Norman & Anglo-Norman Surnames

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.

Article updated: March 31, 2017

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33 Comments

  • Patricia Gurrell Conway says:

    Looking for info on Hugh Mahon, Married a Catherine Burns. Immigrated to Albany, New York from Ireland via Canada. He joined the American Civil War in 1862. was mustered out in 1865 at Manasas, Va. He and wife had 5 children and owned a home. Then in1880, family disappears. Later, Jennie Mahon, (my grandmother) and two of the brothers( children of Hugh and Catherine) end up in orphanages. Where in Ireland did Hugh and/or Catherine live?

  • Don Kenefick says:

    I am trying to find out what I can about the possible transferrence of the Kenefick name from Wales to Cork in Ireland. I’m not sure where to start but this was what came up on my search. Where do I start?

  • George O'Kelley says:

    im trying to find out more about my last name its O’Kelley

  • Caz col says:

    There’s Tennysons in Co. Louth

  • Carolyn says:

    i also need help with my Tyrrell/Tyrell branch. they also settled in Lafayette Indiana. my great grandmother Ella M. Tyerell was married to my gr grandfather Charles A. Ince. her father was Edward Tyrrell b. 1821 Kilkenny, Ireland, her mother Catherine Goodman b. 1830 d.1905. Edward’s father was James Tyrrell b. 1815 Kilkenny. Catherine’s parents were Phillip Tyrrell b. Monaghan, Ireland, Phillip’s wife, Anna b. 1800. Catherine had a brother Patrick born 1820, Ireland. they immigrated to Perry, Tippecanoe, Indiana in 1859 and then settled in Lafayette, Tippicanoe, Indiana, USA. i saw a couple of other posts asking about the Tyrrell family. i wonder if we are from the same Tyrrell branch?

  • christopher stockwell says:

    I want to know about any irish stockwell’s.I have red hair in my beard and my uncle is red headed.
     

  • edward fouhy says:

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

  • Xena Derby Ref says:

    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

  • Dunord says:

    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.

  • 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!!!!!

  • Roberta Belas says:

    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?

  • Geoffrey Tobin says:

    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.

  • Justin says:

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

  • Franc Bell says:

    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

  • W. Marmion says:

    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)          

  • Stephen says:

    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. 

  • gloria richards says:

    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?

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

  • Nicholas says:

    The surname; Bryan  ????

  • Frayne says:

    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?

  • Jer Fitzpatrick says:

    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.

    • John says:

      The Normans were well established in France and then in England before landing in Ireland. Could it be possible that Fitzpatrick is indeed of Norman Irish descent but in a time of relative peace came to Ireland earlier than most Normans?

  • Louis Lebaillif says:

    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)

  • Paul Tapley says:

    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.

  • Mary Burns (nee O'Hara) says:

    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.

  • johanna TYRRELL says:

    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?

    • 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 says:

      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

  • L. W. Jester, Jr. says:

    “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.

  • Paul Allen (aka Fitzsimons) says:

    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 says:

      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.

  • Aine says:

    I am seeking the surname ‘Tennyson’ in irish!

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