Fitzgerald Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Fitzgerald Meaning
The surname Fitzgerald is a translation of the Norman “fils de Gerald”
or “son of Gerald,” where Gerald is a Norman first name meaning “rule
of the spear.”
These names were brought to England at the time of the Norman
Conquest. However, the Fitz prefix never really stuck in
England. It is ironic that the most common Fitz, Fitzgerald, is
an Irish not an English surname. Walter Fitzother was a keeper of
Windsor forest, his son Gerald was the constable of Pembroke castle,
and it was the latter’s son, Maurice FitzGerald, who went to Ireland
and established the Irish family. The Gaelic form Mac Gearailt
can be found in the Gaelic-speaking areas of west

Resources on

Fitzgerald Ancestry

Ireland. Maurice
FitzGerald “the Invader” came to Ireland with Strongbow in 1170 and was
granted the manor of Maynooth in Kildare. Though the Kildare
was the first to be founded, it was the FitzGerald
house of Desmond, established by the direct descendants of Maurice the
Invader, that first rose to national prominence.

By the 14th
century, the Desmonds had established its authority over the Gaelic
lordships of Munster and occupied some of the richest lands in the
province. There were also three cadet Desmond branches, the White
Knight (in Limerick), the Knight of Glin (along the Shannon), and the
Knight of Kerry. They had then, through Gearoid Iarla
FitzGerald, become
more Irish and less Norman in their style.

But a century later
the family went into decline and in 1583 they lost everything in the
failed insurrection of Garret Fitzgerald, the 15th and last Earl of
Desmond, against the English crown. A Fitzgerald line did
continue at Dromana in Waterford until 1676 (when its heiress Katherine
ran off with Edward Villiers). There were also Fitzgerald gentry
families that stayed in place in the line between Youghal and Midleton
in southeast Cork.

The eclipse of the Desmond Geraldines was followed by the
rapid rise of their cousins in Kildare. Kildare power emerged in
15th century, but fell back in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Thomas, the 10th Earl of Kildare and known as “Silken Thomas,”
renounced his allegiance to the English crown but was captured and
executed in London.

The family fortunes re-emerged
with James, the 20th Earl. His service to the English
was rewarded in 1766 with the hereditary dukedom of Leinster. Lord Edward
, born into this privilege, became ironically an
icon of Irish nationalism through his failed leadership of the 1798

The Fitzgerald surname is common in Ireland today, but remains
concentrated in
the ancient homelands of the earls of Desmond – Cork, Limerick, and

England. Fitzgeralds in
England generally had an Irish connection, whether they came from
well-connected Anglo-Irish families or poor immigrants seeking

The Fitzgeralds of Boulge Hall in Suffolk would definitely have been
placed in
the first category. Their money had came from the Kildare
Fitzgeralds and Mary Fitzgerald spent it lavishly in the early 19th
century to establish herself in London society. Her son Edward
was somewhat reclusive, but is remembered today
for his translation of The Rubaiyat
of Omar Khayyam

On the other side of the tracks would have been Patrick Fitzgerald, a
laborer from
Tipperary who had come to London in the 1870’s in search of work.
But his son Desmond returned to Ireland as an Irish nationalist and
later became a minister in the new Irish republic. And his son
Gerret was twice Taoiseach of Ireland in the 1980’s.

Fitzgeralds first appeared in Virginia and the
South and later in New England.

Virginia and the South
The Fitzgerald
name appeared in Virginia records in the 1680’s. But the first
real sighting appears to be an Edmond Fitzgerald who was born on a ship
while enroute from Ireland to America in 1745. His descendants
became tobacco farmers in Pittsylvania county, Virginia.

early Fitzgerald family moved from Maryland to Dover, Tennessee in
1806. One son William became a local politician there, another
son John moved south to New Orleans where he edited the local Picayune newspaper.
Meanwhile, Ambrose Fitzgerald left Tennessee with his family by covered
wagon for Texas in 1846. Ambrose got religion and became a
Baptist minister in Texas. He fathered 18 children through three
wives over his lifetime, seven of whom survived to carry on his name.

Mary Fitzgerald had arrived from Ireland in 1842 and settled initially
Memphis, Tennessee where she started and ran a hotel. Later she
operated hotels and saloons in the Chicago area. Although she had
two husbands over this time, she was really the driving force behind
businesses. Rowdy Civil War soldiers in her saloon would be met
by Mary with a firearm and a stern face.

