,
Durham in
1754. The brewery continued in Robinson
hands until the outbreak of war in 1914.

Robinson has also been a prominent
name in Cumberland (now Cumbria). Among
these Robinsons have been:

  • William Robinson from Penrith who made his
    fortune in
    the 17th century in London as a merchant and returned to found
    School in his home town.
  • another William
    Robinson, a Quaker, who was also a merchant in London.
    He, however, set off in 1657 on the tiny vessel Woodhouse
    for America. In Boston he met
    religious intolerance, was
    arrested, and was hanged.
  • Gerard Robinson who was a mariner from Whitehaven
    who in 1752 also left for America, in this case Virginia.
  • while Mary Robinson, who was a shepherdess in the Lake
    District in
    the early 1800’s, was known as the Maid of Buttermere in
    Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude.

from Lancashire moved to the Isle of Man around
the year 1800. Two brothers, John and Henry, were responsible for
the architectural facelift that Douglas on the Isle of Man received in
the 1840’s.

The Robinson name is mainly to be found in Ulster. It was thought
the Robinsons of Glenam in Antrim may have originally been Scottish

One Robinson family began in Dublin in the 1650’s with Bryan
Robinson, thought
to be from the Newby
Hall Robinsons in
The Rev. Christopher Robinson was rector of
Granard in county Longford in the 18th century.
His offspring were:

  • Admiral Hercules
    Robinson of the British navy
  • and his son Hercules, a British colonial
  • and Sir Bryan Robinson, a colonial judge in Newfoundland.

Romney Robinson of this family was a
director of the Armagh Astronomical Observatory.

Robinson family began in Dublin with Bryan Robinson in the
1650’s. They
were physicians and doctors of medicine. Later Robinsons of this
served as Victorian colonial Governors. Romney Robinson was a
longtime director
of the Armagh Astronomical Observatory in the 19th century.

emigrated to Virginia from Cleasby in north
in 1670. Eight years later he built his
home, later called Hewick, in Middlesex county along
the Rappahannock river. The Robinson family there became one of
of Virginia. Hewick still stands today.

The Rev. John
was a Puritan pastor at
Leyden who never made it to America. He
died in 1625. But two of his sons, Isaac
and John, did get to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1630.
Other early New England arrivals

  • Increase Robinson who was in Dorchester by 1637 and later
    settled in
  • and Thomas Robinson who had reached Hartford, Connecticut by
    1640 and
    later settled in Guilford.

Canada. A later Christopher Robinson of
the Virginia Robinsons, an Empire Loyalist, took his family to Canada
in 1788:

  • his
    son Sir John was a leading figure in early Ontario politics
  • and his grandson John
    was Lieutenant Governor of Ontario in 1880.

One of Sir John’s brothers, William, was
a fur trader; another, Peter, a promoter of Irish emigration to Canada. The Irish emigrants under this scheme which
began in 1822 were in fact called Peter Robinson settlers

South Africa. Robert Robinson, a butcher from the Isle of Sheppey
in Kent (although of earlier Yorkshire roots), was one of the 1820
settlers to
South Africa. He and his family made
their home in the Cradock district of the Eastern Cape.
His children eventually numbered fourteen, of
which the fourteenth and last, born in 1840, was Joseph.
Joseph Robinson was later to make a huge fortune in
South African gold mining.


Robinson Miscellany

The Robinsons of York.  This family was descended from William Robinson, an eminent Hamburg merchant, who was mayor of York and its MP during the reign of
Elizabeth.  He died in 1616 at the grand
old age of ninety four.  His son Thomas
was described as a Turkey merchant (probably the country rather than
the fowl).

Later Robinsons were MP’s and mayors of York
during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Thomas Robinson took on diplomatic missions for the Government
and was
made Lord Grantham in 1760.  Subsequent
Lord Granthams were
Foreign Secretary in 1782
and briefly Prime Minister in 1827.

Two Robinson Merchants from Penrith.  Two Robinson
merchants came from Penrith, but both worked elsewhere.

William Robinson

Robinson’s School opened in Penrith as a result of a
bequest from William Robinson, a native of Penrith who had gone to London and
grown wealthy as a coffee merchant.  In
his will of 1661 he left a benefaction of £55 to be paid annually by the Grocers’ Company to the town of Penrith out of the income of his London properties.

Included in that amount was
“the sum of £20 per annum forever was to go to the churchwardens of the
of Penrith for the educating and bringing up of poor girls to read and
work or such other learning fit for that sex being the poorer sort
parents are not able to pay for their learning.”

School duly opened in
1670 and lasted for three hundred years until 1971.

James Robinson and Son

first James Robinson was born just north of
Penrith in 1839, the son of a village blacksmith.  As
a young man he went to Carlisle and
started a grocer’s shop.  The selling of
groceries and provisions was not James’ only business.
In 1877 he was advertising as a miller and
bacon curer as well and at some time he also made confectionery and
toffee at
the nearby James Street factory under the name of Eagle Confectionery

Although only one of James’ sons followed him
into the business they were all well versed in the trade in their youth.  One son wrote later:

learnt the grocery, provision and corn trade thoroughly. These were the
days when
the trade had to be learned. We blended our own tea, learned to buy
coffee in
the bean, cured much of our own bacon etc.”

junior was the one who followed in his father’s footsteps. He was taken
partnership in 1903 at the age of 33, having worked in the business all
of his
life.  He took over the business when his
father died in 1913.  The business then
passed to his son Arthur in 1936.  James
Robinson and Son eventually shut up shop in the 1960’s as the
competition arrived. 

