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An excerpt from www.HouseOfNames.com archives copyright 2000 - 2015

Where did the English Tonkin family come from? What is the English Tonkin family crest and coat of arms? When did the Tonkin family first arrive in the United States? Where did the various branches of the family go? What is the Tonkin family history?

While surnames were well-known during the English medieval period, Cornish People originally used only a single name. The way in which hereditary surnames came into common use is interesting. Under the Feudal System of government, surnames evolved and they often reflected life on the manor and in the field. Patronymic surnames were derived from given names and were the predominant type of surname among the Celtic peoples of Britain. However, the people of Cornwall provide a surprising exception to this rule, and patronymic surnames are less common among them than other people of Celtic stock, such as their Welsh neighbors. This type of surname blended perfectly with the prevailing Feudal System. One feature that is occasionally found in Cornish surnames of this type is the suffix -oe or -ow; this is derived from the Cornish plural suffix -ow. is a patronymic surname that came from the ancient Aramaic personal name Teoma, meaning twin.


Cornish surnames are characterized by a multitude of spelling variations. The frequent changes in surnames are due to the fact that the Old and Middle English languages lacked definite spelling rules. The official court languages, which were Latin and French, were also influential on the spelling of a surname. Since the spelling of surnames was rarely consistent in medieval times, and scribes and church officials recorded names as they sounded rather than adhering to any specific spelling rules, it was common to find the same individual referred to with different spellings of their surname in the ancient chronicles. Moreover, a large number of foreign names were brought into England, which accelerated and accentuated the alterations to the spelling of various surnames. Lastly, spelling variations often resulted from the linguistic differences between the people of Cornwall and the rest of England. The Cornish spoke a unique Brythonic Celtic language which was first recorded in written documents during the 10th century. However, they became increasingly Anglicized, and Cornish became extinct as a spoken language in 1777, although it has been revived by Cornish patriots in the modern era. The name has been spelled Tonkin, Tonkyn, Tonkeyne, Tonkyne and others.

First found in Cornwall where they held a family seat from very ancient times, some say well before the Norman Conquest in 1066 A.D.


This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Tonkin research. Another 155 words(11 lines of text) covering the years 1652, 1711, 1701, 1702, 1678 and 1742 are included under the topic Early Tonkin History in all our PDF Extended History products.


Another 57 words(4 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Tonkin Notables in all our PDF Extended History products.


A search of the immigration and passenger lists has shown a number of people bearing the name Tonkin:

Tonkin Settlers in United States in the 18th Century

  • Ralph Tonkin, who landed in New England in 1709

Tonkin Settlers in United States in the 19th Century

  • Caroline Tonkin, aged 15, arrived in New York, NY in 1842
  • Caroline Tonkin, who arrived in New York NY in 1842
  • William Tonkin, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1875

Tonkin Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century

  • William Tonkin arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Aboukir" in 1847
  • James Tonkin arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "British Sovereign" in 1847
  • Elizabeth Tonkin arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "British Sovereign" in 1847
  • Mary Tonkin arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "British Sovereign" in 1847
  • Martha Tonkin arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "British Sovereign" in 1847

Tonkin Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century

  • John Tonkin, aged 34, a bootmaker, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Waitangi" in 1874
  • Emma Tonkin, aged 33, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Waitangi" in 1874
  • Jane Tonkin, aged 7, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Waitangi" in 1874
  • John Tonkin, aged 5, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Waitangi" in 1874
  • Bessie Tonkin, aged 1, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Waitangi" in 1874


  • Humphrey Tonkin (b. 1939), American professor of English, president emeritus of the University of Hartford
  • Anthony Tonkin (b. 1980), English professional football player
  • Derek Tonkin, H.M. Diplomatic Service, Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • David Tonkin (1929-2000), Australian politician, Premier of South Australia (1979 to 1982)
  • John Trezise Tonkin AC (1902-1995), Australian politician, Premier of Western Australia (1971 to 1974), eponym of the Tonkin Highway
  • Phoebe Tonkin (b. 1989), Australian actress and model, best known for portraying Cleo Sertori in H2O: Just Add Water
  • Mr. Percy Tonkin (d. 1941), British Petty Officer Stoker, who sailed into battle on the HMS Repulse and died during the sinking


The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Kensol tra Tonkein ouna Diu mathern yn
Motto Translation: Before all things, Tonkin, fear God in the king.


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  1. Markale, J. Celtic Civilization. London: Gordon & Cremonesi, 1976. Print.
  2. Mills, A.D. Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. Print. (ISBN 0-19-869156-4).
  3. Williams, Dr Ann. And G.H. Martin, Eds. Domesday Book A Complete Translation. London: Penguin, 1992. Print. (ISBN 0-141-00523-8).
  4. Cook, Chris. English Historical Facts 1603-1688. London: MacMillan, 1980. Print.
  5. Chadwick, Nora Kershaw and J.X.W.P Corcoran. The Celts. London: Penguin, 1790. Print. (ISBN 0140212116).
  6. Sanders, Joanne McRee Edition. English Settlers in Barbados 1637-1800. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print.
  7. Shaw, William A. Knights of England A Complete Record from the Earliest Time to the Present Day of the Knights of all the Orders of Chivalry in England, Scotland, Ireland and Knights Bachelors 2 Volumes. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing. Print. (ISBN 080630443X).
  8. Library of Congress. American and English Genealogies in the Library of Congress. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1967. Print.
  9. Humble, Richard. The Fall of Saxon England. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1975. Print. (ISBN 0-88029-987-8).
  10. Fairbairn. Fairbain's book of Crests of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland, 4th Edition 2 volumes in one. Baltimore: Heraldic Book Company, 1968. Print.
  11. ...

The Tonkin Family Crest was acquired from the Houseofnames.com archives. The Tonkin Family Crest was drawn according to heraldic standards based on published blazons. We generally include the oldest published family crest once associated with each surname.

This page was last modified on 26 January 2015 at 20:59.

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