Carr Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Carr Surname
The surname Carr
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 Carr in England and Kerr across the
border in Scotland.  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.”

Carr Resources on

Carr Ancestry

Carrs were border reivers, like their namesakes the Kerrs across the
border in Scotland.  Many of them in fact might have been Scottish
Kers or Kerrs who had crossed the border south into Northumberland and

Carrs NorthFord castle
in Northumberland was close to the Scottish border.
It came into the possession of the Carr family from Etal nearby in the
1520’s.  But Thomas Carr was murdered in 1558 by his stepfather,
John Ratcliffe of Alnwick.  Much later, the Hedgeley estate near
Alnwick was
purchased by Ralph Carr in 1786 and he rebuilt the earlier house which
had stood on the site.  His descendants became the Carr-Ellisons.

Carrs, possibly from Northumberland, were living in the Craven region
of north Yorkshire from the late 1400’s. James Carr from Stackhouse was
recorded as purchasing Langcliffe manor in
1591.  These Carrs were involved in the cloth trade in
Huddersfield and were also “merchant adventurers” in Newcastle.

A Carr landowning family from Castle Sowerby in Cumberland in the 18th
century went on to be involved with the woollen trade in the
19th.  Jonathan
, the son of a Quaker grocer in Kendal,
founded Carr’s biscuit factory in Carlisle in
1837.  Carr’s is still an employer of large numbers of people in
Carlisle, although it is now a part of United Biscuits.  Margaret
Forster narrated the story of these Carrs in her 1998 book Rich Desserts and Captain’s Thin.

Carrs South.
Carrs did make it further south.  These two Carr lines appeared in
the west country:

  • William Carr was a wealthy
    Bristol merchant who acquired Woodspring priory in Somerset following
    the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.  His son John Carr
    left funds for a hospital in Bristol in his 1586 will.
  • Robert
    Kerr/Carr – of Scottish lineage but born in Somerset – was a favorite
    of King James I during the early years of his reign in England.
    But the two had a falling out in 1615 and Carr lost his position.
    His wife  Frances subsequently became involved in a scandalous
    murder case and both Carrs spent time in the Tower of London.

Ireland.  The Scots Kerr
was often anglicized to Carr after their migration to
Ulster.  But Carr also has Irish roots. In Ulster and
Connacht Carr
was the anglicized form
of the Gaelic O’Carra,
the descendant of Carra, a
meaning “spear,”  In Donegal the name could also have come from
the Gaelic Mac
Giolla Chathair,
meaning “‘son of the
servant of Cathair.”

Some Carrs were to be found in
Limerick on the west coast, such as a certain sweet Billy Carr who became
renowned in song for his garden.

America.  There were two
important early Carr lines in New England, one in Rhode Island and the
other in Bangor, Maine:

  • William Carr
    came to the Plymouth colony on the Fortune
    in late 1621 and the next year moved on with his fellow passengers to
    what was to become Bristol, Rhode Island.  Carr had Northumbrian
    Ford ancestry.  He lived on in Bristol another fifty years and
    died there in 1672.  William’s nephews Robert and Caleb followed
    him to Rhode Island on the Elizabeth
    and Ann
    in 1635.  Caleb Carr became Governor of Rhode
    Island in
    1695 but died after only six months in office.  Edson Carr’s 1894
    book The Carr Family Records
    traced these Carrs.
  • The Carr name appeared in Newbury, Massachusetts in 1677.
    Carr left the area a hundred or so years later for Bangor, Maine where
    he was a merchant and politician there.  The Carrs remained an
    important mercantile and political family in Bangor well into the 19th

Meanwhile, Thomas Carr came to Louisa county, Virginia around the year
1700.   From his line came Dabney Carr, the great
school-friend of Thomas Jefferson.  Other descendants from Thomas
Carr were to be found later in Kentucky and Missouri.  Later on, Captain Mark Carr from the Ford Castle line in Northumberland was the founder of the town of Brunswick in Georgia.

