Tyson Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Tyson Surname Meaning

The origin of the surname Tyson is not clear.  It could have come from the Old French tison, meaning “firebrand,” and be a nickname for someone with a fiery temperament; or it could have been a variant of the surname Dyson from Dennis.

Gilbert Tyson (or Tesson) held the Alnwick estate in Northumberland in the days before the Norman invasion.  But his line died out in the 12th century.

In America Tyson could have evolved from the German Thyssen or the Dutch Tijssen.

Tyson Surname Resources on The Internet

Tyson Surname Ancestry

  • from NW England and Germany
  • to America, Caribs (St.Kitts) and Australia

England.   There were Tysons as sheriffs and mayors of Bristol, from whose number came Edward Tyson, the noted scientist and physician.  But the main concentration of Tysons was further north, in Cumberland.

Cumberland  Tyson has been very much a Cumbrian name (it ranked 22nd among the list of most common Cumbrian surnames in 1829) and was particularly to be found in the Lake District areas of Langdale, Eskdale, and Wasdale.

The poet William Wordswoth boarded with an Ann Tyson at Hawkshead when he attended school there in the 1780’s (her cottage is still standing).  More recently, Tim Tyson was the local shoemaker in Grasmere and today Alan Tyson is the mayor of Cockermouth.

By the early 19th century, the Tyson name had extended to the Cumbrian coast, to the shipping community at Maryport and the mining community at Workington, as the following account testified:

“I was born in Whitehaven in 1919 and the Tysons were my mother’s family.  I had six brothers and they all worked in the pits at one time.  Grandmother Tyson was one of the “screen lasses” who went to London in the 1880’s as the Government wanted to stop women working on the screens.”

Elsewhere  Tysons also moved south into Lancashire.  Thomas Tyson came to Ulverston, then in Lancashire, from Cumberland in the 1770’s.   The 1891 census in fact showed more Tysons in Lancashire than in Cumberland.

America.  Early Tysons in America may have had English origins, but not necessarily.  A Thiessen family from the German town of Krefeld arrived in Pennsylvania in the 1680’s and became Quakers there.  Reiner Tyson was one of the early settlers of Germantown.  These Tysons later were prosperous merchants in Baltimore and Elisha Tyson a prominent abolitionist there.

The origin of earlier Tyson arrivals into Northampton county, Virginia in the 1660’s is uncertain.  Legend has it that they came from Wales.  But the presence of names such as Matthias and Cornelius might suggest Dutch or German roots.

These Tysons moved south into North Carolina in the early 1700’s (some of their lines were chronicled in Roger Kammerer’s 1987 book The Tyson and May Genealogy of Pitt County, NC).  From there they spread into Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama.  It is believed that John W. Tyson, the founder of Tyson Foods in Arkansas, came from this family.

Herbert and Elizabeth Tyson had come to Kalamazoo, Michigan by the 1840’s.  He farmed and then ran a butcher’s shop.  Grace Tyson who became well-known as a vaudeville star in the early 1900’s was a descendant.

There were also Tysons in America from Germany.  Descendants of Cornelius Tyson from Krefeld in Germany settled in Wood county, Ohio.

Caribbean.  The Tyson name has been common on Nevis St. Kitts, the smallest islands on the Caribbean Windward island chain.  Richard Tyson was a slave-owner there in the mid/late 1700’s.

The name might have remained obscure had not a Tyson family from Nevis moved to New York in 1919, seeking to better themselves.  Their daughter was the acclaimed American actress Cicely Tyson who married the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis in 1981 and died in Harlem in 2021 at the grand age of 96.

Australia and New Zealand.  Some Tysons from Cumberland headed this way in the 19th century, such as:

  • John Tyson from the mining town of Workington who left for Australia in 1862 in search of gold
  • and Joseph Tyson and his brother Abraham who emigrated to Canterbury, New Zealand later in the 1860’s.

But the most celebrated of these Tysons was James Tyson, born in Australia in 1819 to a convict mother from Cumberland.  A cattle rancher, he became a byword for wealth and a legend in his lifetime.  When he died in 1898 without leaving a will, many Tysons stepped out of the woodwork to seek a share of his fortune.

