Fish Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Fish Meaning
Some have the surname Fish derived from the Old English fisc or fische which does mean “fish.” It could signify either a
fisherman or a fish seller. That would have been the case with
Robert le Fissh recorded in Somerset in 1327.
Others see the Fish root possibly in the old Saxon Fytche name, of uncertain meaning, which came out in the 15th century as Fyche or Fiche.  In America Fish could be the Americanized
version of the German or Jewish Fisch or
the Scandinavian Fisk, meaning in each case
The Fish family here includes Fish Fish of Darwen,
Lancashire and Preserved Fish of Rhode
Island and New York

Fish Resources on

Fish Ancestry

England. The Fish surname may have had its origin in an old Saxon family prior to the Norman Conquest, but there is nothing written to that effect. In medieval times the spelling did change
from Fyche to Fysshe and Fyshe and to Fish which probably came about in the 16th
century. Simon Fish, the radical
Protestant reformer who died of the plague in 1531, was an early
example of the Fish
name. Unfortunately there are no records
of where he came from

Yorkshire provided some Fish in the 1600’s. Thomas Fishe, born in 1634, was a yeoman farmer at Kirby Malham near Skipton; while Thomas Fysh, born in Yorkshire around the year 1650, became the rector of St. Margaret’s, Kings Lynn in Norfolk.  Probably because of him, there were a number of Fysh families in the Kings Lynn area during the 18th century.  Fyshes from this family later moved to London and then to Australia.

Then there was the Fish line from Market Harborough of Great Bowden parish in Leicestershire, starting with Edward Fysh around the year 1508. This line is significant because it seems to have supplied nearly all the early Fish who emigrated to New England. As one American descendant put it:

“Scattered throughout all quarters of our broad land are thousands of individuals whose lives can be traced back to John and Margaret Fish of Great Bowden. As a rule they are diligent and conscientious citizens, content to fill the duty lying before them.

Lancashire.  However, the largest Fish numbers, according to the 1881 census, were in Lancashire.

An early Fish sighting was at Over Darwen. Michael Fisshe was recorded as living there in 1404. The Fish family were yeoman
farmers in what is now the market town of Darwen and part of Blackburn. Thomas and Anne Fish were smallholders in
1662. One Fish family lived at Barrons Fold in the Blacksnape section of Old Darwen. William Fish left for America in 1841. Graham Fish and Nathaniel Fish operated cotton mills in Darwen in 1891.

America. One of the early Fish came from Sweden.
Johan Fisk (meaning “Fish” in Swedish) arrived at the New Sweden
colony in Delaware on the Swan in 1648.
His line continued through his son Caspar, born in the colony in
1651, and later became Fish.

New England. The early Fish arrivals seem to
have been all related. There were the
three brothers – Jonathan, John and Nathaniel – who came to Sandwich on Cape Cod in 1637; plus two of their cousins, Thomas who was in Portsmouth, Rhode Island by 1643 and John who was in Connecticut by 1651 and later settled in
Stonington. Lester Fish Wing’s 1948 book
The Fish Family in England and America covered these lines.

The main lines went as follows:

  • from Cape Cod. Many Fish
    remained there. Samuel Fish and his son
    Thomas fought in the
    Revolutionary War. Eliel Fish was a
    captain of whaling ships in he 1850’s.
  • from John in Connecticut came Asa Fish and the Fish
    active in shipping and shipbuilding in Mystic, Connecticut during the 19th century. The Asa Fish House, built in 1824, is still standing.
  • from Thomas in Rhode Island came three Preserved Fish, the first a blacksmith and the third a successful
    shipping entrepreneur in the whale oil market in New York City in the early 1800’s. There was also a Fish line that
    had moved south to Edgecombe county, North Carolina in the 1730’s.

Jonathan Fish had left Cape Cod for Long
Island in the 1650’s. From this Jonathan
came the illustrious
Hamilton Fish line, the first Hamilton
being US Secretary of State from 1869 to 1877 and three latter Hamilton Fish all serving as US Congressmen. W
hen Hamilton Fish III celebrated his 102nd birthday in 1990, he was the
oldest living American who had served in Congress.

Another Fish line in New England began with Captain
George Fish
who arrived in Nantucket from England sometime in the 1750’s. He eventually settled in what
became Kennebec county in Maine, but then died at sea.
His only son Bolton died during the War of
1812. Bolton left twelve children.

One of Bolton’s sons Randall, born in 1795,
was in later life a riverboat captain on the Potomac.
His fourth son was named Hamilton Fish (after
the politician) and was born when Randall was 75. When
Randall died five years later he ended
up in an orphanage. Known as Albert
Fish, he would become a notorious child serial killer who was
eventually caught
and executed in 1936.

