Fisher Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Fisher Meaning
root fiscere meaning “to
catch fish”, which gives us the occupation of fisherman, results in a
number of Fisher-type surnames around Europe – Fisher in English,
Fischer in German, Fiszer in Czech and Polish, Visser in Dutch, de
Vischer in Flemish, Fiser in Danish and Fisker in Norwegian.
Select Fisher Resources on The Internet

Fisher Ancestry

By far the largest of the Fisher numbers has been the
German Fischer
It is the fourth most common surname in Germany and there are roughly
270,000 in Germany with that surname (with most bearers of the name,
interestingly, living inland). It is also the 15th most common in
Austria and is a
Jewish surname
as well.

By contrast, the UK Fisher
numbers of 56,000 rank it
there at 138th.

The Fisher surname might suggest a place along the coast. But the
early Fishers seem to have come from inland locations (where they were
perhaps river fishermen instead).

Robert Fisher was recorded in Leicestershire as early as 1342.
His family established themselves as clergymen in Cossington village.
Geoffrey Fisher of this family became the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury
in 1945. Another Fisher family took over Packington priory near
Coventry after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1540’s.
Packington Hall, which still stands, has the following inscription on
its lead roof:

“This house was built by Sir Clement
Fisher Bart. in the year 1693 and was cased with stone and enlarged by
his grandson Heneage Earl of Aylesford in the year 1772.”

Elsewhere The
Fisher name also occurred at an early date at Rolleston in
Staffordshire and Foremark in Derbyshire. St. John Fisher, the
bishop who was executed for treason in 1535, was born in Beverley in
the East Ridings of Yorkshire.

By the late 19th century, the largest number of Fishers was being
recorded in Yorkshire. A number had migrated there. Linda
Carn in her book The History of the
Fisher Family
recorded one such family who had moved from
Shelford in rural Nottinghamshire to Whitby in Yorkshire in the 1860’s.

Cumbria and Lancashire
The Fisher name became prominent in Cumbria and the Furness district of
Lancashire during the 19th century:

  • first there was Charles
    Fisher who lived in Distington Hall on the proceeds of his rail line
    which moved out the red haematite iron ore from the Cumbrian
  • then there was William Fisher the farmer who
    recorded the growth of his village of Barrow-in-Furness into an
    industrial port.
  • and finally in 1847 came James Fisher and his
    steamship company. He shipped out the iron ore from Barrow and
    was operating by the 1870’s the largest coastal fleet in the UK.

Scotland. The Fisher
name also came north to Scotland and was to be found primarily in
Glasgow and Ayrshire. Its most famous son was probably Andrew
Fisher, born into a coal mining village near Kilmarnock. He emigrated
with his brother to Australia in 1885 and rose to become Prime Minister
of that country on three separate occasions, starting in 1910.

Ireland. The English
brought the Irish name to Ireland, although the name was also sometimes
adopted by the O’Bradain sept in Connacht.

Sir Edward Fisher, an English
adventurer, received large land grants in the early 1600’s in west
Dublin and Wexford (after his death, these estates passed onto the
Chichester family). Dublin was also the home of Quaker Fishers
from Cheshire, many of whom moved onto a safer refuge in Pennsylvania,
and of Jonathan Fisher, the landscape painter.

The Fisher merchant family of Dunlavin in county Wicklow has been
traced back to the early 1700’s. Their home was burnt down by
insurgents during the 1798 rebellion. William Fisher of this
family emigrated to Nova Scotia in the 1850’s. Richard Fisher was
recorded as a saddler in the 1881 Dunlavin directory.

America. German Fischers outnumber English Fishers by about five
to one in their home country. Consequently, during the wave of
immigation to America that occurred over the 18th and 19th centuries, more Fischers
came than Fishers
. The 1850 Federal
census reported Fischers/Fishers of German origin outnumbering Fishers
of British origin by roughly three to one. However, once in
America most Fischers would anglicize their names to Fisher. The
1920 census showed more Fishers than Fischers by almost five to

New England
Early Fishers were Anthony, Cornelius and Joshua Fisher who had come in
1637 with other folk from Suffolk to settle in Dedham,
Massachusetts. John Dix Fisher who founded the Perkins
Institution for the Blind in Boston in the early 19th century was a

There were early Irish Fishers who came too. Deacon Samuel Fisher
came to New England aboard a “starved ship” around 1740. He went
to New Hampshire. Abel Fisher arrived ten years or
so later, settling first in New Jersey and then heading west to the
Pennsylvania frontier.

Pennsylvania The
main entry point for Fishers and Fischers turned out to be
Pennsylvania. The first were probably English Quakers.
There were many. But Joshua Fisher the merchant was the most
prominent of these Quakers. He wrote in 1762:

“My grandfather John Fisher removed from Clitheroe in
Lancashire in the year 1682 with all his children to Philadelphia.”

