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Norman & Anglo-Norman Surnames in Ireland

In 1066 following the Battle of Hasting the Duke of Normandy, a region of north-west France, became King of England. For a time this had little effect in Ireland, but from the mid 12th century on, Norman-French invaders and their retinues began to arrive in Ireland.

It was not long before they began to intermarry with the Irish and there are a huge number of Irish names that date from this time, about 10% of all names found in Ireland today.

Some names are clearly Norman in origin, such as Molyneux, which is found in Kerry, and Devereux, which in Wexford, where it is common, is pronounced Devericks. In other cases the link is not quite as clear, so that the name Tobin, which is Toíbín in Irish, is a mispronunciation of “de St. Aubyn”, which is obviously French.

All names beginning in Fitz – Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, Fitzsimons and so on, are of Norman origin. The Fitz is simply a mispronunciation of the French “fils”, meaning “son of”, and its use implies a family with an aristocratic background. Actor Barry Fitzgerald (left) was of Norman-Irish stock.

In some cases the origin can be less obvious and even quite obscure.

A good example is the name Redmond, which is a phonetic rendering of the Irish Réamonn. Simple? Well, no, because Réamonn is in fact a direct translation into Irish of the French “le Gros”, meaning “the large man”. So what we have is a phonetic rendering in English of an Irish name which is itself a translation from the French.

To confuse the issue further, the name le Gros is also the origin of the surname Grace, a direct phonetic rendering in English.

Some Norman names are simply a statement of the role of the original bearer of the names, so that Butler‘s are descended from Theobald Fitzwalter who was appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by King Henry II in 1177.

Cambro-Norman Names

Many of the Norman armies came via Wales, where they had been settled for some time, and brought Welsh mercenaries with them. As was the way with many invaders of Ireland, a large number of them stayed, intermarried and became, eventually, Irish.

The names of true Cambro-Norman origin are difficult to separate completely from other Norman names, but in some cases the history of the name makes its origin quite clear. Such is the case with the names Dillon, Hussey, Petitt, Taaffe, Tuite and Tyrrell.

Not all of the Welsh people who came to Ireland over the centuries were in the service of the Normans or indeed the English. From as early as the 7th century Ireland, because of its proximity, was a frequent refuge for Welsh people escaping persecution, be it from the Romans, the Saxons or later the Vikings.

An Irish name, now one of the most common, emerged as a result of the arrival of these strangers from Wales.

The Irish word for a person from Wales is Breathnach, and from that comes the common Irish surname Walsh or Welsh. Presumably these people had their own names when they arrived, but these were lost and they became known simply by their nationality.

Regional Distribution of Norman Names

Remarkably, after the passage of centuries, names of Norman origin are still far more common in the areas where Normans were strongest centuries ago.

Thus in areas of the East, North-East and South-East were the Norman held sway they are often very frequent, while in the West and South West, which for the most part remained unconquered by the Normans, they are very rare and found only sporadically.

Kilkenny, which was for centuries a Norman stronghold, is a good example. Names like Aylward, Blanchfield, Butler, Cantwell, Dollard, Forrestal, Shortall and Stapleton are commonplace there today, although they are quite rare outside this region.

Similarly in Co Meath, where there was also a dominant Norman presence for a long time, you will find Barnwall, Dardis and Nangle, again rare elsewhere.

Cork has its Barry, Beamish, Cadogan, Cogan and Lucey families, though these were originally mainly found in the East Cork area, the Normans did not venture much any further west.

 

What Others Say

  1. Aine May 18, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I am seeking the surname ‘Tennyson’ in irish!

    • campbell tennis Jun 28, 2011 at 9:01 am

      My name seems to be an abbreviation. My roots are in S.W. SDonegal

  2. Paul Allen (aka Fitzsimons) Jul 2, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    I read your information with interest. It seems to agree with the most reliable sources I have had access to so far, including MacLysaghts[sic], Surnames of Ireland. The only exception being that other sources usually give Fitzpatrick as the only Fitz name as being of Irish or Gaelic origin?

    • moureen fitzharris Jan 19, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      your comment is correct. the name fitzpatrick (my mothers name hence the interest) is mac ghiolla phadraig in irish and does have an irish origin as oposed to my own norman sirname.

  3. L. W. Jester, Jr. Aug 5, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    “Fitz” was also used to denote an acknowledged bastard, i.e. Henry FitzRoy, the bastard son of Henry VIII of England was publicly acknowledged by the surname FitzRoy.
    Most of the FitzClarences are descended from William IV, prior to his marriage, when he was Duke of Clarence.

  4. johanna TYRRELL Oct 14, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    I have been trying to research the name TYRRELL We are Irish  It is interesting to read there is a Welsh connection as 3 of my husbands sister in laws have family connections to Wales Do we carry a memory map ?unbeknown to us?

    • Carolyn Hamilton Apr 20, 2013 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Johanna,I came across your message on DoChara.com site re the Tyrrell surname.I descend from a Francis Tyrrell,a 3rd Greatgrandfather, who came from Ireland to Ontario,Canada in 1835 and settled along the St.Lawrence River in Dundas Co.I have not been able to trace him back to a family in Ireland.He married after coming her to a German girl call Mary Magdelena Plantz.I was wondering if you would have someone on your Family Tree by this name.My Family history is on Ancestry.ca.Look forward to hearing from you Carolyn

      • Johanna Tyrrell Jan 25, 2014 at 10:25 pm

        No I’m afraid Carolyn that this branch of the Tyrrells were Dublin inhabitants going back generations and didn’t venture far So sorry I cannot help you with yr search  Johanna

  5. Mary Burns (nee O'Hara) Nov 23, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    Having worked with an elderly scholar at Oxford University, I was told Irish names beginning with Fitz meant “bastard of” – royal bastards being given the name Fitzroy. These names having originated from the Anglo-Norman invasion.

  6. Paul Tapley Dec 27, 2010 at 2:10 am

    I find your article very informative.  My gt grandfather was Henry Tapley from Wexford and My gt gt  grandfather was William Tapley.  The furthest I went  back was in the rebellion of  1798 when some Tapleys had a claim  against the government for damage to their farms.  I know that they came over from England about 300 years ago. I researched  the list of  names of people  who came to Ireland as settlers and soldiers with Cromwell, but the name Tapley was not on the list.  I read a lot of books on names,  but I never saw the Tapley name in them.

  7. Louis Lebaillif Jan 11, 2011 at 12:07 am

    hi, everyone, i’ve been looking for my own personal origins and roots of my sur name which is Lebaillif *(arise from an old profession) (i’m French) and i found that it (and I) come from Anglo-Norman descents from the XII century. Then, after a lot of searches on miscelleanous websites on the IE i found that during the Norman invasion of Ireland, Normans people settled in the several parts they conquered on the island and some decades (or centuries) afterward irish kept Normans surnames or translated it into the Irish-Gaelic version of the surname: Bailey, Báille etc.
    *Occupative surnames are those derived from office, profession, trade, or occupation generally. They were originally all common nouns, and usually Norman-French. The definite article “le,” the English “the,” was generally, but not always, prefixed, as: le Archer, le Baillif, le Botiller, le Boucher, le Erchedecne, le Marescall, the Miller. (http://www.libraryireland.com/names/surnames-sean-gaill.php : about the surnames brought into Ireland by the Anglo-Normans )
    So, i’m just wondering myself if i could come from Irish descents.
    Thanks (sorry for my shitty way to express myself into my bad english)

  8. Jer Fitzpatrick Jan 11, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    I must see i totally agree with Mr Allens prev comment, you dont need a question mark at the end, Fitzpatrick does have the uniqueness of being the only non anglo -norman surname with Fitz as a prefix, the name dates back at least a century before the norman landings in 1169.

  9. Frayne Feb 6, 2011 at 5:20 am

    dufresne freney frene frayne  …all from Norman Irish names from Wexford area , had castle on River Slaney but attacked by Cromwell. Why were Some normans  Royalists (eg Vinegar hill) even tho they suffered from their English overlords too?

  10. Nicholas Feb 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

    The surname; Bryan  ????

  11. Richard B. Lowell Dec 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Hi I’am looking for the Norman name of Lowell before 1066 can you Help me .

