About the Thompson Surname, its meaning, history and origins

The last name Thompson belongs to one of the detectives in the cartoon Tintin.

In 2022, the Thompson surname was one of the top surnames in the UK.  Its most popular variant is Thomson which can be found in many parts of Scotland, particularly in the Scottish Borders. Some, like Archie and Syn Thomson, were Border reivers who used to raid the English and Scottish border for cattle or sheep as a way to survive.  These raids were in the name of their family and not their country.

The Thompson surname is now included in the list of surnames where you can find other Scottish surnames – is your last name there?

Meaning of the name Thompson

The name is patronymic which means that the next generation is named after the father’s first name, in this case ‘Tom’s son’.  In fact, the prevalence of the surname shows that Thomas or Thom was a very popular first name in Medieval times.  The name Thomas was often used by priests until the 11th century as it was considered a religious name.  Actually, it comes from the Aramaic word for twin.

What comes to mind is the popular 1980s band called the Thompson Twins.  Do you remember them?  Actually, the members of the bands were never siblings and they chose their band’s name from the two detectives, Thompson and Thomson in the cartoon Tintin.

History of the Thompson last name

John Thomson, leader of the Carrick’s men, was first recorded in the Annals of Scotland from 1318.  In addition, John Thompson was recorded in the Charters of the Abbey of Whitby in Yorkshire a few years later in 1349.

In Argyllshire and Perthshire, Scots Gaelic MacThomais, which means ‘son of Thomas’ and MacThomaidh,which means ‘son of Tommy’ were anglicised to Thomson and McThomas.  Clan MacThomas of Glenshee was recognized as a clan in its own right towards the end of the 16th century.

The Border reivers who raided neighbouring lands for possessions, were persecuted at the start of the 1600s when James I broke the powers of the riding clans.  Many Thompson reivers fled to Ulster to escape persecution.

Origins of the name Thompson

The surname Thompson is believed to be Scottish in origins, although they normally did not add the letter ‘p’.

However, there is an alternative origin suggesting that the name came from the village called Thompson in Norfolk.  It is mentioned in the Domesday Book and some say that the village may have Saxon or Danish origins.

Variations of the Thompson surname

Variations of the name Thompson have evolved, just like any other surname.  They have come into existence from the different pronunciations and dialects around the world.  Some variations include Thompsone, Thomson, Thoms, Thomson, Thomason, Thompsen and Tompson to name a few.

The Thompsone name on a gravestone in Mississippi
Mattie Louise Thompsone buried in a Mississippi cemetery

In Scotland, the name Thomson is more prevalent but there are still many Thompsons.

Thompson surname on a gravestone in Lauder
Elizabeth Thomson buried in Lauder cemetery in 1813.

The Thompson tartan

This blue tartan was adopted by the Clan Thom(p)son Society as their official tartan.  It is worn by Thompsons and Thomsons regardless of spelling.

The Thompson or Thomson tartan

Thompson family crest

The Thompson or Thomson crest

Famous Thompsons or Thomsons

  • Emma Thompson (born 1959) – is one of UK’s most acclaimed actors. She is also an activist, writer and screenwriter
  • Peter Thomson (1929 – 2018) was the first Australian golfer to win the British Open and subsequently won it 4 times afterwards.
  • Edinburgh born Alexander Thompson received the Victoria Cross for bravery under heavy enemy fire during the Indian Mutiny in 1858.  He is buried in Perth at the Wellshill Cemetery.
  • Edward Thompson was one of the Mayflower passengers in 1620.  After this arrival there were other early Thompson settlers including William Thompson (in 1623 in Virginia), David Thompson (settled in 1623 in Maine); and Anthony Thompson (in Connecticut in 1637).
  • Robert William Thomson was a Scottish engineer who was ahead of his time. He had invented the fountain pen and the pneumatic tyre in the 1840s.  However, it was another 50 years before Dunlop used his patented tyres for bicycles.
  • David Thompson, born in London in 1770, later became a Canadian explorer.  He mapped nearly four million square kilometres of North America.  He was known as the stargazer, or Koo-Koo-Sint, by the Native Americans.
  • Dundee has its own family owned media company, DC Thomson, that publishes famous cartoons like Beano and the Broons as well as local newspapers.  They even own FindmyPast website.

Do you belong to a Thompson or Thomson family tree?  If you need some help, then feel free to get in touch and lets see if I can unlock your past.

Good luck in tracking down your Thompson family history.

Until my next post, haste ye back.


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