But Carrs in America were more likely to be Irish or Scots Irish than
English.  Joseph Carr, for instance, was Scots Irish and came to
Wilmington, North Carolina around 1730.  A later Scots Irish
immigrant was Nicholas Carr who came to Uniontown, Pennsylvania in the
1840’s and prospered in the livestock business there.

Canada.   Richard Carr
left his home in Oxfordshire in 1837 as a young man to wander the

“From his dairies we read that he spent
time in Texas, Alabama, and Illinois; he worked as a deck hand on the Columbus sailing from New Orleans
to Cuba; and later left the country for New York.  While there,
according to his diary, he walked from New York to Philadelphia and
back in seven days – a distance of 180 miles.”

He ended up on Vancouver island in 1863 where he and his family
eventually settled down.  His home there – now the Emily
Carr House – was where his daughter Emily, who became famous in Canada
for her paintings and writings of the Pacific Northwest, grew up.  


Select Carr Miscellany

Carr Surname Origins.  Burke’s Peerage has maintained the
original home of the Carrs was the Stavanger area of Norway and is supported
the presence of ‘Kjaer’ and ‘Kjarr’ families in the region.

Kjarr is Old Norse and there are variations of that name in other
Scandinavian languages: 

  • kjarr
    (Old Norse), meaning
  • kjerr (Norwegian), meaning “wet ground, especially where
  • karr (Swedish), meaning “marsh.”
  • kaer (Danish), meaning
  • and
    kerr (Middle English), meaning “bog” or “fen.”

The Carrs of Ford Castle.  The Carrs of Ford Castle in
Northumberland were thought to have originally been Kers from across
the border
in Scotland.  They were in England by the
time of the Battle of Flodden Field near Ford that took place between
English and the Scots in 1513.  In
England the Carrs found themselves ranged against the
longer-established Heron

came into possession of
Ford castle sometime around 1520, but later entered
into a bitter dispute with the Herons
who had moved from Ford to Chipchase castle.
The Herons prevailed and the Carrs were removed from Ford by a
from Berwick.  However,
in 1536 the castle passed to Elizabeth Heron who went onto marry Thomas
Carr, a
daring military commander on the Borders.
The estate then passed back to the Carr family.

In 1557
the Herons again disputed Ford and a
year later Thomas
Carr was murdered by his stepfather, John Ratcliffe of Alnwick.  The estate was then left to Thomas’s three
sisters and soon passed out of Carr hands.
However, the Carrs did hold Etal House nearby until 1762.

William Carr of Blyth.  William Carr of Blyth in Northumberland was in his prime a prodigy of strength.  He was born in 1766 and at the early age of eleven years was apprenticed to his father as a blacksmith.

When he had attained his seventeenth year, he was upwards of six feet three inches in height, weighed 16 stones, and could raise from the ground seven or eight hundredweight with the greatest ease.  At thirty he measured six feet four inches and weighed 24 stones.  We are told that, at this period, he carried an anchor weighing ten hundredweight from the sands to his father’s shop for repairs.

However, by his frequent and violent exertions of this nature, he became quite enfeebled and unable to sustain his immense body.  For some time he was enabled to walk by the aid of sticks.  But nature at length refused this kind of assistance and he finally took to his bed.  Distressed in mind and weakened in body, he died at Blyth in 1825 at the age of sixty.

Jonathan Dodgson Carr and Carr’s Biscuits.  Jonathan Dodgson Carr, the son of a Quaker grocer in Kendal, arrived in Carlisle in 1831
and set
up a shop on Castle Street opposite the cathedral as a baker and dealer
in meal
and flour.  He then expanded into milling,
buying a piece of land near the canal basin in Caldewgate to build his
and Carr’s biscuit works was born in 1837.
He was appointed biscuit-maker to the Queen in 1841.

company grew to include flour milling and
he was heavily involved in the nearby port of Silloth where his
successor Henry
Carr opened a flour mill in 1886.  In
1890 his grandson Theodore, later MP for Carlisle, developed the firm’s
celebrated product – the table water biscuit that was thin, pale and
delicate in
texture and proved to be an ideal complement to cheese.

