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John Family History
John is a patronymic surname, and so refers back to an ancestor who had the personal name John. In this sense therefore it originally meant 'son of John'. In most cases, the surname eventually developed into Jones, Johns or Johnson, but many other families retained 'John' specifically as a surname, in particular in some parts of Wales. It is far less frequently seen as a surname in England where the Jones, Johnson, Jackson, and Johnston versions prevailed.
'John' as a name comes from the Hebrew Yohanan meaning 'graced by God'. Its popularity as a given name over the centuries in Britain probably stems from its Biblical associations.
In Wales, fixed surnames only gradually began to be adopted from the 16th century onwards. Some of the earliest forms of this surname would therefore be written as 'ap John', meaning son of John. Very early examples include Edward ap John who was archdeacon of Carmarthen in 1509, and Robert ap Edward John who lived in Bangor, Caernarvonshire in 1599. However, the majority of families who started to use John as a hereditary surname did so during the 18th century and the earliest years of the 19th century, when the original ancestor whose personal name was John would have lived.
As a fixed, hereditary surname in Wales, during the 19th century it was most often seen in parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Glamorganshire, and only very rarely seen elsewhere in the country at that time.
- Gwendolen Mary (Gwen) John (1876–1939), a Welsh artist who was born in Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire renowned for her portrait painting. She was the sister of the celebrated painter, Augstus John.
- Augustus Edwin John, OM RA (1878–1961), a Welsh painter and draughtsman, who was regarded as one of the most important artists of his time. Born in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, he was the brother of the celebrated artist, Gwen John.
- Barry John (b. 1945), famous Welsh rugby union player. Born in Cefneithin, Carmarthenshire, in the 1970s he was a member of the Wales national rugby team during its much vaunted 'golden age'.
- Olivia Newton-John (b. 1948), British-Australian singer and actress, famous for her role in the film Grease and her singing career. She was born in Cambridge, England, but her father was from Cardiff, Wales.
A Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames (1896) by Charles Wareing Endell Bardsley
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