Simmons Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Simmons Surname Meaning

The surname Simmons and its variants were derived from the Hebrew Shimon which tended to become Simeon in the Old Testament and Simon in the New (because of its association with the Greek byname Simos meaning “snub-nosed.”)  The name spread throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, mainly because of the association with the apostle Simon Peter.

Simon may also have derived from the given name Simund, a corruption of Sigmund, brought to England by the Normans.  One theory relates this to the origin of the Symonds name.

The main surname spelling variations, because of regional differences, have been Simmons, Simons, Simonds, Symons, and Symonds.  The Simmons spelling accounts worldwide for about 70% of all these spellings today.

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Simmons, Simons and Symonds Surname Ancestry

EnglandThe spelling differences reflect regional variations, probably due to pronunciation differences. Simmons has been dominant in London and the southeast.  Simons was also found there, but to a lesser extent, as well as in the Midlands and south Wales; while Symons has been a name of the southwest (Devon and Cornwall) and Symonds mainly of East Anglia.  These differences were readily evident in the 1891 census

West of England.  Symonds and Symons have been the main spellings in the west country.  The place-name Simondesberge in Dorset (present-day Symondsbury) was listed in the Domesday Book.  John Symonds was the rector of North Stoke in Somerset
in 1380 and John Symondes a juror in Gloucestershire in 1382.
Later Symonds families were to be found:

  • at the old manor house at Woodsford castle in Dorset where Thomas Symonds died in 1566
  • and at Dowlish Wake in Somerset, commencing with Edward Symonds the miller in 1706.

Those in Cornwall have tended to be Symons without the “d.”   John Symons was MP for Helston in 1388. Later Symons were:

  • a family which began with the marriage of John and Ann Symons around 1680.  They were farmers at Ruan Lanihorne on the south coast.
  • another family which began with the marriage of William and Mary Symons at Newlyn, also on the south coast, in 1690.
  • James Symons nicknamed Cogden (the worthless one) who married in Breage in 1701.
  • and Walter Symons of Hatt House near Saltash who was High Sheriff of Cornwall in 1735.  General Penn Symons of this family died of his wounds during the Boer War.

East Anglia.  The Symonds at Suffield and later at Cley-on-the-Sea in Norfolk date from the 1350’s.  The monumental brass to John Symonds, his wife Agnes and eight children at St. Margaret’s church in Cley, completed in 1512, has recently been restored.  Other Symonds were recorded at North Walsham in Elizabethan times.  Symonds were later shipowners in the fishing industry of Great Yarmouth.

The Rev. Edward Symonds of Black Nosley in Essex wrote a well-known pamphlet at the time of Charles I.  His son Richard is remembered for the eye-witness diary he kept of events during the Civil War. Meanwhile the Rev. John Symonds was rector of Horringer church in Suffolk in the early 1700’s.  There followed the Symonds naval family from Bury St. Edmonds.

London and the Southeast.  Simmons and Simons have been more numerous in London and the southeast than Symons and Symonds elsewhere, but more recent.

Simmons in Sussex date from 1553 in Seaford.  These Simmons were said to have been Norse invaders who had settled there.  The name seems originally to have been Seaman.  The Simmons of Seaford remained connected with the sea and later became prominent local figures in the town. Elsewhere in Sussex, there were Symons and Symonds spellings until the Simmons name seems to have established itself in the mid-1700’s.

Simmons became the main spelling in Kent too.  John Simons was married in Margate in 1689.  William Simmonds was a freeman of Canterbury in 1722. His son James Simmons became a printer, publishing the Kentish Gazette, and was the mayor of
Canterbury in 1772.  Alfred Simmons, a Maidstone journalist, founded the Kent union for agricultural laborers in the 1870’s.

The Simmons in London were augmented by many Jewish Simmons.  The earliest of them may have been Aaron Simmons, born in 1780, who was a well-to-do businessman in Whitechapel in the early 19th century. His son Joshua was convicted of stealing and transported to Tasmania in 1853.  The Rev. Lawrence Mark Simmons, born in London in 1852, was minister at the Park Place synagogue in Manchester; while his son the Rev. Vivian George Simmons was the minister at the West London synagogue.  This Simmons family had come to London from Germany in the 1820’s.

Wales.  The Welsh patronymic “ap Simon” sometimes became the surname Simons.  William Simons was a 19th century Registrar on the North Wales circuit who invested in gold mining and later was a practicing solicitor in Merthyr Tydfil.  John Litchfield Simons, based in Wrexham, started a travelling circus in north Wales in the late 1800’s.  The business is now in the fourth generation of Simons.

America.  Simmons in America can have English, Irish, Dutch, German, and Jewish origins.  This wide diversity probably explains why there are more Simmons in America than in England.

