This Irish Genealogy site offers the Irish descendant (from New York, Canada, UK, Australia...) the chance to trace their Irish family tree and search for their surname origins and the records of their Irish ancestor's birth, marriage or death.
Anglo-Norman surnames fall into diverse categories, reflecting the multi-ethnic
origins of the colonial population as referred to in Part I of this series.
Four basic categories of surname exist: patronyms, formed by the Christian
name of an ancestor; toponyms, taken from a placename associated with an
ancestor; surnames consisting of the nickname of an ancestor; and surnames
denoting the ethnic origin of an ancestor.
Surnames from Ethnic Origin
We will begin with the last, the smallest category. Walsh/Welsh/Welch
is the commonest modern Irish surname of Anglo-Norman origin, the fourth
or fifth commonest surname in Ireland today. The South Welsh colony was
the nearest part of the Angevin Kingdom to Ireland, and accordingly a disproportionately
large element of the Irish settler population had geographic Welsh origins.
Along with the Welsh based Normans and Flemings came many ethnic (Celtic)
Welsh, usually, though not by any means exclusively, among the lower orders
of the immigrants. Most of these men were known in French, the language
of law and property, simply as ´┐Żthe Welshman´┐Ż, le Walys. This has become
Wallace in Scotland but Walsh et al in Ireland. In every part of Ireland
settled by the newcomers we find people called le Walys, and the Walshs
of today must descend from dozens, if not hundreds, of individual Welshmen.
In County Cork alone a cursory glance at records of the fourteenth century
indicate the existence of at least twenty distinct families of le Walys.
A similar multi-ancestral situation must explain the common occurance
of the name Fleming, denoting an ethnic Dutch speaker, originally from Flanders
in what is today Belgium. Many Flemings had settled in South Wales in the
late eleventh century, their descendants later coming to Ireland. Also in
this category can be placed the Tipperary and Dublin name English, the Louth
and Connacht name French (earlier ´┐Żle Franceys´┐Ż) and the widespread, if
not particularly common name Brett/Britt, indicating one of Breton origin.
The most interesting of these names is surely the Cork/Waterford name Lumbard/Lombard,
denoting one of Italian ancestry (the name derives from the northern Italian
province of Lombardy). The first member of this family to appear was one
Cambino Donati del Papa, an Italian banker and royal tax official who settled
in Cork City in the late thirteenth century, and from whose brother(s) descend
the later Lumbards.
Toponyms form a most interesting category, tracing the route of a population
movement from France to Ireland spanning two centuries. The syntax of such
surnames originally took the form de followed by the placename. Naturally,
most toponyms of French origin originate from Normandy. In the following
sample list the Irish surname is followed by its principal Irish county
of association, after which is given the modern form of the placename of
De Courcy (Cork) Courci Nugent (Meath/Cork) Nogent Cantillon (Kerry)
Canteloup Tobin (Tipperary) St Aubyn Devereux (Wexford) Evreux Morris/Marsh
(Tipperary) Mareis Mansfield (Waterford) Manneville Verdon (Louth) Verdun
Darcy (Meath) Arcy Prendivill (Kerry) Frenneville Barnewell (Meath/Dublin)
Berneval Not all of the French invaders had Norman origins, as evidenced
by such toponyms as Rocheford/Riceford ´┐Ż Rochfort (Charente Maritime), and
Cusack ´┐Ż Cussac (Aquitaine).
Many English toponyms are found in Ireland, although the ancestors in
question are more likely to have been Normans, Flemings or Bretons than
Anglo-Saxons, the toponyms representing the newly won English estates of
the conquerers. Examples are:
We even have Anglo-Norman toponyms of Irish origin, such as the Cork
surnames Mead and Galway whose origins are obvious, the Meath name Dease,
taken from the barony of Deece in the same County, and Drumgoole, from a
place in County Louth.
Patronyms similarly cross ethnic boundaries. French examples include
the Cork name Garrett and the Kildare/Tipperary/Galway name Hacket (Haket).
The rare Cork surname Hankard appears to derive from the Flemish Christian
name Tancard. The Wexford surname Lambert is similarly derived from a Flemish
Christian name as is the Waterford Wyse (Wyzo). Many patronyms were formed
from Anglo-Saxon (pre-Norman English) Christian names.