Other Fish. Two later Fish families that departed from Lancashire were:

  • from Darwen, William Fish a mason and his wife Jane in 1841 on the Astracan. Jane died at sea only a few days before the
    ship arrived in New York.
  • and from Accrington, another William Fish a stone cutter and his wife Winifred in 1849. They made their home in Gambier,
    Ohio where William owned a quarry and helped build
    Church at the Quarry in 1862

Australia.  Fyshes from two different but related London families came to Tasmania and made their mark there:

  • Phlip Fysh came in 1859 and was a leading merchant in Hobart.  He was subsequently twice Premier of Tasmania, once in the late 1870’s and second in the late 1880’s.
  • while Frederick Fysh arrived three years later and made his home in Launceston.  His grandson Hudson Fysh was an early aviator who co-founded the Australian airline Qantas in 1920.

New Zealand. H.S. Fish & Son was a painting and glazing company that Henry Fish from London had established with his son when they moved to Dunedin, SI in 1863. Henry Fish jr. had a long and tempestuous career in politics in Dunedin over a period of thirty years.


Fish Miscellany

The Fish Family at Blacksnape in Darwen.  The Blackburn Weekly Telegraph ran the following
story on February 14 1914 on the Fish family
in the Blacksnape district of Old Darwen.

“Blacksnape, part of Old Darwen, has undergone change during the past century. There are few men living today who personally know the Blacksnape of other days.  But one
of them is William Fish and he told me its story.

The Fish family of Barrons Fold
are of ancient Blacksnape stock.  John
Fish and William Fish, the sons of Fish
Fish, were born in the house where William Fish, the latter’s son, now 83 years
of age, was also born and still lives.  A part
of the house, regarded as the “new part,”
was added to the old part in 1776 and the
date-plate of the porch records its erection in 1792.

‘Blacksnape has changed a lot since I was a lad,’ Mr Fish
said.  ‘Four houses stood out on the road and a hawthorn
hedge round them, but they have gone. We don’t hear the click of the handloom as we did in the days when it was said it could be heard all the way from
Blackburn to Bolton.  There is
no handloom weaving now in Blacksnape.  My
father was, like the rest, a handloom weaver and he
also made handlooms.

John Fish o’ Baron’s was the Blacksnape politician
and was known as Jack o’ Billy’s.  He was one
who got a newspaper and therefore a man of
importance. The carriers had to
bring the newspaper once a week when they bought wares.  Sometimes they forgot and someone had to be sent on
foot all the way to Blackburn with 7d to get a copy.  When it
came to Blacksnape word went around.  The folks
would gather together, a farthing candle would be lit, and by
its light the news of the week would be read out.’”

Fish Fish, recorded above, was born in 1771, the son of William Fish.

Reader Feedback – Stephen Fish UK Antecedents.  As noted in the Fish DNA project linked on your page, the Stephen Fish line in the USA (my line) is not related to the Great Bowden Fish families.  We are still looking for our antecedents in England.

Do you know of any Fish-centric genealogists who could help track down Fish families in the Blackpool and Blackburn areas of Lancashire?  Would love
to correspond and get some of them to do the YDNA test at Family Tree DNA to
find the family of origin of Stephen Fish.

Jerry Fish (

Bad Fish.  Seven-year-old Emily Holland had a
new “friend.”  Excitedly
she told the other kids in Birley Street, Blackburn, where she
lived, about the nice man.  She had
met him in the street and now she was going
off to run an errand for him.

Emily was never seen again after that.  At the
end of a two-day search police found her
legs and her torso, minus the head and arms, in a field.  The
torso revealed she had been violently raped,
her throat had been cut and she had been dismembered.  The body parts were wrapped in old copies of the
Preston Herald.  Two weeks later Robert Taylor, a tramp, was arrested after local children said he had been talking to them.

But local suspicion centered on a Blackburn shopkeeper named
William Fish who traded in Moss Street near Birley Street.  Police investigated and found copies of the Preston
in a corner of his shop which had issues missing
corresponding exactly with those found wrapped round Emily’s body parts.

A local man offered the use of his bloodhound to help find the child’s head and arms and some of her clothing.  The dog
was taken to Fish’s shop where it began
barking determinedly at the fireplace.  Police
looked up the chimney and found bloody copies
of the Manchester Courier wrapped around the rest of Emily’s
body parts.

A lynch party had gathered outside the shop and Fish had to be smuggled out the back way to the police station. The tramp was released and Fish was hanged on August 14th, 1876 at Kirkdale Prison in Liverpool.

Preserved Fish.  To have a name such as Preserved Fish may seem utterly strange today, but was perhaps less strange among Quakers of the 17th
and 18th centuries when names with a religious connotation were commonplace.  Indeed this name could not
have been considered strange at all as it had been handed down from father to son to grandson.

