Carey Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Carey Meaning
The Carey name has its origins in SW England and in Ireland.  The English Carey has various possible origins:
  • early Careys being Norman, the Carey name could have come from
    the manor of Carrey near Lisieux in Normandy.  The Guernsey Careys
    may have had this origin.
  • the river Cary in Devon and Somerset.  Here the root was the
    Celtic word car, meaning
    “love” or “liking.”  Castle Cary in Somerset, twelve miles east of
    Wells, was held by Adam de Kari.
  • or the Carew name in Cornwall derived from a place name with the caer, meaning “fort,” and rhiw, or “hill,” elements.
    The Carew/Carey family who held the estate of Antony in Cornwall on the
    Devon border had this origin.

The Irish Carey
was an anglicization of different old Gaelic names, depending on
location.  The main origin of Carey was the Gaelic ciardha, from ciar meaning “dark” or
“black.”  This name was the
basis of the O”Ciardha sept that came originally from county

Carey Resources on

Carey Ancestry

The first English Carey on record was an Adam de Kari who held Castle
Cary in Somerset in the 13th century.  Sir John Cary was made
Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1387, but was later banished and had
his lands confiscated.  Later Careys were Tudor courtiers.  William Carey
married Mary Boleyn
and he and his family profited from the
King’s romantic entanglements.

Another Cary line from Somerset
were Bristol drapers in Tudor and early Stuart times (from whom the
term Cary wool is thought to have derived).  Various members of
the family were mayors of the town.

The indigenous Carys or Careys came to be outnumbered by Careys from
Ireland.  The largest Carey numbers are in London, Manchester, and
Glasgow, traditionally places that have attracted Irish immigration.

Channel Islands.  The
Channel islands were a conduit for trade between Normandy and England
and the Carey name appeared there, in Guernsey, at an early time.
A Jean Careye was recorded there as “living in 1393.”  He is
accepted as being the forebear of the Careys of Guernsey.

His descendants became landowners in St. Martins while a junior branch
gravitated to commerce at St. Peter Port.  The Careye name became
Carey in 1756.  William W. Carey’s 1938 book The History of the Careys of Guernsey
traced the family history.

Ireland.  The O”Ciardha
sept of the southern Ui Neills were lords of the Carbury barony of
county Kildare until they were dispersed by the Normans in the late
12th century.  Many of these O”Ciardhas migrated south and there
the clan name
became Carey.

Careys were in Tipperary, Meath, and Cork (where the name might also
have been a corruption of the Anglo-Norman Carew).  By the 1850’s
the largest number were to be found in Tipperary, followed by Cork,
Mayo and Kerry.
Tipperary Careys were mainly Catholic, although there was one
Protestant Carey recorded, the Rev. Robert Carey in Clonmel (he was
from Peter Carey, a 17th century planter from Devon). There
were also Ulster Catholic Careys, mainly in Antrim.

  John Cary, born in Bristol, came
to America with his wife Elizabeth in
1634 and was one of the first settlers of Bridgewater,
Massachusetts.  His descendants are numerous and spread around the
country.  Seth Cary’s book of the patriarch of the family John Cary, The Plymouth Pilgrim was
published in 1911.

Miles Cary, also from Bristol, came out to
Virginia in the late 1640’s and settled in Warwick county.  It was

“Miles Cary went out as a young
merchant with the tradition of a mercantile family and suffered a sea
change into a planter and public officer after he was established in
the new world.  On the other hand, the descendants of his New
England uncle continued to maintain in their new environment the
Bristol seafaring and mercantile tradition.”

Later Carys, most notably Archibald Cary, established themselves at
Amphill in Chesterfield county.  They were one of the richest
families in the Virginia colony.  Meanwhile, John Cary was born in
York county in 1729 and James Cary was in Nansemond county around the
same time.  James’s grandson Elphinston moved onto North Carolina
and then, in 1810, to Georgia.  Fairfax Harrison’s report The Virginia Carys was written in

The Carey name became prominent in Baltimore through James Carey, a
late 18th century Quaker port merchant and member of Baltimiore’s first
city council.  His family remained influential in Baltimore life
and has recently been commemorated in the naming of the John Hopkins
Carey Business School.

