The Collins name is ubiquitous throughout the British Isles and its diaspora. Our goal is to carve out the major family groups and identify their genetic haplogroups, with the nice side-effect of helping Collinses in the rest of the world find their ancestral roots.
COLLINS in Great Britain
Some sources on English surnames suggest that Collins is a double diminutive of Nicholas. The progression modifying the surname is roughly: Nicholas, Nichol, Nicholls, Nicholson, Nickson, Nixon, Cole, Colet, Colson, Collins*, Collison, Glascock, Glasson. 1 So far, we have not observed any notable genetic evidence of this.
The French name Colline ("hill") may also be a source of the name in Great Britain.2
Other sources cite St. Nicholas as the source of the surname but also suggest that 'Colin' came to us through the Normans, with '-on' or '-in' being the diminutive suffix. From that we get Collins, Collinson, Coleson.3
It may be a stretch, but Collen ("hazelgrove") in Welsh could be another source of the surname.
The source of the Collins surname in Scotland is not yet clear, but could be from Ulster in Northern Ireland (below).
Collins has been well represented in the midlands and southwest. Collings is seen more in the southwest, and has been linked to Collins.4
We hope to eventually find the earliest origins of Collins in England and Wales and identify the English haplotypes.
COLLINS in Ireland
There aren't many Irish surnames with such an emotional connection to them as Collins, which stirs up memories of Cork-born Michael Collins, the I.R.A. leader and finance minister of the new Irish government in the second and third decades of the 20th century.
Biographies suggest that his line came from the Ó Coileáin, who were among the people driven from Limerick down into Cork due to pressures exerted by the Normans. This migration of Limerick people occurred around 1200 A.D. The people from Limerick (likely the Uí Fidgenti) constitute the majority of the Collinses of County Cork.
The Collins surname in Cork could in part be accounted for by the Ó Cuileán (often anglicized as Cullen), a family in the tuath of Ui Aenghusa (O'Hennessy) of the ancient Corca Laidhe tribe.5 The Ui Aenghusa were situated approximately around Drinagh and Kilmacabea civil parishes in west Cork. Such surname absorption would not be unusual, and could be a hypothetical possibility for other Cork surnames such as Donovan and (Mc)Carthy. In each case, a group migrated into Cork and mingled with the existing Corca Laidhe people. Also of note is Clann Chuilean ("race of Cuilean"), a branch of the Dal Cais of Thomond in North Munster.6 This territory is primarily associated with O'Connell, but some surnames theoretically could also have been absorbed into Cullen or Collins. Y-DNA testing is an extremely powerful tool that could help distinguish these different groups and lend support to (or refute) these theories.
Edward MacLysaght notes Collis as a diminutive of Nicholas present in Ireland first attested in 1638. It is associated with Co. Kerry.7
Mac Coileáin was a sept in Ulster. Northern Ireland septs could account for the presence of the name in Scotland.
Some of the project Collinses with Irish ancestry exhibit the Irish Type II haplotype. A bit of a surprise for us is the emergence of Alpine Celtic Collinses in Cork. Alpine Celtic (U152) is not thought to have had a major presence in Ireland.
COLLINS in the British Isles Diaspora
Collins emigrants from the British Isles obviously made their way to North America. Many Collins project members can trace their lineage within the United States or Canada but have not made the leap across the water back to the British Isles. Australia and New Zealand were other major targets, but British Isles emigrants ended up in South Africa, South America, Hong Kong, India, and other places.
A group of people known as Melungeons (the label often having been used pejoratively), living in or bordering Hancock and Hawkins counties in Tennessee and in neighboring Virginia, were so named because of their darker complexions. Collins is one of the surnames acquired by this group. They appear to be associated with the surname GOINS. There is a DNA project devoted to the Melungeons, and an excellent paper by the project administrators can be found here.
1. Lower, Mark Antony. English Surnames. An Essay on Family Nomenclature, Historical, Etymological, and Humorous, with several illustrative appendices. Third Edition, Enlarged. In Two Volumes. Vol. I. p. 169
3. Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. English Surnames: Their Sources and Significations. Seventh Edition, 1901. p. 96
4. Lynch, Sheila and Seary, E. Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland. p. 104
5. O' Murchadha, Diarmuid. Family Names of County Cork. 2000. p. 82-83.
6. Wolfe, Patrick. Irish Names and Surnames. 1923.
7. MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland. 1991. p. 51