  12. gloria richards Jan 6, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    I’m looking for an ancestor named Daniel FeaginO’Fandhaigan or Faodhaigan born in 1650 in Dublin, Ireland and died in Cumberland, Virginia in 1730.  Another source on the internet told me that this name is a Gaelicized Norman name.  Since the guy had enough money to buy land and slaves immediately after arriving in Virginia, it seems probable that he was a second or third son of a great house in Ireland seeking his fortune outside Ireland.  Haven’t been able to find a grave around Dublin with any version of this name, although the line continues through the American Revolution, the American Civil War and to this day in the US.  Can anybody help me?

  13. Stephen Mar 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    Genetically, my Axford family has a good deal of verified Scandinavian, Irish and Northern Irish ancestry, and yet I’ve found only a few examples of the surname showing up in Irish genealogical records (e.g. Church of Ireland).  The name is supposedly Norman, by conjecture a place name associated with Axford, Wiltshire.  However, the Axford name is also found in the Scottish Lowlands and Northern England.  My Dad always claimed to be “Scotch-Irish” (Ulster Scot).  I would be interested to know if there may be a cluster of Axford families somewhere in Ireland or Northern Ireland.  My family immigrated from Ontario, Canada to the United States, in the 19th Century.  Thanks. 

  14. W. Marmion Mar 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Thank you for a fine article.
    There are a couple of hundred more Norman-Irish names,
    such as my own – and much work needs to be done in this
    whole area.

    With regards,
    A MARMION (County Louth origins back to the original
    entry with Strongbow 1169-72)          

  15. Franc Bell Apr 23, 2012 at 11:43 am

    This was in answer to question on another forum, some time ago. It was about the origins of the de Burca family.
    William Fitz Adlem de Burgo, a Norman knight whose family held lands at Burgh, Suffolk, from which they took their name. He took part in Henry II’s expedition to Ireland in 1171 and received the earldom of Ulster along with large tracts of land in Connacht.
    His descendants quickly associated themselves with the local population, Gaelicizing their name as de Burca (with a fada on the ‘u’) – ‘de’ implies that the family hold land.
    ‘Burh’ is Old English for fortification or fortified manor.
    There is a family history available from http://www.burkehistory.com

  16. Justin Jun 10, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Does anyone have an idea about the origin of the name Melvin from Siigo. 
    Thanks

  17. Geoffrey Tobin Oct 6, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    As a surname, Bryan may be an abbreviation for a descendant of a man with the given name Bryan or Brian, which is a popular and ancient Celtic given name, as evidenced by Brennus, Chief of the Sennones, who sacked Rome in 387 BC, by Ireland’s Brian Boru, and by the Breton, Count Brian, who (on King William I’s behalf) repelled an invasion (from Ireland) by King Harold’s sons.

  18. Roberta Belas Nov 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Hi I am looking for evidence of the surname Belas in Ireland. The first time the surname appeared was with my great great grandfather in 1833.  Was told that the name was hugenot.  Can anyone help with this?

  19. Emily Fitzpatrick Nov 10, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I’m doing a project on the normans and I just wanted a list of Norman surnames and I didn’t want a big long paragraphs of BORINGNESS!!!!!

  20. Dunord Dec 6, 2012 at 8:00 pm

    As Barry Fitzgerald’s birth name was William Joseph Shields, and Réamonn is in fact an Irish translation of the Germanic “Raimund” or “Raginmund,” meaning “wise protector” (and not of the French “le Gros,” which refers to the sobriquet of the Cambro-Norman knight Raymond [Redmond] Fitzgerald and probably means more ”the fat” than “the large“) I would say the whole topic is confusing.

  21. Xena Derby Ref Mar 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    Warren is derived from Norman garren. The 1st Earl of Warren married the Duke of Normandy’s daughter aka William the conquer. The name continued to Richard Warren part of the Mayflower compact. If anyone has this name your geneology may go back to at least the battle of Hastings. FDR had the Warren line on his mother’s side

  22. edward fouhy Jun 9, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    Can you tell me if the surmane Fouhy is of Norman extract?. thanks

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