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Johnston: family name history

Origin of the Surname

Johnston is a surname of Scottish origin that found its way to Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster, a period of colonization in the early 17th century.

Etymology and Meaning

The surname Johnston is derived from “John’s town” or “John’s settlement.” This was a popular naming convention during the Middle Ages, where a place would often be named after its original owner or founder.

Earliest Known Usage

The earliest known usage of the Johnston surname dates back to the 12th century in Scotland. Johnstons were noted to be amongst the settlers during the Plantation of Ulster in Ireland.

Geographic Distribution

Originally, the Johnston family held their family seat in Annandale, Scotland. However, as they migrated to Ireland during the Plantation of Ulster, the name became well established in northern parts of Ireland, particularly in counties Donegal and Fermanagh.

Original Geographic Location

The original geographic location of the Johnston family was in Scotland, particularly in the area known as Annandale in Dumfries.

Migration Patterns

The Johnstons, originally from Scotland, were among the many families that migrated to Ireland during the 17th-century Plantation of Ulster. In the subsequent centuries, many Johnstons emigrated to North America, Australia, and New Zealand due to economic difficulties and famines.

Historical Context

Notable Historical Events

Johnstons were involved in several notable historical events, including the Border Wars between Scotland and England during the 13th to 16th centuries.

Involvement in Key Moments in History

During the Plantation of Ulster, the Johnstons were significant settlers, shaping the demographic and cultural landscape of the region. They also played parts in key moments of American and Australian history as settlers and influential figures.

Notable Bearers of the Surname

Famous Individuals

Famous individuals with the Johnston surname include Joe Johnston, an American film director known for “Jumanji” and “Captain America: The First Avenger,” and Jennifer Johnston, an award-winning Irish novelist.

Influential Figures

Influential figures bearing the Johnston surname include Sir Harry Johnston, a British explorer known for his expeditions in Africa, and George Johnston, a Lieutenant Governor of New South Wales, Australia.

Variations of the Surname

Spelling Variations

There are several spelling variations of the Johnston surname, including Johnson, Johnstone, Jonston, and Jonstone.

Regional Differences

While “Johnston” is more commonly used in Ireland and Scotland, the variant “Johnson” is prevalent in England and the United States.

Current Statistics and Distribution

Frequency and Global Distribution

Today, the Johnston surname is most common in the United States, followed by the United Kingdom and Canada. In Ireland, the surname is particularly prevalent in Northern Ireland.

Changes Over Time

The distribution of the Johnston surname has broadened over time due to historical events such as the Plantation of Ulster and the Great Famine, which led to global migration.

Family Coat of Arms

The Johnston family coat of arms features a silver shield with a red border and three red cushions, signifying wisdom, wit, and ingenuity.

Further Reading

  1. Edward MacLysaght (1985). The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
  2. Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, Peter McClure (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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