The Dickson Dixon One Name Study

History of the Dickson Dixon Name

Origins of the name Dickson or Dixon

During the 11th century the use of surnames was introduced to the British Isles by the Normans. These were usually local (a place or landmark), patronymic ("son of"), a trade or profession name, or a nickname.

The name Dickson is a patronymic name, meaning "Dick's son" or "son of Dick". Coming from Scotland it might seem strange that it is not "MacDick", but this is simply explained by its lowland, rather than highland, origin.

The Dickson or Dixon (and other spellings and derivates) family name can be found in early Scottish records. Early records show Thomas Dicson, a follower of the Douglas clan, at the capture of Castle Douglas in 1307.

Although the name was Scottish in it's origin, with it's very earliest origins being in Lanarkshire, it became predominately a Borders counties name with a subsequent spread to the north and midlands of England.

The early scribes will have interpreted the spelling of names according to how they sounded to them. The earliest record spells the name Dicson with later records creating numerous variations which eventually settled to Dickson, the most common usage in Scotland today. Although the same spelling can be found in England in significant numbers, by far the most common spelling here has developed to be Dixon.

Thomas - the first Dicson

For much of the research into the early history of the Dickson-Dixon name we have to thank B. Homer Dixon who in 1888 left us his book " The Border and Riding Clans followed by a Shorter History of Clan Dickson", (published by Albany, New York, 1888)

In his book he writes:-

"In a charter from King Robert Bruce about A.D. 1306 to Thomas Dickson it [the name] occurs as Filius Ricardi (son of Richard) and the Charter is endorsed Carta Thomas fil Dick."

"Nesbit in his Heraldry (Edinburgh, 1722) says 'The Dicksons are descended from one Richard Keith, said to be a son of the family of Keith's Earls Marshalls of Scotland.' and in proof thereof carry the chief of Keith Marischal. This Richard was commonly called Dick and the 'son' was styled after him. The affix of son in the Lowlands answering to the prefix Mac in the Highlands."

Thomas Dicson has quite a history. He was associated with William Wallace (of "Braveheart" fame), and he was killed in 1307 in a skirmish with the English at Douglas Castle, Lanarkshire. Robert de Brus (Bruce) had made him Castellan of Castle Douglas the year before he was killed. (Castle Douglas was taken by Sir Walter Scott as the inspiration for his "Castle Dangerous" novel written in 1832).

Thomas was the son of Richard de Keith. We know little of Richard other than he was a son of the Keith Earls Marichals, this being part of the nobility of Scotland with the special role of protecting the King when he was in Parliament. The link with the Keith Clan is discussed in more depth on a separate page. Since the role of Earl Marishall was hereditary within the Keiths over many generations, and Richard did not carry this title, we can assume he was not the first born in his family.

Thomas was also closely linked with the Douglas family of Lanarkshire and from this link comes the further assumption that Richard de Keith was the son of Hervey de Keith, Earl Marischal, Hervey having married Margaret daughter of the 3rd Lord Douglas.

Thomas died while attempting to retake Douglas Castle from the garrisoned English troops. This is said to have been on Palm Sunday 1307, which would have been 19th March. The plan was that the attack would take place while the soldiers were at worship in the castle chapel. Although ultimately successful, the attack did not go entirely to plan and Thomas paid the price.

Tradition states that Thomas was slashed across the abdomen but continued to fight holding the abdominal wound closed with one hand until he finally dropped dead. According to a note in "The Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Supplementary Volume: containg notes, historical and illustrative, by the author, glossary, etc." published in Paris in 1834, The Rev Mr Stewart of Douglas states "the tradition........is supported by a memorial of some authority - a tombestone, still to be seen in the churchyard of Douglas, on which is sculptured a figure of Dickson, supporting with his left arm his protruding entrials, and raising his sword with the other in the attitude of combat." Today, no such memorial can be located in the old St Bride's kirkyard and even in the later 1800's B Homer Dixon indicated that he had been unable to locate the claimed tombestone.

Although tradition indicated that Thomas was buried in the Kirkyard at Douglas, the ruins of the old St Bride's Church are believed to date from the late 1300's, many years after the death of Thomas. No mention has been found as to whether there might have been an earlier church and/or burial ground.