Carey Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carey Surname 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 or Wales 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 Kildare.

Carey Surname Resources on The Internet

Carey Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England, Channel Islands, and Ireland (Munster)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  Carey has been very much a name of SW England, with a particular presence in Somerset.

Somerset.  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.

Irish.  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.

The Tipperary Careys were mainly Catholic, although there was one Protestant Carey recorded – the Rev. Robert Carey in Clonmel (he was descended from Peter Carey, a 17th century planter from Devon). There were also Ulster Catholic Careys, mainly in Antrim.

America.  Early arrivals were English and mainly went by the Cary spelling.

Cary.  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 said:  “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 1919.

Carey.  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.

Irish.  By the 19th century, Irish Careys were more numerous than English Carys/Careys.   One of the first to come, escaping English persecution 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 limousines
  • and Carey’s fuel oil business.

Carey Limousines 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,

Meanwhile Michael Carey had immigrated from Galway at the turn of the 29th century and his son Dennis started a fuel 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 Carey became Governor of New York state in the late 1970’s.

Canada.  John Carey from Westmeath was an Irish Catholic (who later became an Anglican) who arrived in Toronto via New York in 1820.  He involved himself in newspaper publishing where his campaigns against petty bureaucracy struck a chord with his readers.

Australia.   Among the Carey immigrants there in the 19th century were:

  • 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.
  • and David Carey from Tipperary, another who came over to the goldfields in the 1850’s.  He lived and died in Ballarat.

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.

New Zealand.  David and Hannah Carey from Sussex 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 Otago.

Jeremiah Carey from Tipperary enlisted in the British army and served in Australia and New Zealand before settling with his family in Auckland in the 1850’s.  However, he died there in 1859 of “apoplexy and intoxication.”

Carey Surname 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 Galway
  • Mac Fhiachra, parts of Galway
  • 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 1520.

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 evidence.

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 recorded
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 Céirín, 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 back.'”

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.

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.
  • Hugh Carey was Governor of New York in the late 1970’s.
  • 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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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