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The Thompson Name

an Essay by James Thompson.

  Many of the descendants of David Thompson, our family's first generation in America, are familiar with the fact that he spelled his name in the Scottish manner, that is, without a 'p'. The limited knowledge that we have of his ancestors indicates that they spelled their name the same.

  The English very frequently spelled this name with a 'p', and the Scots frequently spelled it 'Thomson'.

  Spelling variations of the name, used in our early American history, include Thomson, Thompson, Tomson, Tomsonne, and Tompson. The Scandinavians, from where the name probably originated, had other variations. It seems quite clear that when David and Amias came to America (arriving in late 1622-Old Style dating), they used the spelling as Thomson. There were also variations of Amias, as Amyes, Ems, Amy. There were also some variations on Amias' maiden name-both Cole and Colle were used. There was little standardization in spelling in the 1500's and 1600's, (Noah Webster's first dictionary came out two hundred years later-in 1828) and many names appear in the records with variations, and nearly everyone accepts this fact, and simply works around these minor problems.

  In many cases, the surname spelling was a matter of individual choice, and change appears to have happened more than once, in our family. John Thompson, David's son, spent his apprentice years headquartered in an area of London, England. When he returned to America in 1640, he seemed to use the English spelling of his name. Before that time, we have no record, as he was a 9-year-old child when his father died and his mother remarried.

  The many documents on record after 1640 show spelling as 'Thompson'. He is clearly identified as the son of David in this period, so presumably he simply learned in the English manner of writing the name. He was training to become a ship's master in his apprenticeship, so must have even had to learn to read and write, and it became very understandable that he learned in the English fashion.

  John, the son of David, had only three children. His one son, also named John, was born in England (?) about 1642 and was brought to America when John moved his family, possibly about 1648. Later, the families moved to a new 'plantation' (Mendon, MA) in late 1663. About 1672, we start noting the spelling 'John Thomson, Jr.' (for the son of John Thompson), although for the next ten years or so we see both spellings in the "Annals of Mendon". John Thompson, Sr. had changed the spelling to the English form by 1644, but his son John Thompson, Jr. apparently preferred the Scottish form, and many of the records by 1685 (John Sr., died that year) reflect the Scots way of spelling. Another indicator of John's dedication to family history might be the fact that he named his son David. (Not the first son-that was John's place!). He was born at Mendon when it was first becoming a settlement, in 1667, and was old enough to understand and appreciate the history. The Annals of Mendon probably cover the spelling variations as well as was possible under the circumstances. Any of these descendants returned to the Thompson spelling.

  This changing of the spelling, by part of the family, makes the record somewhat confusing but there is adequate reason to believe the changes occurred on at least these two occasions. Col. Amy, in his major volume (Descendants of David and Amyes Thomson) solved the problem very easily. He simply spelled all of the variations as Thomson, acknowledged the fact that others might spell it differently, and proceeded with his work.

  One might conclude that if we were being totally correct, we would all spell the name Thompson as Thomson, and proceed. Some lines have done exactly that, but a great many have "gone with the flow". We are still cousins, despite the fact that some of us cannot spell. Each individual can decide which is correct!

James Thompson


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Updated: 16 Jan 2017 12:51 PM