Tyson Surname Miscellany

Gilbert Tyson of Alnwick.  Tradition holds that after the Battle of Hastings William the Conqueror bestowed the barony of Alnwick in Northumberland to his standard-bearer Gilbert Tyson.  But the reality appears to have been that Gilbert already held the estate, having received it at the time of Edward the Confessor, and that he fought and died fighting against William at Hastings.

Gilbert’s son William stepped into his role as lord of the manor at Alnwick.  His lands later passed to the Norman lord de Vesci.   It may have been that the transition occurred peacefully, William’s daughter Alda marrying Ivo de Vesci.  Or it may have been that William was forcibly removed from his properties.

Some have said that these Tysons were Saxon rather than Norman.  But Gilbert may have been Norman after all. Tyson or Tesson was a Norman baronial family descended from Radulphus Taxo of Angers who founded the Abbey of Fontenay near Caen.

Early Tyson Wills in Eskdale

1567 John Tyson Eskdale (Bakerthwaite)
1576 Isabel Tyson Eskdale (Birker)
1584 Edward Tyson Eskdale (Birker)
1588 Roger Tyson Eskdale
1596 Richard Tyson Eskdale (Birker)

Tim Tyson and Colin Dodgson in the Lake District.  Tim Tyson and Colin Dodgson were insatiable hill-climbers from Grasmere.  Colin ran a tearoom in the village, while Tim the local shoemaker.  Colin was a sort of über-bagger and the older Tim was happy enough to let his friend wander off to the more obscure bumps alone.

Although they finished their Munros together on Mull in 1951, only Dodgson’s name appears in the list.  “Don’t go writing a lot about me,” said Tyson when interviewed by Harry Griffin for the Manchester Guardian.

The pair’s love of the hills extended to the liquid bits and Griffin – the greatest of all hill journalists – was able to write a Guardian piece in 1959 entitled “Cold comfort for the tarn baggers”.  This marked Tyson and Dodgson completing their dips in all 463 Lakeland tarns with one on Esk Pike.  That wasn’t enough for them, though.  The pair revised their list and eventually plunged into 534 tarns and 195 pools.

Tyson Surname Distribution in the UK in 1891

County Numbers Percent
Cumberland   610   18%
Westmoreland   140    4%
Lancashire  1,150   34%
Yorkshire   350   10%
London   350   10%
Elsewhere   800   24%
Total  3,400  100%

Archibald Tyson of Lowndes County, Alabama.  Archibald Tyson left Pitt county, North Carolina for Alabama in 1828.   According to the family tradition he journeyed for five weeks with twelve Negroes and ten mules to get to Alabama.  Archibald married in 1843 and he and his wife Sarah built their antebellum house in Lowndesboro known as The Pillars.  He was remembered there as a successful cotton farmer of  practical means who would not allow his overseers to whip his slaves.

When the Civil War ended, he had on hand 500 slaves to set free.  But he had come through the war with 500 bales of stored cotton and $10,000 in saved gold.  Archibald’s descendants still live in the area.

John W. Tyson of Tyson Foods.  According to company lore, truck driver John W. Tyson ran out of gas in Springdale, Arkansas and decided to settle there.  He hauled hay, fruit, and chickens for several years.

When he was unable to get enough freight work in Arkansas he spent his life savings to buy a truckload of chickens and drove them to Chicago where they sold for a higher price.  He repeated this procedure several times, then bought several more trucks, and became a leading supplier of chickens in several major cities across the Midwest.

In 1935, when he was unable to purchase enough chickens to supply his route, he began raising his own chickens and milling feed.  Tyson Feed & Hatchery opened its first processing plant in 1957 and went public as Tyson’s Foods in 1963.

Tyson and his wife were killed in 1967 when their car was broadsided by a speeding train.  At the company’s headquarters a replica of its founder’s office is maintained, with a clock on the wall stopped at the moment of his death.

The business, known as Tyson Foods since 1971, is now the world’s largest beef processing firm, America’s second largest chicken supplier, and a leader in pork production.

Reader Feedback – Tysons from Germany.  In 1987 one of my cousins compiled a Cornelius Tyson Descendant Book: 1652-1986.  She lived in Wood County, Ohio where most of the Tysons settled.