Most Fitzgeralds in America were and are still to be found in the state

The most illustrious of these was John “Honey
Fitz” Fitzgerald, one of only three surviving of the twelve children
born to Thomas and Rosanna Fitzgerald, immigrants from Limerick in the
1850’s. He rose to be a prominent figure in
Boston politics and a mayor of the city. His eldest
daughter Rose married into the Kennedy family
and became its
matriarch in the second half of the 20th century.

Out West
Fitzgeralds did move West. Tommy Fitzgerald was part of that
fraternity of mountain men, fur trappers and traders who would
rendezvous each year
in Bear Lake valley. He crossed into California in the 1830’s and
was the first settler in what is now Bakersfield. Another Thomas
Fitzgerald came to Utah in the
1890’s and married a Mormon. Son JD Fitzgerald wrote Papa Married a Mormon in 1955, a
somewhat fictionalized account of his upbringing.

Canada. Michael
Fitzgerald came from Ireland with his wife and twelve children and
settled in Portuguese Cove, Nova Scotia in 1810. And Halifax was
the arrival point for Garrett Fitzgerald and his family from Kerry in
1820’s. The name has continued in Halifax and Walter Fitzgerald
was the mayor of the town in the 1970’s and again in the 1990’s.

A John Fitzgerald was a telegraph company employee in
Halifax in the 1860’s. His son, Francis, was born there in
1869. Francis
enlisted with the NW Mounted Police and spent much of his life on the
northern frontier. Though highly experienced in northern patrols, he
would travel light and refuse to hire a native guide. Unfortunately on
one trip late in February 1911 his patrol became lost and he and his
companions eventually died, three from starvation and one from

There is, however, a Fort Fitzgerald in northern Alberta
named after him and a bronze plaque dedicated to his memory in the
public gardens back in Halifax.

Australia and New Zealand.
The first to arrive was Richard Fitzgerald, transported to Australia in
1791 as a convict. However, he got on well with his captors and
was given responsibilities for the public farms. Later, he had his own
land granted to him in the Hawkesbury valley in 1811. There he
built an inn which, as The Macquarie
, still operates today.

Fitzgerald’s name, family
tradition, and personal appearance all attested to a connection with
the Dukes of Leinster. But this was not proven. Susan
Perrett’s book From Convict to
Millionaire: The Story of Richard Fitzgerald and Family
written in 2003.

Fitzgeralds later came as settlers. Two Fitzgeralds really
established themselves in their new environment:

  • one was James
    Fitzgerald who arrived in Christchurch, South Island from England in
    1850. He soon became active in New Zealand politics and was one
    of its
    leading figures in the late 1850’s.
  • the other was Thomas
    Fitzgerald who came to Queensland from New Zealand in 1862. He
    was a pioneer in sugar cane farming and in politics in the early days
    of the colony. His descendants went on to become notable names in
    Queensland politics, business, and law.


Fitzgerald Miscellany

The Ape in the Kildare Arms.  The ape in the crest and supporters of the Kildare arms is
commemorative of an incident which occurred in the thirteenth
century.  Thomas, infant son of Maurice  FitzGerald, is said
to have been snatched from his cradle by a tame ape which, having
carried the child to the verge of the battlements at the top of the
castle and terrified the family by the danger involved, safely returned
him to his cradle.

This traditional story is also related in a slightly different form for
the first Earl of Kildare.  But as the said Thomas was nicknamed
Thomas an Apa or Thomas Simiacus, it may be ascribed to the Desmonds if
not also to their kinsmen the Kildares.  The war cry of the
Kildares was crom abu, of the
Desmonds shanid abu. 

A Hero of Irish Nationalism.  Lord Edward FitzGerald was born into privilege.  His father, James
FitzGerald the first duke of Leinster, was Ireland’s most important
aristocrat; and his mother, Emily Lennox, was the sister of one of
England’s most powerful lords, the duke of Richmond.   In
spite of these origins, Edward is known to Irish history as a
republican and a revolutionary who became one of the most influential
members of the Society of United Irishmen.

He expected to be the commander-in-chief of the
revolutionary army which that organization brought into the field in
May 1798 with the intention of overthrowing the British-controlled
Irish government and founding an independent republic in its
place.  The date of the rising was planned and he lay in hiding in
Dublin for the day to arrive.