Preserved was in fact
pronounced in three syllables as “pre-ser-ved.”
It is thought to have been a shortening of the expression “Preserved in Grace” or “Preserved from Sin.”

The three recorded Preserved Fish – all born in Portsmouth, Rhode Island  were:

  • Preserved Fish (1679-1745)
  • Preserved Fish (1713-1813)
  • Preserved Fish (1766-1846)

As a youth the last-named
Preserved Fish had shipped
to the Pacific on a whaler, becoming its captain at the age of 21.
He soon realized that his fortune
lay in selling whale oil, not in getting it.

In 1810 he went into the whale
oil business in New York with his
cousin Cornelius Grinnell and they later later
founded the shipping firm of Fish &
Grinnell.  Within a few years, owing to
Preserved’s keen business acumen, the company had become one of New York’s most influential firms.

Preserved was married three times, but he never
had any biological children (although he did adopt one son).  So the Preserved name in his
family ended with him.

But the Preserved Fish name did continue with another line of the family that had moved to
Vermont.  The last named here, Preserved
Offensend Fish, died in Wyoming in 1935.

Captain George Fish.  Some accounts have him originating from Somerset.  He showed up in Nantucket
off Massachusetts in the 1750’s. He married
Jerusha Clark there and traveled
up and down the New England coastline with his Clark in-laws in search of a suitable homestead.

They tried Nova Scotia first.  However, it was said that they got
tired of eating nothing but fish and potatoes.  They then
sailed along the Maine coast until they
found the mouth of the Kennebec river.  They
followed the Kennebec up to Jones Plantation and decided that this was the place.

George farmed and ran a sawmill
with his brother-in-law Ephraim Clark.  But his
real love was for the sea.  At some
point he sailed to
England and on the return trip was lost at sea.

The Hamilton Fish Line.  Nicholas Fish (1758-1833), a colonel in the Continental
Army and prominent Federalist politician, married to Elizabeth
Stuyvesant.  They lived in the
Stuyvesant-Fish House
(still standing) in Greenwich village.

Hamilton Fish (1808-1893), New York Governor and Senator and US Secretary of State from 1869 to 1877, married to Julia Kean.  He was named after Alexander Hamilton, the
first Secretary of the Treasury and a friend of his parents.

— Nicholas Fish II (1846-1902), the US
Minister to Belgium from 1882 to 1887, married to Clemence Bryce.
— Hamilton Fish (1873-1898), one of Teddy
Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, killed during the Spanish-American War.

— Hamilton Fish II (1849-1936), US Congressman, married to Emily Mann.

Hamilton Fish III (1888-1991), US Congressman, married to Grace Chapin.
—- Hamilton Fish IV (1926-1996), US Congressman, married to Julia MacKenzie.

—– Hamilton Fish V (born 1952), owner of The Nation
political magazine, married to Sandra Harper.

— Stuyvesant Fish (1851-1923), President of Illinois Central Railroad, married to Mamie Althon.  They were
leaders in New York and Newport society.

Because of the marriage between Hamilton Fish and Julia
Kean, there was a close relationship between the Fish family and the Keans, another family of
politics.   Hamilton F. Kean was a
grand-nephew of Hamilton Fish and served as US Senator for New Jersey from 1929
to 1935.  His grandson Thomas H. Kean was
the Governor of New Jersey from 1982 to 1990. 

The Abuse of Henry Fish.  Henry Fish entered politics in New Zealand in 1868 at the age of thirty with his
election as a Dunedin city councillor.  However, his early
attempts to attract public attention were
met with scathing ridicule.  Throughout
his career he received some of the harshest criticism directed at any of the city’s politicians.

He was reviled by the press as conceited, unmannered and untrustworthy.  Constant puns were made on his
name; he was, for instance, called ‘the Talking Fish’ and was said to resemble
a member of the cuttle species because of the amount of ink he threw when attacked.

Easily antagonized, his
speeches were often abusive and he participated in some
disgraceful brawls. It was a joke around Parliament that ‘in England we used to
go to Billingsgate for our fish; here we go to Fish for our
Billingsgate.’  His vanity was notorious:
‘His very walk about the legislative buildings, as also his manner, indicated a
feeling on his part that he alone was fit to be Governor, Premier and dictator.’



Fish Names

  • Simon Fish was a 16th century Protestant reformer and propagandist, best known for
    spreading Tyndale’s New Testament and for authoring vehement anti-clerical pamphlets.
  • Preserved Fish was a prominent New York shipping merchant of the early 19th century.
  • Hamilton Fish was a 19th century American politician and statesman who served as US Secretary of State from 1869 to 1877. 
  • Hudson Fysh was one of the founders of the Australian airline Qantas in 1920. 
  • Michael Fish was the BBC
    weatherman who infamously dismissed advanced warnings of the Great
    Storm in England in 1987.

Select Fish Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 10,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)



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