The Leinster patronyms Wogan (Gwgan) and Howlin (Hwlyn) are of Celtic
Welsh origin. Of particular interest are that small group of patronyms preceeded
by ´┐ŻFitz´┐Ż, from the French fils, ´┐Żson of´┐Ż. In this category are the names
FitzGerald, FitzMaurice, FitzGibbon, FitzSimmons and FitzHarris. The Kerry
surname MacElligott was originally FitzElias. Confusingly however, the Laois/Kilkenny
surname FitzPatrick is not of Anglo-Norman origin but was the form adopted
by the native Mac Giolla Ph´┐Żdraig family, anciently kings of Ossory, due
to pressures of anglicisation.
Of rather more interest are those surnames derived from nicknames, many
of which are of French origin. A sense of humour bordering on the cruel
was clearly part of life at this time. From a French background come:
Pollard (Limerick) skinhead Luttrell (Dublin) otter Mortell (Cork) hammer
Purcell (Limerick/Tipperary) piglet Ferriter (Kerry) butcher Bossher/Busher
(Waterford) butcher Savage (Down) fat Grace (Carlow/Kilkenny) fat Dollard
(Leinster) dullard, idiot Codd (Wexford) scrotum/testicles Cott (Cork) scrotum/testicles
Magner/Magnier (Cork) mangonel* (*magonel: a type of military catapult for
firing large stones.)
Then we have names of English background, such as the Kildare Shortall
(short neck), and the Limerick Woulfe. Many nicknames originate in descriptive
terms relating to hair colouring. The Munster/Leinster name Sherlocke, of
English origin, is derived from ´┐Żbright locks´┐Ż while the widespread Browne
may be either English or French; the equally widespread Russell (red haired)
is decidedly French while the Galway name Blake (black haired) is English.
The meaning of many of these surnames occur in both English and French forms
in the early records. Well over a dozen families styled le Blond occur in
thirteenth-fourteenth century records from Munster, Leinster and Ulster;
by the later fourteenth century we find these families using the direct
English translation White. The Tipperary/Cork surname Keating derives from
the Welsh term cethyn: ´┐Żswarthy´┐Ż, ´┐Żdark featured´┐Ż.
Many of Ireland´┐Żs surviving Anglo-Norman surnames are of relatively uncommon
occurance today while at the other end of the spectrum we have the numerous
descendants of the great lineages, with names of intermediate occurance
in between. As late as the mid-nineteenth century bearers of these surnames
were mostly still found in the same counties their ancestors had inhabited.
Two examples of uncommon names may be of interest. Boyton is a place in
Suffolk, and a family called Boyton first occur in association with the
Tipperary town of Cashel as early as 1235. This family were prominent Cashel
merchants for centuries after and gave their name to the nearby parish of
Boytonrath. Several Catholic Boytons lost their lands around Cashel in the
1650s, and some families of the name can still be found in the hinterland
of Cashel. The Norman de la Montaigne (´┐Żof the mountain´┐Ż) family held lands
near Castlemartyr in County Cork from the thirteenth century onwards. The
form ´┐ŻMayntayn´┐Ż occurs in the 1580s in the same area, although by then the
family were no longer freeholders, while today a small number of Mountain
families can still be found in the area.
Lineage is the term given by some historians to once powerful Anglo-Norman
families whose numbers multiplied greatly in the centuries following upon
the invasion, and whose descendants remain numerous today. The principal
lineages bore the surnames FitzGerald, Butler, Burke/Bourke, Barry, Roche,
Bermingham, and Power, while other surnames which might be described as
lineages include Joyce, Keating, Barrett/Barratt, and Costello. The lineages
descend from great lords who, from the earliest, appear to have kept concubines,
often of native blood, and so had many children, legitimate or otherwise,
to settle upon their broad acres. Many generations of such breeding habits
saw the formation of dozens of gentry families of the same blood settled
on the lands of the senior line of the family. One example, the FitzGeralds,
is illustrative. Maurice Fitz Gerald was one of the original invaders of
Ireland in 1169. He was a native of the colony of Pembroke in Wales and
was the son of Gerald fitz Walter, constable of Pembroke from about 1097
onwards, whose castle was at Carew. This Gerald was the son of a Norman
who had come over in 1066 with King William. From Maurice´┐Żs brother William
descend the Carew family while from his other brother David, bishop of St
Davids in Wales, come the FitzGeralds, barons of Brownsford in County Kilkenny.
