Tommy Atkins or simply Tommy is a generic name for, and has become synonymous with, that of a common soldier in the British Army, particularly during the First World War. From the 1925 edition of Soldier and Sailor Word and Phrases by Edward Fraser and John Gibbons, Tommy Atkins is:
- “The popular generic name for the British private soldier. In its origin the name dates from August 1815 (Waterloo year), when the War Office issued the first "Solider's Account Book," which every solider was provided with. The specimen form sent out with the book to show how details should be filled in, bore at the place where a man's signature was required the hypothetical name "Thomas Atkins" (or, alternatively, for illiterate men "Thomas Atkins X his mark"). "Thomas Atkins" continued to appear in later editions of the Soldier's Account Book until comparatively recent times. It has now disappeared. A more or less current Service slang name from about 1830, the general popularity of the name "Tommy" for a soldier dates from about fifty years ago Mr. Kipling's verses finally familiarized it all over the English-speaking world.” 
References / notes
- At the time the book was compiled this would suggest the name had become popular by 1875.
- Edward Fraser and John Gibbons (1925). Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases. Routledge, London p.287.
Glossary of terms and customs
This page forms part of our glossary of words and phrases of the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom of Great Britain during the Great War, which also includes: technicalities, trench slang, expressions in everyday use, nicknames, sobriquets, the titles and origins of British and Commonwealth Regiments, and warfare in general. Please feel free to help expand and improve this content.
Browse other terms: Contents – A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z