Day Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Day Surname Meaning

The surname Day has uncertain and possibly various origins which may apply in different places. There are two main possibilities:

  • Day can be an abbreviation of David, as in the Welsh Dai (and thus Day may have Welsh origins). The Irish pet form of David was Daidh. This became the sept name O’Deaghaidh and later, anglicized, sometimes Day.  
  • or Day may derive from the Old English names Daei,  Daeghbert or Daegmund from the Old English daeg meaning “day.”

A third explanation, suggested by the surname scholar Reaney, that Day comes from the Old Norse deigia meaning “female servant” seems less likely.

Day Surname Resources on The Internet

Day Surname Ancestry

EnglandWelsh origins may explain the name Morgan Daye or Day. He was born around 1370 in the village of Wrockwardine in Shropshire and was the forebear of the Days found in that county. Later Days of this family included:

  • the brothers George and William Day who became Bishops of Chichester and Winchester in 1543 and 1595 respectively. The elder George had the harder life as he was a Catholic sympathizer and was deprived of his bishopric in 1551.  
  • and Francis Day, thought to be William’s grandson, who went out to India in 1632 and was an early factor for the East India company in Madras.

East Anglia. Day was also a name to be found in East Anglia.  Perhaps the earliest record was John Day, a Provost at Cambridge University in 1467.

In Norfolk, the son of Walter Day, a farmer at Crawston near Norwich, was the Jacobean playwright John Day, born there in 1574. Later Days of this village were brewers and publicans at the White Horse until their sale in 1794 after the death of John Day.

In Suffolk, the Elizabethan printer John Day was thought to have come from Dunwich. A line of Days at Little Waldingfield began with the birth of Timothy Day there in 1752. Henry Thomas Day, the rector at Mendelsham, was related to the Day horseracing family of Stockbridge in Hampshire.

Since the 19th century the Day population in England has been more concentrated around London and SE England.

Ireland. Days in Ireland may be of English or Irish origin.

An early English family from Essex came to Tralee in county Kerry in 1622.  Judge Robert Day built Day Place, a fine row of Georgian houses in Tralee, around the year 1800.  Other Days were Anglican clergymen, from the Rev. John Day, rector of Tralee in the 1750’s, to the Rev. John Godfrey Day of Valentia Island, Kerry in the mid 1800’s. Edward Day of this family joined the British army and settled in Australia in 1835 where he became a police magistrate.

The Irish O’Deaghaidh clan, based originally in county Clare, became with the English sometimes O’Dee, sometimes O’Day, and sometimes Day outside Clare.


America. Early Days in America came via New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. However, the main entry point appears to have been New England.

New England.  Robert Day arrived in Massachusetts in 1634 and was one of the original proprietors of Hartford, Connecticut. Descendants have included:

  • Benjamin Day from Hebron, Connecticut, whose 1810 Bible has been handed down through generations.
  • Jeremiah Day from New Preston, Connecticut, who was President of Yale College between 1817 and 1846.
  • and the Days from Springfield, Massachusetts, whose numbers included Benjamin Day, the founder of the penny-press New York Sun. His son Benjamin devised the Ben-Day colored dot printing process which became the hallmark of the American artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Another early Day in New England was Anthony Day who came to Gloucester, Massachusetts in the 1640’s and lived onto 1707, dying there at the grand old age of ninety one. His descendants settled in Connecticut. Deacon Noah Day moved onto Granville in upstate New York in 1792 and his descendants, who based themselves in Ohio, became a prominent legal family – starting with Luther and continuing with son William Rufus and grandson William Louis Day.

A third New England line began with Mordecai Day who was born in Mendon, Massachusetts in 1730. His grandson Daniel established one of the oldest woollen mills in America in 1809. Daniel and his family were close to the Taft family who also had their roots in Mendon and would later produce an American President.

Elsewhere.  Judge Joseph Day, a wealthy plantation owner in Macon, Georgia, was the descendant of 17th century Day immigrants into Pennsylvania. His position suffered during the Civil War and he died soon after.

Ireland provided over time about 30% of the Days and O’Days in America.  An early example was John Day, thought to have been Scots Irish, who was born in Virginia around 1770 and made his living as an early hunter and fur trapper in the American West before settlers had begun to arrive there.  

“In 1811 he was reported as being robbed and stripped naked by Indians on the banks of the Columbia river. A year later, after his companions had returned East, he was said to have gone mad there.”


His name lives on in Oregon in the John Day river and the towns of John Day and Dayville.

Daniel O’Day from Clare was an early settler in Clark county, Missouri in the 1850’s. Another Daniel O’Day was one of Pennsylvania’s independent oil refiners in the 1880’s. But perhaps the best known O’Day in America was the 1930’s jazz singer Anita O’Day.  Her real name though was Anita Colton. She said she changed her name to O’Day because it was pig Latin for dough, i.e. money.

Canada. George Day, a naval surgeon, had acquired land in Falmouth township in Nova Scotia in 1760. His son John traded between Halifax and Boston for the British army, but was lost at sea while enroute to Boston in 1775. His grandson John served in the Nova Scotia provincial assembly.

Edgerton Day, born in 1863, was the son of Scottish immigrants who had settled in Inverary, Ontario where they ran a hotel. He headed west as a young man and was an early settler in what became the province of Alberta. In 1904 he completed plans for a town on the railroad, now called Daysland, in present-day Flagstaff county.

Australia. John Day was tried and convicted in Staffordshire and transported to Australia on the Baring in 1815. He later became a farmer in the Hawkesbury river area of NSW. His sons George and James prospered in the Victoria gold boom. George moved to Albury where he became its mayor and involved himself in local politics.

James Day came out to Western Australia on the Eliza as a young man and free settler in 1831, marrying two years later in Fremantle. He died there in 1858.

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Day Surname Miscellany

Possible Welsh Origins of the Day Surname.  Robert Day was one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut in 1648 and the tradition in his family was that his Day family had originally been the Dee family from Wales.  The line went back to Nicholas Day, the son of John Dee who was called by the English Daye.  John Dee was the son of the Welshman Morgan Dee.

Dee signifying, it was said, dark or dingy was the name of a small river in Wales, and was probably also applied to some ancestor of the family dwelling upon its banks in order to distinguish him from others.  In time, the word Dee came to be written, according to its apparent sound, Daye or Day.

The Dee spelling did persist.  John Dee, born in London of Welsh parents, was an alchemist who advised Queen Elizabeth at times. He tried to straddle the worlds of both science and magic. During his lifetime he did earn high status as a scholar.

The Horseracing Days.  The first of these Days was probably John Day of Houghton Down Farm near Stockbridge in Hampshire.  He somehow became the racing adviser to the Prince Regent, afterwards George IV, in the 1790’s.  Perhaps it was because he had the reputation of being able to drink two more bottles of wine than any of his companions.  He was the “Gloomy Day” of Deighton’s caricature made on Brighton Steyne in 1801.

But it was his son John Barham Day who was the real patriarch of the family.  He began his racing career as an apprentice to Smallman, the Prince Regent’s trainer.  As a jockey he won the Oaks four times and the St. Leger twice, his last Classic win being at the age of 46 on Lord George Bentinck’s Crucifix in the Oaks in 1840.

He then established the Day racing stables at Danebury near Stockbridge on the Hampshire Downs where he acquired the nickname of Honest John.  This nickname might have been applied ironically. In 1841 Lord George Bentinck, convinced that the Days were defrauding him by betraying stable secrets to the bookmakers, removed his entire string of racehorses from Danebury.

Four of Day’s brothers became jockeys, including Samuel Day who rode three winners of the Epsom Derby. He and his Irish wife raised twelve children, including two successful jockeys Samuel and Alfred and two successful trainers John and William.

William who started training horses at Woodyates near Cranborne Chase in Dorset was the most successful of these offspring, first as a trainer and then as a horse-breeder.  However, he was a heavy gambler who was involved in a number of racing scandals and clashes with leading racing figures.  At one time a comparatively rich man, he lost the bulk of his fortune by speculating in poor land.

William did have some literary aptitude and published a number of books, including The Racehorse in Training (1880), Reminiscences of William Day of Woodyates (1886) and The Horse: How to Breed and Rear Him (1888).

Jeremiah Day, President of Yale University.  The frail and unassuming Jeremiah Day exerted an enormous influence on the development of Yale University during the early 19th century.

He held the position of Professor of Mathematics and Moral Philosophy from 1801 and composed three widely-used texts in this field, An Introduction to Algebra (1814), A Treatise on Plane Geometry (1815), and The Mathematical Principles of Navigation and Surveying (1817).  That year 1817 he was ordained into the Congregational ministry and became President of Yale University as well.

Despite precarious health, including a heart attack in 1836 and recurrent bout of angina thereafter, Day remained in office for twenty nine years and occupied a seat on the Yale Corporation for an additional two decades thereafter.  During his presidency, he was midwife to a new philosophy of undergraduate education that drew a careful distinction between a general undergraduate program, “the foundation of a superior education,” and the more applied program espoused by the professional schools.

Day died in 1867 at the age of 94.

Benjamin Day’s Bible.  Benjamin Day was born in Connecticut in 1755 and died there in 1829. The Bible dates from about 1810. Benjamin and his wife Hannah had nine children, all of whom were listed in its marriage section. The descent via son Daniel went as follows:

  • Daniel Day, 1792 – 1842
  • Dan Douglas Day, 1831 – 1906
  • and Dewey Douglas Day, 1874 – 1944

Dewey received the Bible from his uncle Henry after he had died in 1915.  Inside the Bible at that time was an obituary for Gad Day and two letters, both of them written to Dewey.

The first letter was written by Henry Day in 1911.  In the letter Henry told his nephew Dewey that he has the Bible and was taking good care of it and that he would send it to him.  The second letter, written in 1916, was from Henry’s wife telling Dewey that she is sending him the Bible because Henry wanted him to have the Bible because he had no son to pass it down to.

The Day Family in Georgia.  In the years prior to the Civil War, Judge Joseph Day was a plantation owner in Macon, Georgia and socially prominent as the speaker in the state House of Representatives.  He and his first wife Jincey had two daughters, Rebecca and Sarah.  These two Day girls were known as the “richest young ladies in Georgia.”

The ravages of the Civil War left his daughters and second wife much poorer and, after his death, they moved to Staunton, Virginia where they established a boarding house to make ends meet.  His second wife Mary remarried there.  However, her new husband blew all the remaining money and they became reliant on the income of their sons.

Joseph Day’s house in Georgia, called Tranquilla, is still standing, although in bad repair. Following the plan of southern houses, it contained eight living rooms only, four on a floor, each room 18 x 18 and divided by a hall thirty-six feet long with a spiral staircase.  A verandah was to the side and a double porch on the front with two white columns.  Also following the southern custom, all servant quarters and working quarters were outside of the house.

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Day Names
  • John Day was a 16th century Protestant printer who found fame as the publisher of John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.  
  • Benjamin Day was an American newspaper publisher best known for founding in 1833 the New York Sun,  the first penny press newspaper in the United States.
  • Doris Day, born Doris Kappelhoff, was  a popular American film and TV singer and actress in the 1950’s.
  • Robin Day was a British political broadcaster of the late 20th century, considered the most outstanding television journalist of his generation.
Day Numbers Today
  • 39,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 38,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 30,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

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