According to Ann Wharton Smith’s 1886 book Genealogy of the Fisher Family,
John Fisher arrived with his wife Margaret on the same ship, the Welcome, as William Penn. And
it would appear that his family originally came from Yorkshire (near
Wakefield), not Lancashire. Joshua’s own large mercantile
business in Philadelphia was carried on by his son Samuel.
Samuel’s daughter Deborah was an early proponent of women’s
rights. She married into the Wharton Quaker family and it was
their son Joseph who founded the Wharton School at the University of


came to New York with his wife
Susanna from the German Palatine in 1709.
Not getting any land tenure rights where they settled in New
York, they
moved in 1723 with fifteen other German families to Pennsylvania and
settled in
Tulpehocken valley in Berks county. Some
branches of the family later migrated to Virginia and Kentucky. The family history was recorded in Gertrude
Fisher Harding’s 1942 book Fisher

Meanwhile Christian
Fisher came to the new Amish settlement in Berks county in 1749.
His family line was covered in Janice Egeland’s 1972 book Descendants of Christian Fisher and Other
Amish-Mennonite Pioneer Families

Many Fishers later moved south into North Carolina.
Charles Fisher, for instance, was in Rowan county, North Carolina by
the 1760’s. Others stayed. The farmhouse which Henry Fisher built in Berks county in
1801 still stands today and proclaims itself as “Pennsylvania Deutsch.”

A Fisher family of Dutch roots was in Pennsylvania by the 1790’s,
moving from there to Ohio and Indiana and later Kansas. James
Fisher, the first settler in Chase county, Kansas, was murdered there
in 1871. David Fisher left Pennsylvania with his family in 1819
and headed west, to Ohio, Indiana and then Iowa. Descendants have
spread over the American West.

Fisher lines began in Virginia and led into Kentucky and

Canada. Early Fisher
arrivals were Empire Loyalists, although none of those below were of
British origin:

  • Lewis Fisher was probably of German origin. He had come to
    New Brunswick in 1783 from New Jersey, settling in Fredericton.
    Son Peter was known as the first historian of New Brunswick and his son
    Charles was Premier of New Brunswick in the 1850’s.
  • Jacob Fischer, of German origin, had fought for the British in
    the Seven Years’ War. He moved his family north from Pennsylvania
    in 1796 to new lands in York county, Ontario. Sharon Smith
    Troian’s 1991 book The
    Fischer-Fisher Family History
    recounts this story.
  • and three Fisher brothers of Dutch speakers – John, Michael and
    Valentine (Feltie) – left their homes in Pennsylvania for Huron county,
    Ontario. Feltie
    was one of the early settlers in Goderich and kept an
    inn there in the 1830’s and 1840’s. Some descendants later moved
    west to Saskatchewan.

There were also Fishers from Britain. James
Fisher arrived in Montreal from Scotland in the 1770’s and was one of
the early settlers of the Loyalist township of Cobourg, Ontario.
John Fisher brought his family over from Beverley in Yorkshire in the
1840’s and settled in Whitby township, Ontario.

Fred Fisher was a murky figure in the
early history of the New South Wales colony. A London shopkeeper,
he had been convicted in 1816 for the possession of forged banknotes
and transported to Australia. Move the clock forward a few years
and he was surprisingly in funds, leading a venture in Sydney to build
a new papermaking mill. Then in 1826 he was murdered.

“One evening Fred Fisher left his home
in Campbelltown and was never seen again. Four months later a
local farmer stumbled into a local hotel in a state of shock, claiming
that he had seen the ghost of Fred Foster. The ghost had been
sitting on the rail of a bridge and had pointed to a paddock down the
creek. Fred Fisher’s body was later discovered by the police in
this paddock.”

Fisher was also a name in the early history of South Australia.
Sir James Fisher had been a driving force behind its development as a
colony and served as the first mayor of Adelaide in 1840. A Fisher family
from Wales
was among its early settlers, arriving on the Dutchess of Northumberland in 1839.

The best-known Fisher in Australia, however, was Andrew Fisher, who
served as the country’s fifth Prime Minister. He had arrived as
an immigrant from Scotland in 1885.


Fisher Miscellany

The Fishers of Cossington in Leicestershire.  This family is of considerable antiquity and was formerly seated at
Burton-on-the-Wolds in Leicestershire.  The earliest account –
derived from old documents – was that of Robert Fisher, a yeoman farmer
who died in 1342.  His descendants continued to live there until
1635 when John Fisher married and settled in Cossington.

