The Timon Family Name

clip_image002

It is difficult to be definitive as to the origin or meaning of the Timon Family name or any family name for that matter. Family historians and heraldists provide a range of suggested origins that on scrutiny lack consistency and indeed any logical credible evidence of the asserted origins of the name.

Often, it is asserted that the name Timon and its variant spellings (Tymon, Tyman) are modern anglicised synonyms of the Connaught name Timmons. That the name Timon in Ireland has been anglicised from the Gaelic name Ó Tiomáin is not in question and its different spellings (Timon, Tymon, Tyman) in various Church and Governmental records and publications probably reflect the imprecision and variability of a phonetic translation the Gaelic name ‘Ó Tiomáin’ into English. However, there is little convincing evidence that the name Timon is in any way a derivative of Timmons or Timony; rather Timmons and Timoney may well have been anglicised plural forms of the name ‘Ó Tiomáin’. The Gaelic ‘Ó Tiomáin’ name denotes descendent of Tiomáin.

It is of interest to note that translation into English of the Gaelic word ‘Tiomáin’ has the same meaning in a number of languages. It means to ‘drive’ or ‘steer’. It has similar meaning in the French, Spanish, Italian and Greek languages; possibly in some East European languages also. Indeed the family name Timon is quite common in France and Northern Italy and particularly common in parts of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Southern Germany. It is also worth noting that these countries straddle the route of the Celtic migration across Europe following the Le Téne period (500 – 900 BC) and that Celts reached Northern France (Brittany) and Ireland in the final stages of their migration.

It is also interesting to note that it was a Celtic custom to assign names to families relating to the work they did. Consequently, families assigned the role of ‘steersman’ or ‘driver’ would be called Timon. It is quite plausible, therefore, that the name Timon has a Celtic origin and the meaning of the Gaelic name “Tiomáin” was based on Celtic custom.

The Timon Family Name in Ireland.

Seventeenth and eighteenth century records make reference to the name Timon in mid Ulster (Fermanagh, Cavan), mid Leinster (Wicklow, Kildare and Carlow) and Connaught; the name was not uncommon in Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon. It has been suggested that the Timon family name followed the movement of St. Patrick’s christianising entourage (oxen drawn carriages and carts) across Ireland, passing through Tibohine in Roscommon in 437 AD and ending up in Mayo where it is said he spent much of his time.[i] St. Patrick’s travels across the then open countryside of Ireland would not have been possible without the protection of various chieftain-led clans along the way, one of whom is said to have been the O’ Rourkes of Breffny. It has been further suggested that the family names of the drivers of their oxen drawn carriages were called ‘Tiomáin’, following Celtic tradition, and that some of these families settled at particular points along the route.

The Timon Family in Tibohine.

As to the origins of the Timon Family in Tibohine there is anecdotal and circumstantial evidence that the family has been in the parish since the 5th century; coinciding with the arrival of St. Patrick’s in the area and his setting up a monastery there. In fact, the name Tibohine owes its name to that monastery and its first bishop whose name was Baethin. Baethin was a son of St. Patrick’s sister, Lallocc. The name Tibohine is an anglicised synonym of the Gaelic place name Tígh Baethin[ii]. A quite comprehensive narrative on the history of the parish and St. Patrick’s visit there, as recalled by Edward Timon, with detail that most likely would only be known to direct descendents of the family (Ó ghlúin go glúin tradition) would suggest that the Timon family has been in Tibohine since the 5th. Century[iii]. The reality that the family farmed the lands around the church and the ruin of the old monastery adds further credence to this claim.

Coat of Arms: The Timon Coat of Arms shown above has been issued and commercialised by Historic Families Limited, Clonskeagh, Dublin. Their interpretation of the coat of arms is as follows. “On a black field, traditionally the heraldic colour of Wisdom and Constancy, and between four white plates (representing Communion plates and denoting Christian faith, Charity and Generosity), is a white chevron representing the roof-tree of a house and denoting Protection. Upon the chevron is a pellet, representing a cannon ball, which was often borne by one who had braved a siege of war.” This statement makes interesting albeit comical reading but its validity and authenticity as relating to the Timon family name is very questionable. Firstly, the origin and existence of the Timon family name predates the Anglo Norman practice of developing Family Coat of Arms and there is no evidence that the indigenous Irish people ever embraced this practice as many Anglo Irish families found it prudent to do in post Cromwellan Ireland.


[i] Timon, Patrick, 1986. Extracts from talk on Tibohine given to Lough Gara Historical Society, 1969. The Roscommon Archaeological and Historical Journal, Volume 1, 1986.

[ii] Ní Thiomáin, Úna, 1905. Tigh – Baethin (Tibohine). Dissertation written by the author in part fulfilment of the National Teacher Training programme. Roscommon County Library.

[iii]Ó Tiomáin, Pádraic, 1937. The Tibohine Parish – Story told to the author by Edward Timon, Christmas 1918. Published in the Irish Folklore Collection 1937, University College, Dublin.

Author: Vivian Timon

My name is Dr. Vivian Timon. I am a scientist by training and have worked in AN Foras Taluntais, Ireland, first as a scientist and then as Assistant Director. I spent two years in North Carolina State University as Professor of Genetics. Later I joined The Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and ended my 15-year career there as Senior Advisor, Science & Technology. In the year 2000, on retirement, I took a keen interest in Genealogy and Gaelic studies and went back to University (NUIG) to study the Gaelic language. During the past few years, I have built a Timon Family Tree now embracing over 1400 persons over more than 10 generations and published several articles relating to Genealogy and the History of the Timon Family in Irish and in English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *