Carr Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Carr Surname Meaning

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:  In 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 Surname Resources on The Internet

Carr Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Scottish border) and Ireland
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  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 Cumberland.

Carrs North.  Ford 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.

John Carr purchased the Dunston Hill estate near Gateshead in Durham in 1704.  These Carrs became the Carr-Ellisons in 1870.  In 1899 Ralph Carr wrote his History of the Family of Carr of Dunston Hill.   

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 Carr, 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 byname 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.

New England.  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.  Francis 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 century.

Elsewhere.  Thomas Carr came to Louisa county, Virginia around the year 1700.   From his line in Albemarle county 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.

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.

African American Carrs. Hugh Carr got his surname in Albemarle county, Virginia after emancipation from slavery in 1865.  He bought land and established his family in the Ivy Creek area near Charlottesville where they have remained.

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

“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.  

Australia.  George and Mary Carr came to Australia on the Persia in 1856.  Scots Irish from Ulster, their name probably being originally Kerr, they were early settlers in the small rural community of Long Pocket in Queensland.  Carrs are still there today.

Carr Surname 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 “brushwood.”
  • kjerr (Norwegian), meaning “wet ground, especially where brushwood grows.”
  • karr (Swedish), meaning “marsh.”
  • kaer (Danish), meaning “meadow,”
  • 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 the English and the Scots in 1513.  In England the Carrs found themselves ranged against the longer-established Heron family.

They 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 sheriff 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 factory, and Carr’s biscuit works was born in 1837. He was appointed biscuit-maker to the Queen in 1841.

His 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 most celebrated product – the table water biscuit that was thin, pale and delicate in texture and proved to be an ideal complement to cheese.

Ian 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.

Reader Feedback – Cornelius Carr from Cornwall?  I’m looking for any information on a Cornelius Carr who was born between 1760 and 1770 in England.  My great uncle started our family tree and said he was born in Cornwall but I can’t seem to find anything on him.

Linda Tatman (

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.

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

Notable 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 in 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:

“This graveyard had its beginning in an agreement between two young men, Thomas Jefferson and Dabney Carr, who were 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 stories.
  • Emily Carr was a Canadian artist and writer of the Pacific Northwest.
  • Vikki Carr is the stage name of an American singer of Mexican ancestry born in Texas, who has enjoyed her greatest success singing in Spanish.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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