Thompson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Thompson/Thomson Meaning
This is a patronymic name meaning
“son of
Thomas,” mainly to be found in the north of England and in
Scotland.   The main spellings are Thompson and Thomson.
Why are there both Thompsons and Thomsons?  Some reckon that the
original spelling of the name was Thomson.  But in many areas it
was pronounced as Thompson.  So it was decided to add a “p” to the
written name to match what was heard.

Thompson/Thomson Resources on

Select Thompson/Thomson Ancestry

England.  The earliest
record was a John Thompson who
appeared in the charters of Whitby Abbey in Yorkshire in 1349.
Thompson with a “p” has continued as a Yorkshire and north of England

The Thompsons of Scarborough were a prominent Yorkshire family,
starting with Sir Roger
Thompson in the 16th century.  A branch of this family, the Thompsons of
, prospered on the basis of Henry and Edward’s wine
importing business in York in the next century.  Henry acquired
Escrick Hall in north Yorkshire
in 1668 and developed it as an estate village.

One Durham family line has traced itself back to Christopher Thompson,
born in Darlington in the 1730’s. Robert Thompson, born in
Sunderland, founded the J.L. Thompson and Sons shipbuilding company
there in 1846.  The yard continued to build ships under the
founder’s descendants until 1986.

Scotland.  Thomson,
meaning “son of Thom,” is the more common spelling in Scotland.
The name is found mostly in central Scotland.  Early Thomson
appeared in Ayrshire.  John Thomson from
Ayrshire led
part of Bruce’s invading army in Ireland in 1318.  But there was
single common ancestor or lineage of the Thomsons that followed.

Some Thomsons were Border reivers on the Scottish/English border in
Eskdale north of
Carlisle.  Syn Thomson and young Archie Thomson were listed as
their leaders in 1587.  After 1603 many Border Thomsons fled to
the Ulster plantations.

Other Thomson Lowland families have been:

  • the Thomsons of Dumbarton.  This line began with William
    Thomson, born in 1375 who was recorded as the Collector of Customs in
    1410.   However, the line seemed to have died out around
  • the Thomsons of
    Corstophine near Edinburgh – the first of whom, Alexander, died
    fighting the English at Flodden Field in 1513.  His son later died
    the plague, but the line did continue.
  • and the Thomsons of Duddingston near Edinburgh as well.  Sir
    Thomas Thomson had acquired these lands in the 1630’s and his family
    held them for a short time.  The Rev. John
    Thomson was the minister of Duddingston kirk from 1805 to 1840.
    was a friend of Sir Walter Scott and a well-known landscape artist
    of his time.

Ireland.  Border
Thomsons moved to the plantations in Ulster in the 17th century, such
Samuel and Helen Thomson of Dumfries who arrived there in
1690.   Many of these Scots Irish Thomsons later moved again,
this time to America.  Included in this number were:

  • Matthew Thompson who left Donegal with his family in 1732 for
    Philadelphia, eventually settling in Virginia.  His eldest son John Thompson
    was a merchant seaman who was killed by pirates in 1757.
  • John Thompson, also from Donegal, who came to Pennsylvania’s
    Cumberland valley with his two brothers around 1740.  A descendant
    Thompson compiled notes on the various Scots Irish settlers in
    the Cumberland
  • and James Thomson with his wife Mary and family who left
    Londonderry in 1771 for what was then the American frontier in
    Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania.  By 1793 they were in Kentucky
    and later in Indiana.

Some Thomsons had become Thompsons by that time.  And Thompson
with a “p” is very much an Ulster name today.

America.  David Thomson,
a Scot although born in London, came to New England with his family in
1622 and was said to have been the first European to have set foot in
what is now New Hampshire.   David died in 1628 in what is
now called Thompsons Island in Massachusetts Bay.

William Thompson, a Catholic from Lancashire, was an early arrival in
Maryland in 1641.  Both he and his son William died young.
But his line continued in southern Maryland in Charles county.
The Thomson/Thompson
also showed many who were Scots Irish.  They
began arriving in the 1730’s, with the Scots Irish outpost in Augusta
county, Virginia being a favored destination.

.   Richard Thompson came to Halifax, Nova
Scotia from Yorkshire in 1774.  He was the first settler of
Oxford, Nova Scotia and died there in 1821 at the age of 77.

Three Thomson
came to Canada from Scotland in the 1780’s and
1790’s.  The line from the eldest son Archibald, based in Toronto,
led to the newspaper tycoon Roy Thomson.  David was
in 1796 the first settler of Scarborough, Ontario.  He was
followed there by his brother Andrew.

Other Scottish Thomsons in
Canada tended to change their spelling to Thompson.  Thompsons
Thomsons by
about four to one in Canada today.

Australia.  Andrew
Thompson was convicted of theft at Jedburgh on the Scottish borders in
1790 and transported to Australia.  After his pardon in 1798 he
settled at Green Hills along the Hawkesbury river in NSW and
prospered.  By 1806 he was the largest grain grower and possibly
the wealthiest settler in the colony.


Thomson/Thompson Miscellany

Thomson and Thompson.  The Scottish spelling is generally Thomson, the English Thompson.  Thompson is the more common form in America.  Overall, Thompson predominates today.