The Maid of Buttermere.  Mary Robinson, born in Buttermere in the Lake District in
1787, was known as the Maid of Buttermere.
She was a shepherdess and the daughter of the landlord of the Fish Inn.

In 1802 a certain Colonel Hope arrived in the
village and wooed her.  The marriage of a
celebrated local beauty to the brother of an earl (as he claimed) was
reported.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote
in the London Morning Post of
“the romantic marriage.”
However, Colonel Hope was exposed as John Hatfield, an impostor,
bigamist and forger.  He was arrested,
escaped, captured in South Wales, and then tried in Carlisle for
forgery and
hanged in 1803.

Mary’s story captured
the public imagination and subscriptions were raised on her behalf.  In 1807 she married a local farmer named
Richard Harrison and they had four children.

Robinsons in the Isle of Man.  John
Robinson was born in Liverpool and came to the
Isle of Man sometime in the late 1790’s to work as a millwright at the
newly-constructed Nunnery Mill.  He
settled in Douglas and was the builder of a number of residences in the
outskirts of the town.

of his sons –
John and Henry – followed in the same business, the former taking up
architectural and the latter the practical side of the building
business.  Douglas was then but a small
fishing village
and it was just getting known as a seaside resort.
These Robinsons realized the opportunities
that were available to them.  John
Robinson was in fact responsible for much of the look of 1840’s
Douglas, a town
of wide streets and handsome houses.

John Robinson, Pilgrim Pastor.  John Robinson was
the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers before they left for America on the Mayflower in 1620. He sent the departing
company on their voyage with the following combative words:

“I charge you before God that you follow me no
further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ.  If God reveals anything to you by any other
instrument of His, be as ready to receive it as you were to receive any
by my ministry.  For I am verily
persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy

For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the
condition of those reformed churches which will go at present no
further than
the instruments of their reformation. The Lutherans cannot be drawn to
beyond what Luther saw; whatever part of His will our God had revealed
Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it; and the Calvinists, you
stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw
not all
things. This is a misery much to be lamented.”

John Robinson was born in the village of Sturton in
Nottinghamshire in 1576 and came from a family of yeomen farmers there.   He became an early leader of the English
Separatist movement and is regarded as one of the founders of the
Congregational Church.

The Robinsons at Hewick.  A historical marker for Hewick in Middlesex county, Virginia reads:

“Three miles
east of Hewick, built about 1678 by Christopher Robinson, clerk of
County.  It was the birthplace of John
Robinson, Speaker of the House of Burgesses and Treasurer of Virginia,
1738-1766, the leading man of the colony!
Hewick has been lived in continuously since 1678 by Robinson
until 2005.”

In England,
Christopher Robinson was the elder brother of John Robinson, the Bishop
London.  He emigrated to Virginia in 1670
and built his home, originally called The
(later Hewick), along the
Rapahannock river.   He was one of the
best known residents of the colony and his home soon became the
gathering place
for many of the important early families of Virginia.

son John Robinson served as acting
governor of Virginia in 1749.  John’s son
Christopher, upon inheriting the estate, renamed the plantation Hewick after the ancestral home back in
England.  His brother John was Treasurer
of Virginia and Speaker of the House of Burgesses.
Meanwhile Carter Braxton, a signer of the
Declaration of Independence, had married Judith Robinson, granddaughter
of the
original owner Christopher.

As with many fine houses in Virginia, the last few
years have not been kind to Hewick.  In
fact it sat unoccupied by descendants from 1926 to 1990.  By
1987 neglect had left it in a sorry
state.  However, since that time it has
been restored to something like its earlier state.

Hewick stands
today just outside the town of Urbanna on a plot of 66 acres.  The first Robinson family reunion took place
in 1991.  The family history was
recounted by a 14th generation descendant Vera Robinson Long in her
1971 book The Robinson Line 1468-1938.
A later book is Philippa Elmhirst’s 2011 The
Saga of the Robinsons: 1520-2011.


Select Robinson Names

  • Jack Robinson is a fictional name in the usage: that something is done faster “than you can say Jack Robinson.” Its origins are uncertain.
  • John Robinson was the pastor of the Pilgrim Fathers before they left for America and is considered as one of the founders of the Congregational Church.
  • Sir John Robinson was a leading political figure in Upper Canada in the early 1800’s.
  • Joseph Robinson, the son of an 1820 settler, was a South African mining magnate.
  • Edward G. Robinson, born Emanuel Goldenburg from a Romanian Jewish family, was an acclaimed American movie actor in the 1930’s and 1940’s.
  • Jackie Robinson was the black baseball player who broke the color bar in the national game.
  • Sugar Ray Robinson was an acclaimed American boxer.
  • Mary Robinson was the first woman President of Ireland.


Select Robinson Numbers Today
  • 188,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Tyne and Wear)
  • 174,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 71,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Robinson and Like Surnames  

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




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