Cornelius Tyson was believed to be born in Krefeld (Crefeld) Germany in 1652.  The exact date of his arrival in America is unknown.  He was noted in Germantown when the town was formed in 1684.  Reynier had arrived in Germantown in 1683 aboard the Concord but there is no proof that Corneilius and Reynier were brothers.

Cornelius was married to Margaret and they were Mennonites in the Skippack area.   According to his will, he was a weaver, lawyer and surveyor (these documents at the Library of the University of Massachusetts).  He was named as one of the original settlers of Germantown history.

Cornelius’s first son Matthias was born in Krefeld Germany in 1682 and came to this country with his parents.  Matthias married Barbara Sellen and Mathias was a business man, oil miller and attorney in Germantown.   There are deeds where he purchased tracts of land.   They lived along the Mill Road, Creamery, Pennsylvania.

Isaac Nash Tyson’s son Daniel Fry Tyson moved to Montgomery township in Wood county, Ohio.  A Tyson reunion is held each year and I believe it is over 100 years now.

Tysons of Wood County (tmehall@midco.net).

James Tyson the Australian Rancher.  Isabella Tyson had been convicted of theft and transported to Australia in 1809 and her husband William and young son travelled on the transport ship out with her.

And so began for this family a period of hardship, courage, bravery, and survival.  They were real pioneers in the early days of settlement in Australia. Isabella and William were to have nine children in total, of which James was the third.  James Tyson turned out to be a fine-looking man, six foot four inches tall, hard working and fair minded.

His fortune was founded on success in butchering on the Bendigo goldfields.  It was extended by canny buying, knowledge of cattle and of stock-routes, pastoral lending, and the judicious selection of enormous leaseholds to provide a chain of supply from north Queensland into Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney.

He was a byword for wealth and a legend during his own lifetime.  Unmarried and without heirs, he died in 1898 without leaving a will.  Many Tysons back in England, hearing of developments, pushed their case that they should inherit his fortune.  The Liverpool Mercury, for instance, carried this article in early 1899:

“It appears that there are claimants in Flintshire to the millions left by the late James Tyson the Australian millionaire.  The claimants reside in the neighborhood of Northop Hall near Hawarden and consist of two branches of the family, descended from Tyson who came from Ireland in the last century with the proprietors of the Irish colliery.

It is Peter Tyson from Northop Hall who claims to be a cousin of the late millionaire.  Five years earlier, his sister Mary had spent some time researching the family pedigree and had written to James Tyson claiming to be a relative through his grandmother.”

The following article appeared more recently in the Journal of the Cumberland Family History Society.

“A century ago anybody and everybody with the name of Tyson, possibly for the first time in their lives, suddenly became fascinated with the precise details of their ancestry.  In an article about the importance of wills, the treasurer of this society wrote:

‘When I became vicar of the remote parish of Ulpha, in every register I found old letters addressed to one of my predecessors thus – Dear Sir: re. Tyson millions – from which I gathered that the said Mr. Tyson had died intestate and that dozens of hopeful Tysons hoped to acquire a share of his wealth.'”

James Tyson’s estate, which realized £2 million, was eventually divided among his next of kin after an extended series of court cases.

Reader Feedback – John Tyson, Gold Prospector in Australia.  John Tyson was my great grandfather. He left Workington in NW England in 1862 and prospected for gold in St. Arnard, Victoria.  He fathered ten children.

His wife died aged 43 in 1895 and her baby died two months later. John followed the rush to the goldfields in Western Australia that year. He was accompanied by his three eldest boys (one of whom was my grandfather). The rest of the family followed after they became established.

William Tyson (magsign@tpg.com.au).

Tyson Names

  • Edward Tyson was a 17th century scientist and physician, commonly regarded as the founder of modern comparative anatomy.
  • James Tyson was a legendary Australian rancher of the late 19th century.
  • Grace Tyson was a leading American vaudeville star of the early 1900’s.
  • John W. Tyson founded Tyson Foods in Arkansas in the 1930’s.
  • Frank Tyson, nicknamed “Typhoon,” was the English cricketer and fearsome fast bowler of the 1950’s.
  • Cicely Tyson was an American actress of Caribbean roots.
  • Mike Tyson rose from the streets of Brooklyn to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world.

Tyson Numbers Today

  • 7,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Tyson 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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