By the 19th century, Irish Careys were more numerous
than English Carys/Careys.   One of the first to come,
escaping English perscution in Dublin, was
Mathew Carey in 1784.  A contemporary of
Franklin, he became a successful publisher in Philadelphia.
The 19th century brought greater immigration.   Dennis Carey, for
instance, came from Cork in 1870, married in Boston, and raised a
family of seven there.

Two Carey success stories of the 20th century have been:

  • Carey
    .  This business was started in New York in
    1921 by James Carey, a barber at Grand Central Station who had
    immigrated to New York in the early 1900’s,
  • and Carey’s fuel oil business.  Michael Carey had immigrated
    from Galway at the turn of the century and his son Dennis started a
    oil distribution business in Brooklyn in the 1920’s.  This was
    handed down to five Carey sons in the postwar years.  It was
    the elder Carey son, Edward, who financed the political ambitions of
    his younger brother Hugh.  Hugh became Governor of New York state
    in the late

and New Zealand.  
Among the Carey immigrants there
in the 19th century were:

  • David and Hannah Carey from Sussex in England, who had come to
    New Zealand as early as 1840 and settled in Otago.   Their
    daughter Julia was in fact the first child born to European parents in
  • John Randal Carey from Cork, who came out to Victoria on the Countess of Yarborough in 1853 to
    try his luck in the goldfields.  He ended up as a successful
    businessman and newspaper proprietor in Sydney.
  • David Carey from Tipperary, another who came over to the
    goldfields in the 1850’s.  He lived and died in Ballarat.
  • and Jeremiah Carey from Tipperary, who had enlisted in the
    British army and served in Australia and New Zealand before settling
    with his family in Auckland, New Zealand in the 1850’s.  However,
    he died there in 1859 of “apoplexy and intoxication.”

Robert Graham Carey, usually known as RGC, was born and grew up in the
vicinity of Ballarat.  He was one of Australia’s pioneer
aviators.  In 1917 he undertook the first Australian airmail
flight on his Bleriot 60, from Adelaide to Gawler.


Select Carey Miscellany

Irish Origins of Carey.  Patrick Woulfe in his 1923 book Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall suggested different origins for Carey in different parts of Ireland.  The following was where these Gaelic
names became Carey:

  • O’Ciardha, Kildare,
    Westmeath, Meath, Clare, east Limerick, NE Cork, SW Tipperary, west
  • Mac Fhiachra, parts of
  • O’Corrain, parts of
    Munster (in particular in Tipperary)
  • O’Ciarain, south and
    west Mayo
  • and O’Ciarmihachain,
    west Cork.

William Carey and Mary Boleyn.  William Carey was the second son of Sir Thomas Carey of Chilton Foliat
in Wiltshire.  In 1520
he married Mary Boleyn, daughter of Thomas Boleyn, the Ist Earl of
Wiltshire.  Shortly after their marriage, Mary became the mistress
of King Henry VIII.

The Boleyns received grants of land and Carey himself profited from his
wife’s unfaithfulness, being granted manors and estates by the King
while the affair was in progress.  Perhaps a reason the
athletic Henry favored Carey was the fact that Carey was also fond of
activities such as riding, hunting and jousting.  Carey had
distinguished himself in jousting at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in

William and Mary had two children, Henry (the 1st Baron Hunsdon) and
Catherine Carey.  Their parentage has been questioned by later
historians who suspect that the real father was Henry.

Henry soon turned his affections to Mary’s sister Anne Boleyn.
And William Carey himself died of the sweating sickness in 1528 when he
was only about thirty.  Henry’s secretary wrote the following on
the day after his death:

“Now is word common that M. Cary,
which before I came lay in the chamber where I lie, and with whom at my
first coming I met here in this place, saying that he had been with his
wife at Plashey, and would not be seen within, because he would ride
again and hunt, is dead of the sweat.  Our Lord have mercy on his
soul; and hold his hand over us.” 

Careys in Guernsey.  Due to the large number of Careys on Guernsey, it was
common practice during marriage to incorporate the surname of the
bride’s father as a mark of respect.  This may have taken the form
of a middle Christian name on the birth of the first son or added in
front of the Carey surname.