Maurice himself had six sons, all of whom obtained lands in Ireland. Four
of these left descendants: Thomas, ancestor of the Geraldines of Desmond,
Gerald, ancestor of the Kildare Geraldines, Maurice, ancestor of the Geraldine
barons of Burnchurch in County Kilkenny, some of whose descendants style
themselves Barron, and Robert who settled on lands in County Kerry and whose
great-grandson Maurice is the ancestor of the Kerry FitzMaurices. One of
the early FitzMaurices was Piers, ancestor of the Kerry Pierses.
The later Geraldine Earls of Desmond and Kildare, among the most powerful
of Ireland´┐Żs medieval magnates, were virtually lords of independent mini-kingdoms,
generously populated with various descendants, legitimate and otherwise.
The Desmonds were particularly prolific. As early as the mid-thirteenth
century John fitz Thomas is recorded as siring four illegitimate sons, each
allegedly by the wife of a different native chieftain, three of whom were
prolific themselves. From Gilbert descended the later FitzGibbons of Cork
and Limerick, John was ancestor to the Knights of Glin, County Limerick,
while Maurice was ancestor to the later and numerous Kerry Geraldine family
whose chief is known as the Knight of Kerry. Other later offshoots of the
main-line included several FitzGerald families whose lands were located
in Counties Waterford, Cork and Limerick while from the Knights of Kerry
descended a nest of FitzGerald gentry families whose lands were located
in south-east County Cork between Youghal and Midleton. By around the year
1600 in the Counties of Kerry, Limerick, Cork and Waterford we find approximately
150 FitzGerald and FitzGibbon landowning families claiming descent from
Thomas son of the first Maurice FitzGerald. These in turn must be the ancestors
to the many such families found in these counties today.
In the course of time the original French and English spoken by the colonists
was replaced by Gaelic, only to be replaced again by English in more recent
centuries. The relevance of this to surname studies will be obvious. The
Cork and Limerick Norman surname de la Chapelle became Suip´┐Żal in Gaelic,
only to be retranslated into English in the late sixteenth century as Supple,
its modern form. The surname Nugent is that of an important and once powerful
Meath family of Norman origin. The Cork and Waterford Nugents however, were
originally called de Wynchedon, a form that re-emerged in the sixteenth
century from its Gaelic intermediate as Nugent. Another feature of Gaelicisation
was that of colonial families adopting native style patronyms. Thus the
descendants of the thirteenth century Connacht settler Jocelyn de Angulo
(the later Nangle) became the Mac Jocelyns, Gaelicised as MacGoisdhealbh,
eventually coming back into English as McCostello, from which the Mac is
often dropped today. Similarly, many of the Kilkenny descendants of the
Cornishman Odo le Archdeacon, who lived in the early 1200s, adopted the
form Mac Oda, the later Cody. Not all such patronyms successfully replaced
the original form: the Cork de Courcys later dropped their patronym MacPatrick
(from the first of the line, Patrick de Courcy).
In the next article in this series we will take a brief look at the histories
of the most numerous of the Irish Anglo-Norman surnames.
About the Author Dr. Paul MacCotter obtained his MA in history by
independent research at UCC in 1994. After this he continued his studies into
general and specialist genealogy and medieval history. During this time he
continued to study, research and publish in the areas of medieval history,
Anglo-Norman history, church history, genealogy, and Irish surname studies.
MacCotter currently has nearly fifty papers published and four books. He was
awarded his PhD in UCC in 2006. His book, Medieval Ireland: territorial,
political and economic divisions has come to be regarded as a major
reference work and MacCotter as a leading authority on this aspect of medieval
Irish history. He worked as Historical Consultant for the Heritage Council
funded INSTAR project, Making Christian Landscapes, and obtained a prestigious
Government of Ireland fellowship, in 2010. Dr. MacCotter currently continues
his academic research, and is an assistant lecturer in the Schools of History
and Adult Continuing Education, UCC, and runs his own genealogical and
historical consultancy (www.paulmaccotter.com)