Tennyson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tennyson Surname Meaning

Denis as a name was borne by various early saints, including the 3rd century bishop of Paris, the martyred St. Denis, who became the patron saint of France. Dennis or Denney was a given name in medieval England, as was a variant Tenney.

And Tenison was an early surname patronymic form of Tenney. This later became Tennison and Tennyson.

Tennyson Resources on The Internet

Tennyson and Tennison Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Yorkshire)
  • to Ireland and America

England.  Tenison was an early spelling. The first record of the name was John Tenison in the Yorkshire rolls of 1361. Yorkshire has been where most Tennisons and Tennysons have been found in England.

Archbishop of Canterbury.  The family of Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 to 1715, however, has not been traced back to Yorkshire. They came from Cambridgeshire instead. Thomas’s grandfather Philip and father John were clergymen in Norfolk – Philip being Archdeacon of Norwich and John rector of Munderley and Topcroft.

Thomas’s cousins Edward and Thomas migrated to Ireland. The Archbishop’s line does not appear to have extended to that of Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Yorkshire.  Within Yorkshire, the Tennison and Tennyson names seem to have originated in the south Holderness region of the East Riding.

There were 16th century references to the name at Ryehill and Hull. Ralph and Elizabeth Tennison were recorded as recusants at Ottringham in 1664. And there were Tennisons at Preston and Hedon (forebears of the Poet Laureate) in the next century, as well as at Burstwick.

George Tennyson, the son of a Hedon apothecary, established himself in the early 1800’s as a member of the Lincolnshire gentry. George had two sons, George and Charles.

When they were still young boys, he violated usual tradition by making his younger son Charles his heir and arranging for George to enter the ministry. Charles therefore inherited the family seat at Beacons in Tealby, while George had to make do as the vicar of Somersby. Resentment festered on both sides of the family.

“Charles Tennyson published in 1850 a book of poems, Eustace, in memory of his youngest and favorite son who had died abroad. It had the misfortune to appear at the same time as his nephew Alfred Tennyson’s In Memoriam and suffered greatly by comparison. Charles thoroughly disapproved of Alfred’s poetry and the latter’s appointment as Poet Laureate in the same year and the subsequent offer of a baronetcy caused him outrage and chagrin.”  

Charles rather pompously called himself Tennyson d’Eyncourt. His son Edwin and grandson Eustace distinguished themselves in the Royal Navy, Edwin becoming an Admiral and Eustace the Navy’s Director of Naval Construction. Eustace brought his family the much desired baronetcy in 1930.

Compared to his brother Charles, George felt impoverished and this led him to worry about money all his life. He died in 1831, four years before his father, it was said, from drink and depression. His son Alfred Tennyson, however, had a reasonably protected childhood and began making his mark as a poet in the 1840’s. He was the first in England to be raised to the peerage for his writing:

  • his son Hallam, the second Baron Tennyson, became Governor General of Australia in 1902
  • while his grandson Lionel, the third Baron Tennyson, was a cricketer who was briefly in 1921 the English cricket captain.

The Tennyson family story was recounted in Sir Charles Tennyson and Hope Dyson’s 1974 book The Tennysons.  

Ireland. Major Thomas Tenison, second cousin to the Archbishop, moved to Ireland after the Irish uprising and served as the Sheriff of Carrickfergus in 1645. His son Richard was the Anglican Bishop of Meath, his grandson Richard an Irish MP.  After Richard’s death in 1725, his wealthy widow Margaret married Dean Patrick Delany and kept him in style in Dublin.

A later descendant Thomas Tenison built Kilronan castle in Roscommon in the 1820’s and the family were large landowners there. His brother Edward King Tenison who inherited the estate was an early Irish photographer, Edward’s wife Louise a noted travel writer.

America. Early Tennisons came to Maryland.

Maryland.  Two Tennison brothers – John and Justinian – may have been part of Thomas Gerrard’s early settlers in southern Maryland when they arrived around the year 1650. However, it is not clear where these Tennisons came from. John’s birth was indicated as Holland; whereas there are no records for Justinian’s birth.

