To understand the evolution of a surname to it's earliest origins, one must understand that even in the earliest days of a name, there have been different spellings of that name simply because surnames were infrequently written down, as few people could write. Accents and other dialectal issues heavily influenced how many variations of any surname there were due to the fact that many people were illiterate and did not know how their own name was spelled. This meant that the officials often had to guess at the spelling after hearing the person speak their name, leading to the numerous variations we see today.
Following the crusades in Europe in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, a need was felt for a family name to replace the one given to a child at birth. This was only recognized by those of noble blood, as it granted them added prestige and a practical advantage to their status. The earliest records of the name mentions a gentleman named Adekin who had no surname. This was recorded in 1191 in County Norfolk. The next recorded version of it is in Canterbury in the year 1279, being that of a John Adekyn. Another John, John Adekynes was documented in County Surrey in the year 1332.
All throughout history, there are recordings of this surname having moved around to different countries, which makes it hard to pinpoint a specific varitation to a certain time period.
The first recorded Adkins in the Colonies is disputed due to a discrepancy in dates. One was that of Niccodcmus Adkins, who traveled from Northumberland to Virginia in 1635. The other is Sir John Adkins of Chard.
Evidence has been found that suggests that most of the Adkins people that came to the Colonies from England are direct descendants of Sir John Adkins of Chard, Somerset, England. Sir John Adkins was a descendant of William Adekyn of County Somersetshire, born in 1327 and deceased in 1377. Sir John Adkins was a well-known merchant, engaging in commerce with the Colonies. He emigrated from Bristol, England which was in close proximity to Chard, England. In his will, dated the 16th of July, 1636, Sir John refers to his grandson, son of John Adkins II, who was born in the Colonies between 1615 and 1636. He also names his wife Katherine, his eldest son Edward, his 2 other sons Francis and William, and his sister Sarah Sellwood. He also named his daughters, Katherine Wells, Hannah Ford and Elizabeth Smith. It is believed that Sir John Adkins came to the Colonies prior to February of 1623 because of personal letters that have been found addressed to him by his wife. Several other "Johns" emigrated to Virginia but these were around the middle of the seventeenth century, several years after Sir John of Chard's will was made and probated in 1636, hence the discrepancy as to who arrived first.
Today, the variations of the surname aren't as popular as they used to be, with Adkins being the most popular, Atkins following in second. There are many notables in history of this surname, some suggesting that Adekyn is a name of noble blood, of which Sir John Adkins of Chard was a direct descendant of, that most American Adkins are believed to also be descendants of. Regardless of nobility, there are also several historical documents refering to servents of Kings that share the Adkins surname.
The surname "Adkins" is found to be Anglo-Saxon in origin, traced back to the early 1200's in England and later becoming a popular surname in Scotland in the mid 1400's. Adkins literally means "Son of little Adam." The Adkins surname derives from "Ade" - a nickname of sorts of the Hebrew-given name Adam, meaning "red earth" (it is thought that this refers to the earth of which God formed the first man in the Old Testament) plus the Olde English pre 7th century diminutive suffix "-kin". The "d" of "Ade" was changed to "t" in certain areas due to dialectal influences and perhaps illiteracy, and the final "s" indicated the genitive, being reduced from "son of."
The numerous variations of the surname Adkins are a result of census takers, clergy and other officials writing down the names of people who were illiterate and did not know how their own names were written, so the official would use his best judgement after listening to the person speak their name. When you realize what variations and acute accents people had in different parts of the country in those days, one can understand why so many variations arose.
Credit given to Tim Boddington, webmaster of the site [external link] who has a fascinating and impressive collection of information regarding the Adkins surname.
Credit should also be given to the Surname Database, to be found at [external link].
Nationality & Ethnicity
The country of origin for this surname is without a shadow of a doubt from England. It has been traced back to as early as the Bronze Age. The earliest evidence of any variation of Adkins is from 1191, where one Adekins was noted in the Pipe Rolls of Norfolk. A John Adekyns appears in the records for the Record of the Estates of Crowland Abbey in Cambridgeshire, dated 1296. Other variations in the patronymic development since 1327 has included John Adekynes from Warwickshire, Willelmus Adkynson in the Poll Tax Returns of Howdenshire in 1379 and Johannes Attekyson in Yorkshire in 1379. In October of 1657, George Adkins III (Son of George and Susanna Adkins) was christened at a church in London. A Robert Adkins (as noted in the Dictionary of National Biography) was chaplain to Lord Cromwell.
The first recorded spelling of the family name was that of Sir William Atkyns, dated 1327 in the "Subsidy Rolls of Worcestershire" during the reign of King Edward II. Surnames became required when governments introduced personal taxation which was known in England as Poll Tax.
According to several historical references, the earliest American Adkins genealogy is traced back to Niccodcmus Adkins who landed in Virginia (from Northumberland) in 1635. Some other settlers who share this surname (or variants thereof) include Sir Jonathon Adkins, who was Governor of Barbados and arrived in 1663, a Thomas Adkins who settled in East Hartford in 1682 and a Henry Atkins who settled in Plymouth in 1641.
These are the earliest records we have of the Adkins family.