PENN Surname Meaning and Origin

The Penn surname most commonly originated from the Old English "pen," meaning hill, or "penn," for someone whose job was to pen up sheep.
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The Penn surname has several possible meanings:

  1. a topographical name for someone who lived near a fold or hill. From the Breton/Old English word penn, meaning "hill" and "pen, fold."
  2. a habitational name from various places called Penn, such as Penn in Buckinghamshire and Staffordshire, England.
  3. an occupational name for an impounder of stray animals, from the Old English penn, meaning "(sheep) pen."
  4. as a German surname, Penn may have originated as a nickname for a short, stocky person, from pien, meaning "tree stump."

Surname Origin: English, German

Alternate Surname Spellings: PENNE, PEN

Where in the World the Penn Surname Is Found

While it originated in England, the Penn surname is now most prevalent in the United States, according to surname distribution data from Forebears, but most common in the British Virgin Islands, where it is the 3rd most popular surname. Around the turn of the 20th century, the Penn surname in Britain was most common, based on the percentage of the population with the surname, in Northamptonshire, England, followed by Hertfordshire, Worcestershire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire.

WorldNames PublicProfiler, on the other hand, indicates the Penn surname is most frequent in the United Kingdom, especially in southern England, plus Cumbria in the north and Stirling in Scotland. It is also common in the Eferding district of Austria, especially in Freistadt and Urfahr-Umgebung.

Famous People with the Last Name Penn

  • William Penn - an English Quaker is best known for founding the colony of Pennsylvania as a place for religious freedom in America
  • Sean Penn - Academy-award winning American actor
  • Kal Penn - American film and television actor, who has also served several roles in the Obama administration
  • Arthur Horace Penn - member of the British royal household
  • Harry Penn - African-American civil rights activist and dentist
  • Robert Penn - African-American sailor, recipient of the Medal of Honor during the Spanish–American War

Genealogy Resources for the Surname Penn

  • The Family of William Penn, Founder of Pennsylvania, Ancestry and Descendants: A digitized copy of a book on the ancestors and descendants of Sir William Penn, published by Howard M. Jenkins in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1899. Free on Internet Archive.
  • Penn Family Genealogy: A website tracing the descendants of John Penne, born in 1500 in Minety, Gloucestershire, England.
  • Penn Family Crest - It's Not What You Think: Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Penn family crest or coat of arms for the Penn surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male-line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.
  • FamilySearch - PENN Genealogy: Explore over 500,000 historical records and lineage-linked family trees posted for the Penn surname and its variations on the free FamilySearch website, hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • PENN Surname & Family Mailing Lists: RootsWeb hosts several free mailing lists for researchers of the Penn surname.


  • Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.
  • Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.
  • Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.
  • Hanks, Patrick, and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.