Carr, Jonathan’s great grandson, was the
last family head of the Cumbrian milling and baking enterprise. He died in 2004 at the age of seventy five.  But his great granddaughter Margaret was
still going strong in 2009 at the age of ninety one.
She opened the Carlisle Arts Festival that
year which included a tribute to the company’s founder.

Carr and Kerr in Ireland.  Both the Carr and Kerr surnames occur in Ireland.  While most Kerrs in Ireland are to be found
in Ulster and are of Scottish descent, the Carrs are more likely to be indigenous Irish.

O’Cairre sept in Ulster is said to have dated
back to Donal O’Cairre, one of the Ulster chiefs killed at the battle
Downpatrick in 1260.  The O’Carr spelling
crops up in many 17th century Ulster records and this probably
became Carr.  Carrs in Connacht could
have come from O’Carr or Kerrane.

Irish Carrs were the Rev. George Carr, a pioneer in the temperance
movement in
Ireland in the early 19th century; and Dr. Thomas Carr, Bishop of
Galway who
became Archbishop of Melbourne later in the century.

Sweet Billy Carr.  Some Carrs ended up in
Limerick on the Irish west coast, including a certain Billy Carr who became
renowned in song for his garden.

“You may travel the nation over,

From Dublin to sweet Mullingar,

And a garden you will not discover

Like the garden of sweet Billy Carr.

‘Tis there that the tall trees were planted

In the days of the old Tommy Parr,

And the soft winding Shannon is flowing

Round the garden of sweet Billy Carr.”

Dabney Carr and Thomas Jefferson.  Dabney Carr, born on a thousand-acre farm in Louisa county, Virginia, was the great grandson
of the Thomas Carr who held extensive land patents in Virginia
in the early 1700’s.  He was at school with
Thomas Jefferson.

The story goes that Jefferson and Carr had
studied under the “great oak” when they were school-mates.
They both loved the location and pledged that
whoever should die first would bury the other under the tree.
Later both Jefferson and Carr were in the
forefront of events that led to the Continental Congress and the
Revolutionary War.  But in May 1773, well
before those momentous events occurred, the youthful Carr died of fever
Charlottesville, Virginia at the age of 27.

But the
pledge of the school-friends was indeed kept.
If you visit Jefferson’s home at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s
tombstone is to be found right inside the gate.  Immediately
to the right of Jefferson’s own
tombstone is that of Dabney Carr.  The
bronze plaque at the site reads (in part) as follows:

graveyard had its beginning in an
agreement between two young men, Thomas Jefferson and Dabney Carr, who
school-mates and friends.  Carr, who
married Jefferson’s sister, died in 1773. His
was the first grave on this site which
Jefferson had laid out as a family burying ground.  Jefferson
was buried here in 1826.”

Reader Feedback – Captain Mark Carr of Brunswick, Georgia.  Have you heard of Captain Mark Carr from Georgia? He came over with Ogelthorpe (they were close friends) and is considered the founder of Brunswick, Georgia, being the first settler there.

He was from the Ford Castle line of Carrs. His grandfather, William Carr, married Jane Heron of the prominent Heron family that built Ford Castle.  This castle changed hands from the Herons to the Carrs several generations earlier through marriage.  William and Jane were given property from Jane’s grandmother and built Eschott Hall which is now a highly rated bed and breakfast in Northumberland.

Elizabeth Murphy (


Carr Names

  • E.H. Carr was a
    left-wing British Marxist historian, best-known for his 14 volume history of the Soviet Union.
  • John Dickson Carr was an American author of detective
  • Emily Carr was a Canadian artist and writer of the Pacific
  • Vikki Carr is the stage name
    an American singer of Mexican ancestry born in Texas, who has enjoyed
    her greatest success singing in Spanish.

Select Carr Numbers Today

  • 50,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Durham)
  • 46,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Carr and Like Surnames

The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays.  Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way.  Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified.  There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster.  These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.




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