Dutch  The first Simmons in America was probably of Dutch origin, the son of William Simonzoon from the Puritan center of
Leyden in Holland.  He came to Plymouth on the Fortune in 1621, one year after the arrival of the Mayflower.  His name became Moses Simmons in the tax list of 1633 and that was the form that he and his children used.  He was a prominent citizen of Duxbury and his descendants are numerous.  His family line was covered in Lorenzo Simmons’ 1930 book History of the Simmons Family.

William Simmons from Duxbury settled in Little Compton, Rhode Island sometime in the 1690’s.  His line produced James Simmons, US Senator for Rhode Island in 1850, and John Simmons, a pioneer in ready-to-wear clothing and founder of Simmons College, a women’s liberal arts college.  They were seventh generation descendants of Moses Simmons.

English.  From  Great Yarmouth, Norfolk in England came John Symonds, a joiner, who was in Salem, Massachusetts by 1636.  John and his sons James and Samuel were furniture makers, catering to the wealthier members of the community.  Many of their
pieces have been handed down over generations.

German.   Other early Simmons arrivals were German.  The Simon name from the Rhineland could become Simmons in America. That was the case with immigrant Johann Wilhelm Simon, a Palatine refugee, who arrived with his family in 1709 and eventually settled in Dutchess county, New York.  However, many later Simon immigrants, particularly Jewish immigrants, remained Simon.

Irish.   There was also a Simmons Irish contingent in America.  The best known is probably Michael Simmons, born into an Irish family in Kentucky, who came west with his family in 1850 and was one of the first settlers on Puget Sound.

Caribbean.  Simmons have been in the Caribbean island of Saba (in the Leeward Islands) since 1658.  James Simmons was one of Morgan’s pirates.  Many later were sea captains.  There is a Major Omar Ralph Simmons museum on the island today. 

Canada.  Simmons came to Newfoundland in the mid-1700’s.  Samuel Simmons and his wife Ann lived in an area called Lower Island Cove.  The line then went via their son William to their grandsons James and John, both born in Mosquito nearby in the early 1800’s.  The family history was traced in Colin Simmons’ 2009 book The Simmons Family of Newfoundland.


Peter Simons arrived in the Quebec City area from Scotland in 1812, farmed and raised a family there.  His son John started a small store in town in 1840 which over the years expanded into the department store La Maison Simons, now spread over many locations in Canada and run by the latest generation of Simons, Peter and Richard. 

Australia.  Nathan and his young son James Simmons were both Jews who were convicted of handling stolen goods in London in 1815.  James was transported to Sydney on the Marquis of Wellington.  He did well there after obtaining his release, starting up his Jerusalem Warehouse and ending up as a wealthy merchant.  He became the first Jewish alderman of Sydney in 1849.

James’s younger brother Joseph became the second Jewish alderman in 1850.  Joseph had arrived in Sydney freely in 1830 and embarked on an acting career, both comic and Shakespearian, before becoming a theater manager in the city.  He was at other times an auctioneer, storekeeper, and gold buyer.

 

Simmons, Simons and Symonds Surname Miscellany

Simmons and Variants in the 1891 English Census.  The Simmons spelling has varied in England depending on where you were in the country.  The table below shows the breakdown by region for the Simmons, Simons, Symons, and Symonds spellings.

Numbers (000’s) Simmons Simons Symons Symonds Total
East Anglia    1.0    0.3     –    1.1    2.4
London    2.5    0.8    0.7    0.6    4.6
SE England    3.9    0.4    0.1    0.3    4.7
SW England    2.3    0.2    2.6    0.9    6.0
Elsewhere    2.2    2.3    0.8    1.0    6.3
Total   11.9    4.0    4.2    3.9   24.0

Simmons: Most were in London, followed by Sussex and then Kent.

Simons: London also led, but the name was more widely spread – to Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, Lancashire and south Wales.

Symons: Concentrated in Devon and Cornwall.

Symonds: Mainly in Norfolk, but also found in the west country
(Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and the southwest).

The Simonds name was also around at that time but have been much fewer in number (less than a thousand) than those shown above.  It was the local spelling in Berkshire and surrounds.  William Simonds was a brewer and banker in Reading in the late 1700’s.

Simmons and Variants Today.  There has been some consolidation around the Simmons spelling between 1891 and today.  In 1891, as the table above shows, Simmons accounted for just under 50% of all spellings.  Today it is closer to 70%.  The current estimated Simmons and variant numbers today
are shown below.

Numbers (000’s) Simmons Simons Symons Symonds Total
UK    25     7     5     6    43
America    57     9     1     1    68
Elsewhere    15     4     6     4    29
Total    97    20    17    11   134

Elsewhere above includes Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.  Simons is also a surname today in the Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany.