John married Elizabeth, an indentured servant, but later divorced her.

“John banished Elizabeth from his home sometime around the year 1680. Elizabeth was rewarded with one bed and furniture, all wearing apparel and yearly for time to come 300 pounds of meat, three bushels of corn, and 100 pounds of tobacco during her natural life. This quite possibly was the first divorce on American soil.”  

They had lived in St. Mary’s county and John died there in 1684; while his brother Justinian died in Charles county in 1699 (in the same year as did John’s son Justinian). The lineage in America was covered in Ralph Smith’s three volume series The Tennison Family of South Maryland written in 1997-2000.

There were family lines by 1800 into Virginia and into Rowan county, North Carolina. Abraham Tennison of Rowan county was a seaman from 1780 to 1800 and then made his home in Mississippi. His descendants were to be found in Tennessee and later in Greene county, Arkansas.

Other Lines.  Archibald Tennison also lived in Tennessee, but then moved to Washington county, Missouri. His son William Tennyson was a farmer there.

A line from Joshua Tennison went from Georgia to Texas, where the largest numbers of Tennisons and Tennysons live today. John Tenison, a harness maker in Ohio, came to Dallas after the Civil War. His son Edward O. Tenison started out as a messenger boy for the City National Bank of Dallas and ended up as its President in 1902.

The Tennyson township in Texas was named after the English poet Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Tennyson Surname Miscellany

Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Thomas Tenison was born in 1636 at Cottenham in Cambridgeshire.

His grandfather John Tenison was the son of Christopher Tenison by his wife Elizabeth and was a fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 1596 he was presented to the rectory of Downham in Cambridgeshire, which he resigned in 1640. He died in 1644 and was buried at Ely.

His son John Tenison who died in 1671 was the rector at Mundesley in Norfolk and was the father of Thomas by his wife Mercy. While Thomas became Archbishop of Canterbury, his nephew the Rev. Edward Tenison was the domestic chaplain to the Prince of Wales who afterwards became George II.

The Grandparents of Alfred Lord Tennyson.  On June 22, 1775 George Tennyson married Mary Turner of Caistor House in Caistor, Lincolnshire.  The fine house with its Ionic portico still stands in the marketplace.

Many years later, Mary was to tell Alfred of the time when she and George were courting on the steps outside when a large piece of stone fell from the parapet, narrowly missing them.  She told him “It was a special Providence, my dear, but for that, where would you have been?”

The couple settled in Market Rasen.  But Mary did not care much for Market Rasen, finding it dull and unattractive in comparison with Caistor.  George was often away on business and she was lonely.  She wrote to her mother at Caistor about once a week from the time of her marriage until her mother’s death in 1804.

Many of these letters have survived and give a vivid picture of the family and are an excellent social history of life in a small country town at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).  He was Poet Laureate of Great Britain and Ireland during much of Queen Victoria’s reign.

Tennyson excelled at penning short lyrics, such as Break, Break, Break, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tears, Idle Tears, and Crossing the Bar.  Much of his verse was based on classical mythological themes like Ulysses.

However, In Memoriam A.H.H was written to commemorate his friend Arthur Hallam, a fellow poet and student at Cambridge, after he died of a stroke at the age of twenty-two.

Tennyson also wrote some notable blank verse, including Idylls of the King, Ulysses and Tithonus.

Some Descendants of Alfred, Lord Tennyson


  • Sir Charles Tennyson, civil servant and industrialist

Great grandson

  • Pen Tennyson, film director
  • Julian Tennyson, writer and historian
  • Hallam Tennyson, radio producer

Tennyson Names

  • Thomas Tenison served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1694 until 1715. 
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson was the English Poet Laureate from 1850 to 1892.

Tennyson Numbers Today

  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 200 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Tennyson and Like Surnames

These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.





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Written by Colin Shelley

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