Cossington church has the grant of arms for the Fisher family and
memorial tablets to many of the Fishers. John Fisher of this family was
a baker and alderman in Leicester in the 1760’s.  More recently,
the Fishers were clergymen.  Henry Fisher served the parish for
forty years in the late 19th century.   The youngest of his
children, Geoffrey Fisher, became the 99th Archbishop of Canterbury in

William Fisher of Barrow.  The most important man in Barrow village in the first half of the 19th
century was William Fisher.  He was born in Barrow in 1775 and
died there in 1861.  He was a Low Furness yeoman farmer, i.e. a
wealthy worker of the land.

From 1811 to 1859 he kept a diary of local events: births, marriages
and deaths – the “hatchings, matchings and dispatches” column of
today’s Evening Mail.  He also recorded seed and harvest times,
catastrophes and commonplace events.

The diary is important because it gives us interesting glimpses of how
the villagers of this small farming community used to live during a
vibrant period of the area’s history.  During the 48 years covered
by the diary the village of Barrow grew into the industrial town of
Barrow, which was founded on the wealth from the red haematite iron ore
of Furness and the slate of Kirkby. 

Fishers and Fischers to America

Numbers Per cent
Fishers from England   1,367    14%
Fishers from Scotland and Ireland      557      6%
Fishers from German lands      645      7%
Fischers from German lands   6,998    70%
Fischers from Russia      298      3%
Total   9,865   100%

More Fischers than Fishers came to America.  But
once in America most Fishers anglicized their names to Fisher.
The 1920 US census showed Fishers outnumbering Fischers by almost five
to one.

An Alternative Origin for the Fischer Name.  Fischer is a Jewish as well as a German surname and
generally considered to be of Ashkenazic origin.  Martin Fischer
in his website has suggested an alternative Sephardic origin.

“Here is my speculative scenario for Sephardic origins of
my Ashkenazic Fischer family.  The Hebrew name Chaim is changed to
Vives to adjust to secular life in Catalanian-speaking Spain until the
expulsion in 1492.  The family then flees to Italy where Vives is
transformed to Feyvush, for which an alternative non-Jewish form is

Northward immigration follows into German or
Polish-speaking lands and a patronymic (son of) name form is adopted,
such as Faiveshevitz or Fajbiszewicz.  Finally, with increasing
secularization or assimilation, possibly including mid 19th century
immigration to America, the name is shortened to Fischer or Fisher.

This scenario of a name progressing from the Hebrew Chaim
to the German Fischer is of particular interest to me because my great
great grandfather was identified as Chaim ha-Kahane on his son’s
gravestone.  Chaim’s grandson, Henry Fischer, who was my paternal
grandfather, was probably named for Chaim.”

The Fishers at the Pennsylvania Frontier.  Abel Fisher came to America from Ireland with his wife Rachel in the
1750’s and they settled in New Jersey.  While there, he owned a
small boat in which he carried oysters to Philadelphia and brought back
domestic goods which he exchanged for oysters.

In 1773 he decided to emigrate to the then West.  Procuring a
wagon and a team of miserable horses, he started out for the redstone
country, near the line between Westmoreland and Fayette counties in
Pennsylvania.  After a terrible journey over bad roads and
mountains, they reached late in the fall a point one mile west of Fort
Ligonier, now Ligonier borough.  Here their team gave out and
refused to go any further.

They remained through the winter and finally concluded to make the
neighborhood their permanent home. Subsequently Abel Fisher purchased a
tract of land containing 300 acres two miles west of Ligonier on the
Two Mile Run.  This land remained with the family for more than a
hundred years.

Just as they commenced to make an improvement on their land, the
Revolutionary War came on.  As they were on the frontier and
exposed to Indian raids, the family removed to York, Pennsylvania where
the women remained until the end of the war.  Mr. Fisher and the
two oldest boys returned to Ligonier and lived amidst constant alarms
and dangers, the Indians killing some of the settlers every year.
Sometime during the war, Mr. Fisher died in the fort, it was said of

Sebastian Fisher’s Journey from the Palatine to Pennsylvania.  Conditions in the Rhineland had grown harsh by 1709.  Since 1702 the country had been in war and there seemed little
hope for
the future.  Palatines were heavily taxed
and endured religious persecution.  The
winter of 1708-1709 had been particularly long and cold.

To go to America became
the dream for many, even though it meant a long, dreadful ocean voyage
and a
future in an unknown land away from their past and family.
However, by April 1709, the Palatines were
boarding their small boats in masses and heading down the Rhine for
Rotterdam.  The river voyage took an
average of 4-6 weeks
through extremely cold, bitter weather.
By October, more than 10,000 Palatines had completed the Rhine
journey.  From there streams of Palatines
departed for America, most heading for Pennsylvania.

