Simpson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Simpson Surname Meaning

Simpson is derived from Simon, a popular baptismal name among the Normans.  It is a surname which has been infected by a “parasitic glide consonant.”  This basically means that the “p” was not originally there and came about naturally from the pronunciation of Simson.  

The early spelling was Simson.  And then Simson gave way to Simpson.  Simpson with the “p” first occurred in 1397 when a John Simpson was thus recorded in Yorkshire.

Simpson Surname Resources on The Internet

Simpson Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England and Scotland (East Coast)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  The early appearance of the Simson/Simpson name was in Buckinghamshire.  But northern England was where Simpsons were mainly to be found, in a spread from Durham and Yorkshire at one end to Lancashire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire at the other.

The Simpsons were one of the freebooting reiver families on the English/Scottish border in the 16th century.  After the Border pacification in 1603, many of these Simpsons ended up in Ireland.  Simpsons were later to be found in the 1750’s at Bradley Hall near Ryton in Durham.  These Simpsons became coalmine owners in the mid-19th century.

However, the largest number of Simpsons in England has been in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire.  Stephen Simpson covered one Yorkshire farming family dating back to 1544 in his 1922 book Simpson: Records of an Ancient Yeoman Family of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Another Simpson family traced itself back to the village of Idle near Bradford and William Simson who died there in 1661.  The best known of these Yorkshire Simpsons was probably Edward Simpson of Wakefield who owned a soap factory close by Walton Hall, the home of naturalist Charles Waterton.

“In 1846 Squire Waterton complained about the fumes and pollution from Simpson’s factory affecting his land.  A series of lawsuits followed until 1849 the Squire obtained an injunction on the soap boiler requiring the works to close down. Simpson simply moved the factory to Thornes in Wakefield and continued to prosper.”  

Ironically, the Watertons went bankrupt in 1876 and Edward Simpson acquired his Walton Hall estate.  His family remained there until 1959.

Scotland.  One early family line in Scotland traced itself to Simon, the son of William de Clint in Yorkshire.  The story goes that he had adopted the name of Simson to distinguish himself from the de Clints.  His family had become known as Simson by the 14th century and they subsequently moved north to Scotland where they were affiliated with the Fraser clan.

Fife.  Simsons appeared at Blairstruie in Fifeshire in the 15th century and, remaining Simsons, made a fortune in India in the late 18th century and then lost it in London.

Alexander Simpson was a stone mason in the late 1880’s at the village of Earlsferry, close by the St. Andrews golf course.  Three of his sons became great golfers, Jack winning the Open championship in 1884 and Bob and Archie coming close on several occasions.  Bob opened a golf shop at Carnoustie and Archie was involved in the design of many golf courses.

Aberdeen. The Simpson name was also, by the 17th century, to be found further north in Aberdeenshire.  John Simpson, born in 1758, was the forebear of the Simpsons of New Machar; while Archibald Simpson, born in 1790, was the architect who is regarded as having fashioned the character of Aberdeen as “the granite city.”

Elsewhere.  By the time of the 1881 census, the Simpson name was still well represented in Aberdeenshire, as well as being in Edinburgh and Glasgow.  From the villages near Edinburgh had come:

  • Andrew Simpson of Dunbar, the author of the standard Latin grammar textbook which was published in 1587
  • and James Simpson of Bathgate, who introduced chloroform to the world for general medical use in 1847.

Ireland.  Simpson in Ireland is mainly a Scottish implant found in Ulster.  The name first appeared in Antrim in the 17th century.  William Simpson, born in 1775, was a merchant at the port of Larne and his family were evidently prosperous by the early/mid 1800’s.  The Simpson name was also well-known around Ballymena and was numerous in county Tyrone.  

Many Simpsons emigrated, initially to America and later to South Africa and Australia.

America.  John Simpson was first recorded as a Scotsman in Virginia in 1680, an indentured servant and apparently illiterate.  His son John, also illiterate, was a planter in Stafford county.

Carolinas.  There were 371 Simpsons by the time of the 1790 US census, of which some 30 percent were recorded in the Carolinas.  They included:

  • William Simpson, Scots Irish, was the forebear of the Simpsons of Union county, North Carolina.  He had arrived there with his wife Martha sometime in the 1770’s.
  • Charlie Simpson was said to have been one of three brothers who had run away from his home in Ireland.  He came to New York, settled in the Laurens district of South Carolina in the 1770’s, and ended up in Alabama.
  • and John Simpson from Belfast who came to Laurens county, South Carolina in 1786.  He was the first of four generations of Simpsons who represented their county in state politics. His home, called Belfast, still stands.