Numbers (000’s) Thompson Thomson Total
UK    171     66    237
America    194     10    204
Elsewhere     85     30    115
Total    450    106    556

Early Thomsons in Scotland.  George
Fraser Black had the following to say about early
Thomsons in his 1946 book The Surnames of

meaning ‘son of
Thom,’ is a fairly
numerous surname in

Thomson, ‘a man of low birth, but
approved valor,’ was the leader of the men of Carrick in Edward Bruce’s
war in
Ireland in 1318.  Adam Thomson appeared
as the lord of Kylnekylle in Ayrshire circa 1370-80. John
Tomson witnessed a grant in Ayr in 1401.   Donald
Thomson was one of an inquest to determine the rights of pasturage
which the
Temple lands had over the adjoining town and territory of Letter in
1461.  John Thomsoun was juror on an
inquest at
Dunipace in 1426.

most conspicuous
family of the name was the Thomsons who possessed Duddingston near
for five generations until it was sold by Sir Patrick about the year
1668.  His father had been created a
baronet in 1636.

Many individuals of this name in
Perthshire and Argyllshire were originally Mactavishes.”

The Thompsons of York.  The Thompsons
had been a prominent Yorkshire family since Elizabethan times.  Based near Scarborough they appear to have
been related to the Henry Thompson who received the estate of Esholt in
Yorkshire after the dissolution of the monasteries.

1588 Henry
Thompson of this family set up a wine importing business in York.  It proved very successful. By
1647 the company had acquired wine cellars
in Bordeaux and also established itself in Hull, London and Amsterdam.  Like other wine merchants of the time, the
Thompsons did not only trade in wine. The vessels that they chartered
transport wine from the vineyard regions to northern Europe carried
other goods
such as textiles on the return journey.

The business was then being handled by Sir Henry Thompson and his
brother Edward.  In
1668 Sir Henry moved from York to a new country estate at Escrick.  He briefly entered politics and was a patron
of the poet Andrew Marvell.

Escrick Hall
was to be the family home for many generations of Thompson country
gentry.  In 1820 Paul Lawley inherited the
estate and
changed his name to Thompson.  He became
Baron Wenlock in 1839.   He had four
sons, one of whom was a friend and private secretary of W.E. Gladstone.

Early Thomsons and Thompsons in America

Arrivals Birth Location Death Location
David Thomson (Scots) 1592 London 1628 Massachusetts
William Thompson 1597 Lancashire 1649 St. Mary co, MD
Samuel Thomson 1691 Scotland 1753 Louisa co, VA
Thomas Thompson 1731 Durham Baltimore co, MD
Joseph Thompson 1749 England 1810 Anderson, SC
Scots Irish
James Thompson 1668 Wicklow 1712 Salem, NJ
Matthew Thompson 1692 Donegal 1753 Crosskeys, VA
John Thompson 1695 Donegal 1783 Cumberland co, PA
James Thompson 1715 Ulster 1808 New London, Conn.
Matthew Thompson 1720 Tyrone 1776 Abbeville, SC
John Thompson 1720 Ulster 1758 Augusta co, VA
John Thompson 1732 Derry 1811 Augusta co, VA

John Thompson of Virginia, North Carolina and Barbados.  John Thompson, sometimes called Theophilus, was the eldest son of Matthew Thompson and had come with him to Virginia from Ireland
in 1732.  He was a restless one.   He had originally settled in Albermarle
county, before moving to Norfolk county and then to Nash county and
county in North Carolina.

was also a merchant seaman, owning a ship called
the Ranger that he sailed from
England to Norfolk and then to the Bahamas and Barbados.
His ship was captured and he was killed by
pirates near Barbados in 1757.

his wife Alsey Butt he had eight sons and daughters, born between 1738
1757.  He may have sired other children
elsewhere.  There were Thompsons in
Barbados where it is believed he may have had a wife or concubine.  Lumbee Indian tradition also had it that he
was one of the prime progenitors of the Thompsons in the Lumbee tribe. 

Three Thomson Brothers to Canada.  Farming
was not a good proposition for the Thomson
family in Dumfries in the second half of the 18th century.
That was why Andrew Thomson decided to be a
stone mason and that was why Archibald,
the second of
his seven children and the father of a large family, decided to
emigrate to America
in 1773.   He went first to New England and then to Canada via Quebec
as a
United Empire Loyalist.

In 1796
Archibald’s two younger brothers David and Andrew,
accepting his advice, followed him.  For
a time all three of them had homesteads on the same street in York
(later Toronto).

line from Archibald via his son George left and then returned to
Toronto.  Herbert Thomson worked as
a barber at
the Grosvenor Hotel in Toronto.  His son
Roy, born in 1894, became the famous Canadian and English newspaper
Lord Thomson of Fleet.

David and Andrew
settled in Scarborough, Ontario.  David
came first and he and his wife Mary were in fact the first settlers of
township.  Mary
was alone as a woman and for seven months she did not see another white
woman at all.  The Indian women became very
friendly as they
seemed to understand her predicament.   A
few years later she
was known to all as
the “Mother of Scarborough.”



Select Thomson/Thompson Names

  • James Thomson was the early 18th
    century Scottish poet who wrote Rule
  • J.J. Thomson was the British physicist credited with the discovery of the electron.
  • Ben Thompson, born in
    Yorkshire, was an Old West gunfighter and Austin city marshal in Texas.
  • Roy Thomson was the Canadian
    newspaper tycoon who came to London in the 1960’s and bought The Sunday Times. 
  • Hunter S. Thompson was the irreverent Gonzo journalist and writer, well known for his intake of
    mind-altering substances.
  • Daley Thompson was the British athlete who won the Olympic decathlon title twice.
  • Emma Thompson is a
    distinguished English actress.

Select Thomson/Thompson Numbers Today
  • 237,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 245,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 115,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Thompson/Thomson 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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