Sebastian Fisher had
embarked for England from Rotterdam a year earlier with his wife
Susanna and
their two small children.  His condition
was somewhat different.  He was a refugee,
who – according to family lore – had been forced to leave his home and
because of trumped-up charges of poaching.

The Fishers did reach New York in
June, 1709, although one of their children had died on the crossing.  They found themselves encamped with other
German immigrants in small villages along the Hudson river.  However, there was often trouble with the
colonist settlers who lived nearby.

Finally, in the spring of 1723, fifteen
families, including Sebastian Fisher, decided to go to Pennsylvania,
hoping for
better treatment than they had received in New York.
They traveled across the Schoharie valley to
the Susquehanna river.  There they built
boats and rafts and with their families proceeded down the Susquehanna
to the
mouth of Swatara creek. a distance of about 150 miles.
Ascending the Swatara they crossed over the
watershed into Tulpehocken valley where they settled.

Feltie Fisher, The Inn-Keeper at Goderich, Ontario.  Feltie Fisher was one of the early settlers of Goderich, Ontario and kept an inn there in the 1830’s
and 1840’s.  This is one account of him that has been handed down:

“Feltie was a character.  His
English wife was as clean and tidy as the Dutchman was careless.
She tried to give her guests all the rude comforts possible and went to
the length of providing wash basins and ewers.  Feltie pitched
them out of the window as innovations unbecoming hardy times, pioneers
and wilderness.

In the breakneck road which was cut down the harbor hill, there was a
spring which had worn for itself a basin just below its vent.  By
this spring was a trough.

‘You vant to vash?’ asked Feltie to a party of travellers, English
gentlemen who had left York on a fishing tour bound up the lakes.
‘You vant to vash?  Vell, I show you goot pure vater, straight
from heaven.  The longer it runs the purer it is and the longer
you vash the purer you gets.’

He bestowed a towel upon them and left them to wash in public as best
they might.”

Fishers from Wales on the Dutchess of Northumberland to Australia.  
In May 1839 Thomas Fisher saw an Emigration Officer and signed the
papers that would take he and his family to a new life in
Australia.  Just what were the motivating factors are not really
clear.  Why would a forty two year old man from Swansea decide to
uproot his whole family (including his son John and wife Ann and three
daughters) and take them to an unknown colony on the other side of the
world?  He may not have been aware of the severe hardships that
the journey would entail.

To board their ship in London, the Fishers would initially have had to
undertake a difficult trip from their home in Swansea, many long
uncomfortable days travelling across rough dirt and cobblestone roads.

The family were travelling on assisted passages. and were housed in the
steering section of the ship.  Here, in the midships, the
conditions were cramped with four passengers often having an area of
little more than six feet square to share.  The bunk in which they
lived was also the storage place for their personal
belongings.   These cramped and unhealthy conditions may have
led to John and Ann Fisher’s daughter Anna contracting diarrhea and
dying at the tender age of one year.  This sad event was somewhat
lessened by the birth of their first son, Thomas, six weeks later.

The Dutchess of Northumberland
had left London on August 6, 1839 and arrived in South Australia 135
days later on November 19.  Conditions at the landing area there
were still primitive.  The passengers were required to make the
six mile journey by themselves to the town of Adelaide.  They
could travel by horse and dray.  However, because of a lack of
money, it is more likely that they would have had to gather their
lighter possessions and walk the distance, with the heavier items being
carried on a wagon.



Select Fisher Names

  • Saint John Fisher was a prominent
    Catholic Bishop martyred by Henry VIII in 1535 for refusing to accept
    the King as the head of the Church in England.
  • Joshua Fisher was a prominent
    Quaker merchant in 18th century Philadelphia.
  • Andrew Fisher was Australia’s
    fifth Prime Minister, holding office on three occasions from 1910.
  • Bud Fisher was the American
    cartoonist who created Mutt and Jeff.
  • Bobby Fischer was briefly and
    famously chess champion of the world in 1972.

Select Fisher Numbers

  • 56,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Somerset)
  • 88,000 in America (most numerous
    in California)
  • 51,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Fisher and Like Surnames 

The first wave of German immigration into America came in the early 1700’s from the Rhine Palatine and Switzerland.  They were fleeing religious persecution at home.  Most ended up in Pennsylvania, bringing their Mennonite church with them.  Some went to the Mohawk Valley in upstate New York.  Their Germanic names often changed under English rule to English-style names.  Thus Fischer became Fisher, Schneider Snyder, Hubner Hoover and so forth.

The reasons for immigration were different in the 19th century – in search of a better life, sometimes to avoid the draft.  They came from all German states and went not just to Pennsylvania but all over as the middle and west of the country was opening up.  And they brought German skills with them, notably beer-making.

Here are some of the notable German surnames in America that you can check out.




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