Ohio.   Two Michael Simpsons, from Irish immigrants who had come to the country in 1793, were notable figures in early Ohio history.  The first Michael was a judge and a state senator of Harrison county for ten years.  The second Michael, his nephew, was born in Cadiz, Ohio in 1811.  He was a Methodist bishop who was a trusted friend of Abraham Lincoln at the time of the Civil War.

Hannah Simpson was the mother of President Ulysses S. Grant who was born at Point Pleasant, Ohio in 1833.  She had moved to Ohio in 1817 from Pennsylvania where her Irish grandfather John Simpson had arrived from county Tyrone in 1760.  Because of this connection, John Simpson’s small whitewashed cottage in Tyrone has been preserved as a museum.

Canada.  Obadiah Simpson, born in North Carolina, was one of the Empire Loyalists who left for Canada after the Revolutionary War.  He and his family were the first homesteaders in the Brighton township along the northern shores of Lake Ontario.

Meanwhile George Simpson, born illegitimately in Scotland, had come out to Canada in 1821.  Known as “the little emperor,” he was to be the dominant figure in the development of the Hudson Bay Company in the Canadian West over the next forty years.

Australia.  Alfred Simpson was an iron worker and tinsmith without prospects who departed London with his family for South Australia in 1849.  After various business failures he successfully founded the metal-working company A. Simpson & Co in Adelaide in 1864.  His business expanded greatly under later Simpsons to become a major Australian white goods manufacturer, specializing in washing machines.  Family involvement continued until 1986.

Allen Simpson of this family was a big supporter of the Royal Geographic Society.  When central Australia was being surveyed in 1929, the Simpson desert was named in his honor.

New Zealand.  Captain John Simpson had arrived in Melbourne in the mid-1850’s from Scotland.  He then traveled in a small trading schooner to Dunedin.  He married there in 1857 and he and his wife Euphemia had two children.  Sadly,  four years later, he drowned at the mouth of the Taieri river while trying to save lives.

Simpson Surname Miscellany

Simson and Simpson.  In the 15th century a John Symson living in the city of London was alternatively known as John Sympson, thereby showing that the two spellings of the same name could exist side by side.

The Simpsons from Buckinghamshire.  The family name Simpson was said to have emerged as a notable English family name in the county of Buckinghamshire, where they were descended from Archil, a Saxon lord living at the time of King Edward the Confessor around 1050.

Even after the Conquest this family held many lands, including the manor of Clint in Yorkshire.  In the 12th century this branch called themselves de Clint.  Simon, son of William de Clint, adopted the name Simpson to distinguish himself from the other de Clints.  From the 14th century his family became known as Simson. They flourished and moved north into Scotland where they became affiliated with the Fraser clan.

The Simpsons of Idle in Yorkshire.  Idle is a small village in the West Ridings of Yorkshire close to Bradford.  It history goes back to the 14th century and the Simpsons there back to 1629.

The William Simson recorded then was the forebear of the Simpson family which followed.  William died in 1661.  His sons Richard and John Simson appeared in the Idle Hearth Tax records of 1672. John Simson was constable of Idle in 1686.

The spelling changed with the next generation to Simpson.  An area called Simpson Green, named after a family holding, was first reported in the 1739 register of the local Calverley church.  The Simpsons remained in Idle village through the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Simsons of Blairstruie.  The Simson family of Blairstuie was one of old standing, having established itself in Fifeshire in the 15th century.  There were subsequent branches of the family at Pitcorthie and Brunton.

The family fortunes took an upturn after George Simson went out to India in 1783, made a fortune there, and returned home to spend it.  He first acquired the Pitcorthie estate in Fifeshire and then various estates in England, including Sillwood Park in Berkshire.  He was MP for Maidstone in Kent in 1806.

The fortunes of the Simson family later declined.  George Simson’s business ventures in London proved disastrous.  His sons chose to have careers with the East India Company in India.  One Simson did return to live at Brunton in Fifeshire in the 1880’s.

How Andrew Simpson Became A Reformed Minister.  In 1551 Andrew Simpson was a master of a grammar school at Perth with more than three hundred students of the nobility and gentry of Scotland.  He was a conforming Catholic.

Then his unruly students began hissing loudly during a visiting friar’s sermon that was directed against Huguenot preachers. The friar fled from the pulpit in consternation. When the friar complained to the magistrates, Andrew was told to punish the chief offenders.

One student had been amusing the others by reading satirical verses about monks from the poetry of Sir David Lindsay. The student maintained that laughing at folly was not necessarily heretical and suggested that Andrew read Lindsay.

Andrew did so and found the verses reasonable and accurate.  He was thus persuaded to become a Reformed minister, first there in Perth and then later at Dunbar where he was both minister and grammar school master for eighteen years.

