Surname Name Meaning, Origin, and Etymology
Few surnames are as renowned as Thompson, a patronymic word which comes from the Greek form of the Aramaic name Ta’oma’, meaning “twin,” and adds “son,” yielding “the son of Thom or Thomas.”
Thompson’s roots are primarily Scottish and English in origin, with a variety of spellings. Thom(p)son is the English translation of MacTavish, the Anglicized version of the Gaelic MacTamhais.
In fact, with origins in England, Ireland and Scotland, the name Thompson (pronounced TAHMP-sen) is so storied its roots may predate the very existence of surnames—last names or surnames weren’t widely used until the English introduced personal taxation, known as the Poll Tax, in the 1300s.
Before the Norman Conquest of 1066, the name Thomas was exclusively used by priests, reflecting the Biblical apostle who bore the name. The apostle Thomas, the Biblical story goes, doubted the resurrection of Christ, hence the origin of the modern “Doubting Thomas” label. After the 1100s, as Thomas became a popular male given name, Thomson and Thompson and related surnames became widely disseminated, with the Thompson/Thomson variant particularly common in the British isles and a broad range of similar variations extending to all corners of the continent and beyond.
An alternative origin may be geographical, arising from the place name Thompson.
Common spelling variants, most with origins in Europe, include: Thompson, Thomson, Tompson, Thomsen, Thompsen, Di Tommaso, MacTavish, MacTamhais, Thomason, Thomassen, Thomasson, Tomadze, Tomasevic, Tomashov, Tomashvilli, Tomaszewicz, Tomescu, Tomescu, Tumasian, Tumasyan, Thompsett, Tomov, Tomasson, Thamasana, Thomasena, Thomasana.
Scottish/Irish variations of Thompson
Scottish and Irish clans often separated into septs or branches, which were founded when powerful clansmen established their own families. These variations include Thompsan, Thompsand, Thompsane, Thompsant, Thompsen, Thompsend, Thompsent, Thompsind, Thompsint, Thompson, Thompstolm, Thompstom, Thompstomb, Thompstombe, Thompstome, Thompston, Thompstone, Thompstoom, Thompstoomb, Thompstown, Thompstum, Thompstume, Thompsyn, Thompsynd, Tompsan, Tompsand, Tompsane, Tompsant, Tompsen, Tompsend, Tompsent, Tompsind, Tompsint, Tompson, Tompstolm, Tompstom, Tompstomb, Tompstombe, Tompstome, Tompston, Tompstone, Tompstoom, Tompstoomb, Tompstoombe, Tompstown, Tompstum, Tompstume, Tompsyn, Tompsynd.
Popularity and Geographic Distribution
After the Norman Conquest, the use of the name increased across Europe. By the Plantation period of the 16th and 17th century, settlers carried the name back from England to Ireland. Around that time, the name became somewhat common in Germany, Sweden, Norway and across Europe as well as Australia, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana.
Its contemporary occurrence reveals it to be one of the most popular of last names in Anglo-American cultures: Thompson is the 14th most common surname in the United Kingdom and 17th most common in the United States. In the 1990 United States Census, Thompson was the 17th most frequently reported surname, accounting for 0.27% of the population.
Early Bearers of the Surname
Eborard fil. Thome, Cambridgeshire, 1273 appears amongst the Hundred Rolls and is amongst the earliest bearers of the surname. The first recorded spelling of the family name is of John Thomson, dated 1318, in the “Annals of Scotland,” during the reign of King Robert 1 of Scotland, known as “The Bruce,” 1306 - 1329. A John Thompson was also recorded in the Charters of the Abbey of Whitby, Yorkshire, in 1349.
Thomas Tomson married Elizabeth Harris at the church of St. Jon the Evangelist, Dublin, on December 12th, 1631. Others include English politician and Member of Parliament for the City of London Sir William Thompson (1614-1681), English wine merchant, Lord Mayor of York and Member of Parliament for York Sir Henry Thompson (ca. 1625-1683).