This has led to the various branches in the family tree
following a common surname or middle name through the
generations.  Hence the names of Dobree, Havilland, Tupper,
Sausmarez, De Vic, Priaulx, Brenton, Onslow, and others.

Carey’s Castle in Tipperary.  Carey’s castle in Clonmel is a picturesque ruin set in
woodland beside the Glenary river.  It was formerly occupied by
monks and up to recent years the ruins of the alms house were still in

Careys in Griffith’s Valuation.  Griffith undertook his valuations in Ireland in the 1850’s.  The
following were the counties with the largest number of Carey households
at that time:

  • Tipperary, 239
  • Cork, 177
  • Limerick, 108
  • Dublin, 94
  • and Mayo, 78.

These figures were taken after the famines of 1847-49.  The Carey
numbers ten years earlier might have been somewhat higher.

Reader Feedback – Careys in Ireland.  The Carey
figures quoted from Griffith’s ‘Valuation’ in the 1850’s are for
households or families, not for individual bearers.  One common enough source of Carey in several
parts of Ireland, notably Mayo as well as Kerry, is Ó
, which is the ‘same name’ as Ó Ciaráin
but probably the more common form.

Patrick FitzGerald Carey (

John Cary of Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  A John Cary monument was erected on his homestead in West Bridgewater,
Massachusetts in 1905.  It read:

“Near this spot was the home of John
Cary, born in Somersetshire, England.  He became in 1651 an
original proprietor, and honored settler on this river.  He was
clerk of the plantation when the town of Bridgewater was incorporated
in 1656.  He was elected Constable, the first and only officer of
that year.  He was town clerk until his death in 1681.
Tradition says he was the first teacher of Latin in Plymouth colony.

This tablet erected by his descendants in memory.”

A descendant Moses Cary wrote the following about John Cary in 1785:

“When he landed it gave him a dreadful
shock, for he was brought up delicately and left a delightful country;
and here he found himself not only in a strange land, but in a
frightful wilderness and destitute of any of the comforts of life. He saw no way to get a living but to go to work, though he was not
brought up to any kind of labor. He was so full of trouble that he shed
tears bountifully, which so moved the captain of the vessel that he
offered to carry him back again, but he said, ‘No, I will never go

Careys to America.  Most Careys to America came from Ireland.

Country Numbers (000’s) Percent
Ireland   2,058 75
England and Scotland     688   25
Elsewhere 6    –

Carey Limousines.  What could be more time-saving and elegant than to have your own private chauffeur drive you to and from the terminal?

So asked one James P. Carey.  That is J.P. Carey, barber, shoe and
apparel vendor, garage and rental car operator, and founder of the
present-day $20 million limousine empire that bears his name.
From his barber shop in Grand Central Station,
Carey came to understand the habits, needs, and wants of the wealthy
who ventured to and from New York City.

His limousine business began in 1921 when he acquired six Packard
touring cars to serve the wealthy travellers at Grand Central.
All three of his sons – John, Edwin and Paul – worked in the business
and JP eventually created a transportation company for each of
them.  But it was the next generation of Careys that expanded
their limousine business beyond New York, in many cases through
licensing the Carey name to local operators.  As a result Carey is
now a leading name worldwide in chauffeured limousine services.


Select Carey Names

  • Jean Careye is recognized as
    the forebear of the Careys on the Channel Island of Guernsey.
  • William Carey was a prominent
    Tudor courtier during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • Henry Carey has been credited as a
    composer of the national anthem God
    Save The King
  • Mathew Carey was an Irish-born
    publisher in Philadelphia in the years after the Revolutionary War.
  • William Carey was an early 19th
    century English Baptist missionary, known as the “father of modern missions.”
  • James P. Carey was the founder
    of Carey Limousines in 1921.
  • George Carey was Archbishop of
    Canterbury from 1991 to 2002.
  • Mariah Carey is an American pop
    singer/songwriter.  Her grandfather changed his name to Carey after he had immigrated to America from Venezuela.

Select Carey Numbers Today

  • 18,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Surrey)
  • 20,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 21,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)


Select Carey and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Munster in SW Ireland covers the counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford.  Here are some of the Munster surnames that you can check out.




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