Bird/Byrd Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Bird and Byrd Surname Meaning

The Bird surname derived from the Old English bridde, meaning “bird,” and was originally in England a nickname for someone who was thought to have bird-like qualities (in their gait or because of their singing voice).  Occasionally Bird or a variant may have been an occupational name for a bird catcher.

Hugo le Bird – the name coming from the French l’oiseau and deriving perhaps from his skill at falconry – was said to have arrived with William the Conqueror in 1066.  Early appearances of the surname in England were Ralph le Brid in Essex in 1231 and Richard Bird in Cambridgeshire in 1260.

Spellings are Bird and Byrd.  The Bird spelling is most common in England, Byrd in America.

Bird and Byrd Surname Resources on The Internet

Bird and Byrd Surname Ancestry

  • from England
  • to America, Canada and Caribs (Antigua)

England.  Although the Bird form was first found in the Northumbrian dialect of English, early Bird families came from Cheshire (Braxton) and Staffordshire (Metley).  The name spread to Lancashire, the Midlands, London and East Anglia.

Alfred Bird of Bird’s custard fame was born in Gloucestershire, but started his business in Birmingham in the 1840’s.  Birds is also a bakery company begun in Derby in 1919 by three Bird brothers – Frank, Thomas and Reginald – after their return from World War One.  It is now run by the third generation of Birds.

Byrd as a spelling may have started in the 15th century.  William Byrd, born in London, was Queen Elizabeth’s favorite musician and composer.  Another William Byrd, the forebear of the Byrds in Virginia, was the son of a London goldsmith.

A Byrd family was one of the big landowners at Badsey of the Vale of Evesham in Worcestershire in the 18th century.  The Byrd spelling persisted in the west country, although the Byrd numbers here were quite small by the time of the 1891 census.

Ireland.  Bird appeared as a surname in Ireland as an anglicization of the Irish McEneaney, although this was apparently a mistranslation.

Some Birds in Ireland, however, were of English extraction – like Samuel Bird who went to Ireland with William’s army in 1690 and then settled in Donegal.

America.  The spelling in America has been mainly Byrd, in part because of the influence of one Virginia family.

Byrds.  William Byrd came to Virginia from London in the 1670’s and was granted land on the James river, the site of the town of Richmond that was founded by his son, William II.  These Byrds were one of the “First Families of Virginia.”  This family survived the dissipation and eventual suicide of the grandson, William Byrd III, in 1777. 

Byrd Park in Richmond was named after William Byrd II.  Later Byrds of the family included the aviator and explorer Richard Evelyn Byrd, as well as Virginia Governor and US Senator Harry F. Byrd and US Senator Harry F. Byrd Jr.  These two Byrds were to dominate Virginia political life for much of the 20th century.

Birds and Byrds.  A number of immigrants came to Virginia as Birds.  John Bird, for instance, was born there in 1742 and fought in the Revolutionary War.  His descendants later moved as Birds to the Carolinas and then to Georgia.

But others who made the same journey were or became Byrds.  This was also the case with Abraham and Jesse Byrd who migrated west to Tennessee in the 1790’s.  James Byrd moved his family from Tennessee to Missouri and the family ended up after the Civil War in Brown county, Texas.  These Byrds were augmented by some native Indians who adopted the Byrd name.

Caribbean. Vere Bird was born in a poor area of Antigua in the British West Indies but rose to became its first independent Prime Minister of Antigua in 1981.  His son Lester succeeded him in 1884.

Canada.  Samuel Birdleft Donegal with his family in 1825 for New Brunswick in Canada.   They homesteaded at Birdton (the Bird settlement) in Douglas parish.  The family history was recorded in Austin Squires’ 1971 book The Bird Family in Central New Brunswick.  

Henry Bird was a later arrival in 1867, from Gloucestershire.  His parents ran a woollen mill in Stroud and he brought that expertise with him.  He started his mill in Bracebridge, Ontario in 1876. 

Bird and Byrd Surname Miscellany

Bird and Byrd.  The name was originally Bird with an “i” and would continue to be spelt on that basis until the beginning of the 16th century.  Then it could be either Bird or Byrd.

There were in fact several examples of this occurring in the same family, with two siblings selecting an alternate spelling.  Thus we have John le Byrd, born in 1620, and his two brothers Thomas Bird, born in 1621, and William Bird, born in 1621.  Their father Thomas Bird, born in 1600, had married his first cousin Elizabeth who was sometimes Bird and sometimes Byrd.

The Bird spelling is most common in England, Byrd in America.  The following are the approximate numbers today.


Numbers (000’s)   Bird   Byrd
UK    35     1
America    11    24

The Byrds of London and Virginia.  It was William Byrd I, the first of the Byrd family in America, who came to America in 1674 as heir to his uncle Captain Thomas Stegge.  The inherited land included the present site of Richmond and some of the best land in Virginia.

