If one wants to find the very first time that the faily name Pearson was written down in English, then that honor goes to a Scot, Wautier Pieresonne of Berewyk (Berwickshire), who, in 1226, pledged allegiance to Edward I, King of England in the Ragman’s Roll.

Origin of the family name Pearson

Genealogists call it a patronymic name, meaning Pearson was derived from the father’s name. But, it is more accurate to say that it is a baptismal name, meaning that the local priest or pastor recorded a first name for the child, then used the father’s first name and the appellation “son”. For example, Thomas, son of Peter, then becoming, Thomas Peter’s son.

Part of my reason for saying “baptismal” is that early church records recorded baptisms and not births. The parish priest did this because he was recording members of his flock and because, sadly, not all survived the rigors of birth.

How did we get from Peterson to Pearson?

It is the other way around. Once upon a time, in England and quite a few other countries, Peter spelled in the French way, “Pierre”. This practice began with the French speaking Normans who arrived in England in 1066. Incidentally, it was the Normans who began the practice of surnames in order to collect taxes. Surnames took on additional importance as the feudal system disappeared and land owning by individuals more common. Litigation in the court system also sped up the naming of a country’s citizens.

Pierre, or Peter, was shortened to Pier.At the end of the 14th century, William Langland wrote Piers Plowman, an allegorical narrative in a Middle English using Pier as the “ordinary Joe” of the times. Spellings varied regionally and at some point, “Pier” became “Peer” or “Pear”. Thus Pierreson was variously spelled as Pierson, Peersonne, Pearson, and probably a few other ways. It was even shortened to Pierce.

My branch of the Pearsons

My own branch of the Pearson family comes from the English Midlands. To be exact, from Pownall Fee in Cheshire County, a bit south of Manchester, where it is recorded that one Edward Peersonne was christened in the parish of Wilmslow in 1575.

Pearsons immigrated to the United States from countries other than England, including Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, and Germany, but strangely, none from France. In France there are Martins and Thomases and Bernards, but no Pierres.

I only comment on this because much of my family is French and maybe someone will correct me on this. I also mention this because my grandfather James Madison Pearson went to France during World War I, fought the Germans, married a French bride, and briefly used the spelling “Pierson” for his last name.

Oh, well, as Will Shakespeare would say, “What’s in a name?”


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