Theories on the Origin of the Symonds Name.  One theory about the origin of the Symonds name came from the Victorian writer and critic John Addington Symonds.  He wrote the following to a friend in 1865:

“Although obscure at present, we happen to have a very long and full and varied pedigree dating from Adam Fitz Simon who was a large holder of lands in Hertfordshire, Essex and Norfolk under Bishop Odo. The family of Symonds, one branch of which I represent, was supposed to have descended from Adam Fitz Simon, Lord of St. Sever in Normandy.

Adam received lands and manors in Threxton in Norfolk and Almeshoe in Hertfordshire and died sometime before 1118.  In the third generation after him, the family divided into two branches – the eldest continued to flourish for many generations in Hertfordshire and Essex (its most distinguished member being Richard Fitz Simon, one of the founders of the Order of the Garter); while the second branch settled in Norfolk at Threxton, Suffield, Ormesby, Runham Hall, and Cley by the Sea.  Already by the beginning of the 14th century, they had anglicized their patronym to Symonds.

Our name was probably derived from Sigmund and not from Simon.  This accounts for the short ‘y’ and for the ‘d’ which survives in the termination.  Fitz Symond was the son of Siegmund and the accent fell upon the last syllable.”

Another view of Symonds was that the west coast Symonds came
indeed from Normandy.  The name there was pronounced “Simmonds.”  On the other hand Symonds in Norfolk had its origin from a Danish fishing family which settled on a sandbank in Norfolk, now Great Yarmouth, in 1654.  The Symonds pronunciation here rhymed with diamonds.

Symonds at Dowlish Wake in Somerset.  Edward Symonds, born around 1676, married Anne, the daughter of William Milbourne the miller at Dowlish Wake in Somerset, in 1702.  Four years later, his father-in-law died and Edward succeeded him as miller, taking over as the copyhold tenant of Dowlish water mill and also inheriting a small estate in Cudworth.  

Edward Symonds died in 1728 and his wife Anne in 1745.  But the Symonds family continued to hold Dowlish Wake mill on lifehold tenure for a long period well into the 19th century.

The Simmons of Seaford in Sussex.  In 1858 Henry Simmons, four times bailiff of Seaford and a great benefactor to the parish church and its congregation, went in full court dress with other local dignitaries to Queen Victoria’s court at St James’s Palace.  There he offered a loyal address on the betrothal of Her Majesty’s eldest daughter.

Henry Simmons was related to other old Seaford families and gave various church items and stained glass windows as memorials.  In 1898 the Simmons Institute was built in Crouch Lane, his gift to the parish.  Dr J.G. Taylor recorded in his history The Parish Church of St Leonard, Seaford that Mrs Henry Simmons gave the carved oak pulpit in memory of her husband.

The original of the surname was Seaman and one bearer of that name, Captain John Seaman, made his mark not in England but in America.  A religious non-conformist, he was forced to cross the Atlantic with his family in the 1640’s.  After some wanderings, he purchased land from the Messapequa Indians in 1643 and founded the town of Seaford, Long Island, where the last of his descendants died only a few years ago.

Back in England the Seaman name changed over time to Seamans, Simons, Simmonds, Symonds, Symmonds, and finally to Simmons.

Simmons in Newfoundland.  There were two stories about how the Simmons came to Newfoundland. The first story was that two brothers arrived from Poole in Dorset, one of whom settled in Mosquito and was the forefather of all the Simmons in Newfoundland.  The second was that a Simmons came from the pirate stronghold of Saba in the Caribbean Leeward Islands where the Simmons had been since 1658.  Hemay have jumped ship in Newfoundland, thereby starting the Simmons line.

Reader Feedback – Simmons in the South.  You have omitted the Simmons’ from the southern states, especially Louisiana and Mississippi, said to have come from Orange county, Virginia post-Revolution and Jamestown colony before that.

Simmons (josephine.lange@lplm.org)

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Simmons Names
  • John Addington Symonds was a Victorian writer and poet who was an early advocate of the homosexual cause.
  • William Christian Symons was an English decorative designer and painter of the late 19th century, best known for his decorations of Westminster Cathedral. 
  • Zalmon Simmons was the man who popularized box spring mattresses in America in the early 1900’s. 
  • Kennedy Simmonds became the first Prime Minister of St. Kitts-Nevis in 1983.
Simmons Numbers Today
  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 66,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 15,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)
Simmons 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.

AdamsHarrisNicholsStevens
AndrewsHicksRichardsWalters
DanielsMatthewsRobbinsWilliams
GibbsMorrisSimmonsWillis

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