His father John Byrd was a London goldsmith who had married Grace Stegge and they were to have six children, including William.  London forebears of John Byrd were Thomas Byrd a vintner, who was born in 1599, and Thomas LeBird, who was born in 1574.  The Byrds were said to have had ancestral roots in Braxton, Cheshire.

Alfred Bird and His Custard and Baking Powder.  Alfred Bird developed Bird’s custard and baking powder because his wife Elizabeth suffered badly from digestive disorders.  Eggs gave her heartburn and anything containing yeast, like bread, brought on dyspepsia. Fortunately for her, Alfred was an experimental chemist, the kind of man who saw opportunity where others saw only problems.

To begin with he sought to solve the bread problem.  He knew he had to perfect a yeast substitute.  After six years of experimenting he developed a baking powder called Bird’s Fermenting Powder.  It produced bread, cakes and buns of a much lighter texture than those that had used live yeast.  Mrs. Bird tried the bread and found it had no aftereffects whatsoever.

Alfred’s next task was to eliminate eggs from custard. Traditionally, custard consists of beaten eggs, milk and sugar, which is either baked or boiled in a saucepan.  He based his new recipe on cornflour, and, like his baking powder, it produced a dish every bit as palatable as the original.  It was easier to make, cheaper than the conventional and, most importantly, didn’t give Mrs. Bird heartburn.

Alfred Bird manufactured and sold both products from his chemist’s shop beneath the old Market Hall in Bell Street, Birmingham.  At first the public were unsure about the new baking powder and sales were slow.  To publicize his new products, Alfred had calendars printed which he gave away, making him one of the first businessmen to exploit the selling power of calendars.

The Byrds and the Badsey Estate.  Thomas Byrd had been one of the big landowners at Badsey and Aldrington in the Vale of Evesham in the late 18th century.  However, the family subsequently fell on hard times and left the area for Birmingham where Henry Byrd found work as a clerk in a brewery.  The family moved into a terraced house in Aston in 1885.

Henry Byrd had inherited some properties from his father in Badsey and had always wanted to return there. He did so in 1903.  His house there, Pool House, was rented out.  So Henry rented The Firs on the other side of the church to Pool House.

Henry died in 1908 and Percy, his eldest son, inherited the land.  But Percy got into debt, taking out a number of mortgages.  The debt proved to be too much and eventually, in 1912, the lands had to be sold (although one part of the estate, Rye Furlong, has stayed with descendants of the Byrd family).

Percy himself died at sea in 1922, having contracted double pneumonia whilst on a cruise in the Canary Islands.

Birds in the South.  John Bird, born in Virginia in 1742, was a Patriot in the Revolutionary War and had later moved south to South Carolina.  The collapse of the cotton market there in the 1820’s prompted the family removal to Cherokee county, Georgia.  Daniel Bird was one of the first settlers there.  His sons fought on the Confederate side during the Civil War.

Alexander Bird, too young to fight, became a physician and moved to Alabama.  Sometime during the 1880’s he changed the spelling of the family name from Bird to Byrd.

Birds in Nova Scotia.  Samuel Bird, his wife Letitia, and five children left Londonderry for New Brunswick in Canada in 1825.  It was said that they went first to the Miramichi, but then received grants at what became known as Birdton (the Bird settlement) in the parish of Douglas.

According to his granddaughter Ellen, Samuel and his brother left their families in the settlements by the river that first winter.  They would walk back to their grants, work all week clearing the land, and return to their families for the Sabbath.  She said that for food they would take a mess of frozen boiled potatoes one week and frozen boiled turnips the next until they decided that they were more palatable mixed together.  But this diet could be supplemented easily with game in the early 1800’s.

Samuel Bird was killed by a falling tree at the age of 72 years, probably in the 1850’s.

Bird and Byrd Names

  • Alfred Bird was the inventor of custard and the founder of Bird’s Custard Company in 1840.
  • Harry F.  Byrd, Governor and Senator, was a leading figure in Virginia political life in the first half of the 20th century.
  • Charlie Byrd was an American jazz guitarist.  His best-known work was a 1962 collaboration with Stan Getz entitled Jazz Samba.
  • The Byrds, sometimes Bob Dylan’s backup band, were one of the most influential American bands of the 1960’s.
  • Vere Bird was the first independent Prime Minister of Antigua in 1981.
  • Larry Bird was one of the great American basketball players of the 1980’s with the Boston Celtics.
  • Dickie Bird was a popular cricket umpire in England.

Bird and Byrd Numbers Today

  • 36,000 in the UK (most numerous in Wiltshire)
  • 42,000 in America (most numerous in North Carolina)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Bird and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *