Kerr Surname Genealogy

The surname Kerr
derived from the Old Norse word kjarr
meaning “copse” or “wet
ground,” which became kerr,
meaning “marsh” and “marsh dweller,” on the English/Scottish
borders. The spelling was Kerr in Scotland and Carr
across the border in England. Asked how to say his name, Admiral
Mark Kerr told the Literary Digest:

Scotland the name rhymes with care.
Since many of the family have come to England the pronunciation in this
country rhymes with car,
which we have entirely submitted to.”

Kerr is also an
anglicized form of the German Kehr.

Kerr Resources on

Kerr Ancestry

Kerr is mainly a Scottish Borders name.

Scottish Borders.
The Kerr clan there started with two brothers, Ralph and John, who
settled in
Jedburgh around 1330. Ralph’s line became
the Kerrs of Ferniehirst and Marquesses of Lothian; while John’s were
the Kers of Cessford and Dukes of Roxburgh. The Kerrs held Ferniehirst castle
and the Kers Cessford castle.

At different times these lines held the title Warden of the Middle
March, given to them so that they could defend the Scottish border
against the English.

Over the
years these two branches were generally strong supporters of the
and then of the English crown. Sir
Andrew Kerr, known as Dand Kerr,
stood beside King James IV of Scotland against the English at the
battle of
Flodden Field. In 1526 he
in defense of his
infant son when the royal procession was attacked on the way to
castle. But the Kerrs were on the
English side at Culloden in 1746. Their story was narrated in Lord Lothian’s Border
The Name and House of Kerr.

There is a legend that the Kerrs were frequently left-handed
and even
constructed the spiral staircases in their castles so that they could
take advantage over right-handed swordsmen. The term
“corrie-fisted” or left-handed was said to have derived from the
Kerrs. But
there is little in history to support this legend. The word
“corrie” is
likely to have derived from the Gaelic word caerr meaning “left.”

Elsewhere. The
name was also to be found on the isle of Bute on the west coast of
Scotland. Alexander Kerr married Helen
Campbell at Rothesay in 1777 and they had eight children – including
John Kerr,
a member of the Burns Club at Dalry in north Ayrshire.

was a fine fat fodgel wight o’ short
stature. Lively and intelligent and sang
a good song. Afterwards he became a

Other Kerrs in Dalry emigrated
to Illinois in America in 1841. John Kerr became disillusioned,
however, and returned home.

England. The name of
Osbert be Ker was recorded in the charters of Rievaulx abbey in
Yorkshire around the year 1200. However, the English spelling of
the name developed as Carr.

Ireland. Many Kerrs came
to Ulster during the Scottish plantations and Kerr is a common name in
Northern Ireland today, in particular in county Antrim. The Ker
and Karr spellings occur in county Down. In
1840 it was said that one in every twenty acres in county Down belonged
to the Ker family of Portavo. They were
among Ireland’s thirty wealthiest families at that time. These
Kers produced the London financier David Ker who had acquired the
Montalto estate.

Kerr in Ireland is
generally of Scottish origin; while Carr could be of either Irish or
English origin. Some Irish Carrs were said to have changed their
names to Kerr.

America. The first Kerr
arrival in America may well have been Walter Ker who landed in Perth
Amboy, New Jersey in 1686 and went on to found the first Presbyterian
church in America. Other Kerrs began arriving in Pennsylvania in
the early
1700’s. John and James Kerr were
recorded in the 1724 Donegal township records of Lancaster county. These Kerrs later settled in
Augusta county, Virginia.

The Rev. Charles Kerr, the long-time
pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma, came from
these same Scots
Presbyterian roots. William and Margaret
Kerr, tenant
farmers in Oklahoma in the early 1900’s, were devout members of the
Baptist Church. Their son Robert S.
Kerr, born in a log cabin in Chickasaw Nation, grew up to be an oil
entrepreneur and was both Governor and Senator for Oklahoma.

Canada. Gavin Kerr was a
Presbyterian minister from Lockerbie in Dumfriesshire who came to
Canada with his wife and four sons in 1818. They settled in New
Brunswick. His oldest son James became the postmaster of New
Bandon, a younger son Thomas the lighthouse keeper at the Caraquet
lighthouse. However, Thomas was only keeper for three years as he
was drowned in the crossing in 1873.

Robert and Eliza Kerr arrived from Fermanagh in Ireland in the early
1850’s, making their home in Huron county, Ontario. Twenty years
later their sons George, John and Robert were pioneer settlers at
Stoney Creek in Manitoba where they farmed.

Kerr Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Kerr Names

Ralph and John Kerr were the forebears of the Kerr Scottish
border clan.
was a 19th century Scottish physicist and a pioneer in the
field of opto-electics. He is best known for the discovery of
what is now known as the Kerr effect.
Robert S. Kerr was a founder
of the Kerr-McGee Oil Company in 1946 and was both Governor and Senator
for Oklahoma.
Deborah Kerr was the
British film actress who starred in The
King and I
Walter Kerr was a well-known
theater critic for the New York

Select Kerrs Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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