John Simpson, Virginia Planter.  John Simpson, a Virginia planter, made the following deposition about his father in 1748:

“John Simpson of Stafford county, planter and aged about 69 years, deposed and said that he had been informed than he was born within ten miles of Woodstock in Stafford county. While he was a child the Deposer’s father and mother removed to live on the Woodstock plantation and continued there until he was about 15 or 16 years of age. At that time he removed himself about a mile from there and continued there until he came of full age and married and has lived ever since that time within twenty miles of the plantation.

This Deposer perfectly well remembers George Brent, deceased, who lived at Woodstock when the Deposer’s father and mother removed there.  The Deposer always understood and was informed by his father, who served his time with the first George Brent, that this George was born in England and came from there to Virginia.”

His father John Simpson was a Scotsman and was indentured to George Brent when he came to America.  He is believed to be the John Simpson reported at Acquia in Virginia in 1680.

The son John Simpson was illiterate and attached his mark to his will made out in 1756.

“I John Simpson of Stafford county, being sick but of perfect mind, do make this my last will and testament.  I recommend my soul into the hands of God and that my body be buried in a decent manner.  I will give and bequeath to Ann, daughter of Benjamin Sudderth, one feather bed and furniture and one young pacing horse of one year of age.  I give to Alexander Simpson two coats and my riding saddle.  I give to my beloved wife Silent Simpson all the remaining parts of my personal estate. And lastly I appoint my beloved wife Silent Simpson as my whole & sole executrix.”

He had two brothers, Thomas and George, who had died before him.

Simpsons in the 1790 US Census.  The average Simpson family at that time had 5.4 members.

Of the 371 Simpson families recorded in the new United States, most were concentrated in North Carolina (65), Pennsylvania (55), Virginia (48), South Carolina (42), Maryland (40), and Maine (38).  The remaining eighty-three families were distributed in five other new states.

John Simpson and Ulysses S. Grant.  Ulysses S. Grant’s great grandfather was a man named John Simpson. He was born in a farmhouse near Dunganno in county Tyrone in 1738. That same farmhouse stayed in the Simpson family for centuries.

However, John Simpson departed this home and emigrated to Pennsylvania at the age of 22.  He fought in the Revolutionary War and left his Pennsylvanian farm to his son John.

Grant’s mother Hannah Simpson was born on that farm in 1798 in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania and grew up there.  She was the third child of John Simpson Jr. and his wife Rebecca.  They moved to Ohio in 1817.

It was said that it was from his Irish mother that General Grant inherited his military talent.  He was remarkably like the Simpsons in the formation of his head, thick hair, and the form of his shoulders.

George Simpson and His Offspring.  George Simpson, known as “the little emperor” for his leadership of the Hudson Bay Company between 1820 and 1860, had been born illegitimately around 1787 (the exact date is uncertain) in Scotland to George Simpson and an unknown woman.  Simpson had subsequently little respect for legitimacy.  He sired at least eleven children by at least seven women, only one of whom was his wife.

While in London he produced two daughters by two unknown women. When he left for Canada they were sent to Scotland to be cared for by his relatives. The eldest, Mary Louisa Simpson, was given a £500 dowry on her marriage and moved to Canada.  She has over a hundred recorded descendants.

In 1817 Simpson produced a daughter by a half-Cree washerwoman named Betsy Sinclair. She was soon passed onto an accountant whom he had promoted. The daughter married an English botanist but died in a canoe accident on her honeymoon.

The record of James Keith Simpson is poorly documented. Simpson then fathered two sons, George and John, with Margaret Taylor.  Soon after the birth of John, Simpson left Margaret to marry his cousin.  Simpson shocked peers by neglecting to notify Margaret of his marriage or to make any arrangements for the future of his two sons. The sons have over 400 descendants in Western Canada and California.

By his legal wife between 1831 and 1850 he had five children. After his wife’s death he impregnated a servant and married her off to his manservant.

Simpson Names

  • Thomas Simpson, born in Leicestershire, was a noted 18th century mathematician.
  • Archibald Simpson was the principal architect of the granite city Aberdeen in the early 19th century.
  • Robert Simpson was a naval hero for Chile in their War of the Confederation of the 1830’s.
  • George Simpson established the Hudson Bay Company in Canada, being Governor of the company from 1826 until his death in 1860.
  • James Simpson was the Scottish doctor who pioneered the use of chloroform in the 19th century.
  • Wallis Simpson was the American divorcee who married King Edward VIII and became the Duchess of Windsor.
  • O.J. Simpson is the former American football star who was acquitted of his wife’s murder in a famous court trial, but was later convicted of robbery.
  • John Simpson has been BBC’s leading foreign correspondent.
  • The Simpsons are a fictionalized American family in the popular animated TV sitcom.

Simpson Numbers Today

  • 101,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeen)
  • 67,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Simpson 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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