Historic Events involving Thompsons
The genealogical and historical arc of the name Thompson is too mammoth to trace here, but many notable historic events have involved the surname Thompson. In particular, the perishing of—and survival of—Thompsons on numerous historic military disasters reflects the lineage of those with this surname involved in military efforts.
- The crash of Arrow Air Flight 1285 on December 12, 1985 involved two Thompsons: Scott Bryan Thompson, an American Specialist 4th Class, and Danny C. Thompson, an American Sergeant, both of whom perished with 248 soldiers.
- The sinking of the Empress of Ireland in World War II on May 29th, 1914 involved Gerrard James Thompson, a plumber who worked aboard the ship, and a passenger, Mrs. T Thompson, a Canadian Third Class passenger. Both died in the sinking.
- In the most devastating man-made explosion of the pre-atomic era, several persons with the surname Thompson died in the Halifax Explosion, in which the SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo. The Canadian deceased included Bernice Ford Thompson; Jean Thompson; Master Robert G. Thompson; Emily Thompson and Master James J. Thompson.
- Thompsons involved in World War II era sinkings included numerous aboard the RMS Lusitania, several who survived and several who died and aboard the HMS Prince of Wales, including British Able Seaman Robson Thompson and British Corporal Marine Charles Thompson among several Thompsons who survived.
- The famous 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic included the survival of English Fireman/Stoker John William Thompson. A Scottish Third Class passenger, Alexander Morrison Thompson died in the sinking.
Early American and New World Settlers
Edward Thompson was among the passengers on the Mayflower in 1620, so the earliest non-native settlers of the Americas included this surname. Another of the very earliest settlers in the New World was William Thompson, recorded as 'living at Elizabeth Cittie, Virginea', on February 16th 1623. David Thompson settled in Maine in 1623; Anthony Thompson in Connecticut in 1637, Edmund Thompson in Salem, Mass. also in 1637.
Subsequent decades would find Thompsons settling in Canada and Australia (as convicts, at first): Thomas Thompson arrived in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1756, while Anthony Thompson came to Fort Cumberland, Nova Scotia in 1774.
The motto for Thompson is Nosce teipsum, translated as “know thyself.”
Originally it was a war cry or slogan, with early roots in the 14th century. The oldest coats of arms for this ancient and distinguished name do not include a motto, as most coats of arms did not begin using mottoes until the 1600s—and some families have chosen not to include a motto.
The earliest Coat of Arms may have been granted in Yorkshire in 1559, or in Cumberland, where the Thompson family held a seat dating from as far back as the 12th century. As you can see from our various images of Thompson coats of arms, there have been various colors, styles and symbols used in coats of arms, including twin eagles; the lion; a stag and cross; three ravens; three roosters in counterpoint to three ravens and many more.
The use of azure or blue represents loyalty and truth; the fess denotes a military belt or girdle of honor; an indented or sawtooth line represents fire; the estoile is a symbol of God’s goodness; the sun denotes glory and splendor. Among notable early grantees was John Thompson (1756-1829) the son of William Thompson of Dyke House.
There seems to be no limit to the notable people with the last name “Thompson,” as clearly this name has a renowned history especially through many countries in Europe and the Americas.
People with the surname Thompson have been famous musicians, scientists, military leaders, political leaders, union leaders, athletes, fencers, comedians—virtually anything one could imagine.
Edward Thompson was among the passengers on the Mayflower in 1620. Ahmir Khalib Thompson (1971-?), who plays under the name Questlove, is a renowned drummer in hip-hop band The Roots. John T. Thomspon invented the Thompson submachine gun—the “Tommy Gun”—made famous by Prohibition and Depression-era gangsters, as well as by its use during World War II.
Robbin Thompson (1949-2015) was an American singer-songwriter and member of Steel Mill, a Bruce Springsteen band. Klay Thompson, son of Mychal, is an American pro basketball player with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.
John Sparrow David Thompson (1845-1894) was a Prime Minister of Canada. Linda Chavez-Thompson was an American union leader. Daley Thompson was a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon. Ben Thompson, an American lawman, gunfighter and gambler. Elaine Thompson is a Jamaican sprinter, Hank Thompson (1925-2007) was an American country music entertainer.
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author.