However, his hiding place was revealed and police agents
captured him on May 19,
four days before the anticipated revolution was due to break out.
died in prison on June 4, succumbing to the wounds he received while
beaten unconscious by the rifle butts of his assailants.  The next
day, the rebels he had hoped to lead
suffered a decisive defeat at the battle of New Ross in county Wexford.

In spite of this inglorious end, he has become a
toweringly romantic figure in Irish history and takes his place
indisputably in the hagiography of Irish nationalism and republicanism.

Edward Fitzgerald’s Upbringing.  Edward Fitzgerald was born in 1809 in Woodbridge in Suffolk, the
seventh of eight children, to John Purcell and Mary Fitzgerald.
When he was nine his father John assumed the name and arms of his
wife’s family.  It was at that time that Mary, related to the
Kildare Fitzgeralds, inherited a fortune on the death of her father.

A wealthy Mary soon found that her husband and country
life in Suffolk bored her.  So she set up a splendid London house
in Portland Place where she entertained painters, authors, musicians,
actors, and architects. She had her box at the opera and became a
generous patron of the arts.  She rarely saw her children. Benson,
a contemporary, described her as “superb and majestic, with a haughty
face, eagle nose, and thin mouth.”

Edward grew up under the care of nannies and tutors, as
was customary in that period.  Later he refused to reside at
Boulge Hall with the rest of his family and chose instead to live in a
single storey thatched cottage on the family estate.  He was a
friend of the poets of his time and was a prolific letter writer.
However, with respect to his family, his comment was: “All of his
relatives were mad; and further, that he was insane as well, but was at
least aware of the fact.”

Edward Fitzgerald is remembered today for his translation
of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.

The Fitzgerald Family Bible.  On St. Patrick’s Day
2003, to mark the 40th anniversary of President Kennedy’s trip to
Ireland, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum opened for the first
time to the press the Fitzgerald family Bible.  This bible
contains a handwritten chronicle of generations of the Fitzgerald
family from 1857, including the birth of John Fitzgerald Kennedy on May
29, 1917.

Kennedy was a descendant of the Fitzgeralds of Bruff in Limerick and
the Kennedys of New Ross in Wexford. The Fitzgeralds and Kennedys
worked in Boston as peddlers, coopers, and common laborers, and became
clerks, tavern owners, and retailers.  By the end of the 19th
century, Patrick “PJ” Kennedy and John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald had
become successful Boston politicians.

Fitzgeralds in County Clare and America.  Mary Downes of Kilmaley in county Clare has a stack of American
newspaper cuttings.  Her husband who refuels planes at Shannon
Airport has collected the newspapers left by passengers and brought
them home. Recently the front pages have been screaming headlines about
Mary’s first cousin Patrick Fitzgerald, the unrelenting federal
prosecutor who indicted VP Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby
for revealing a CIA agent’s identity.

Patrick Fitzgerald has been a frequent visitor to his
cousin’s home over the years.  As a child Mary’s mother Mary
Fitzgerald, a sister of Patrick’s father, grabbed Petrick from the back
of a pony just as he was being led into a cow shed.  Mary
Fitzgerald recalled her famous nephew as being well mannered and a
little mischievous as a young boy.

Patrick would often come to Kilmaley for vacations with
his father Pat, his mother Tiffie, and siblings.  Pat senior had
left Kilmaley to better himself in America.  Paki, as he was known
in the family, had a reputation for hard work.  He got a job as a
doorman on an apartment block on Manhattan’s East Side and there he and
Tillie started a family together.


Select Fitzgerald Names

  • Maurice FitzGerald invaded Ireland with Strongbow in 1170 and was the
    forebear of the Fitzgeralds in Ireland.
  • Lord Edward FitzGerald, born into privilege, was the leader of the Irish rebellion in 1798. He was, however, captured and died in
    prison before the revolt could start.
  • Edward Fitzgerald was an
    English scholar famous for his English poetic version of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, born in
    Minnesota to a well-to-do Irish family, was the writer of novels such as The Great Gatsby which are
    evocative of the Jazz Age of the 1920’s.
  • Ella Fitzgerald is recognized
    as one of the finest and most lyrical voices in jazz.
  • Garret FitzGerald was twice the Irish Taoiseach in the 1980’s.

Select Fitzgerald Numbers Today

  • 21,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 33,000 in America (most numerous
    in Massachusetts).
  • 47,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

Select Fitzgerald and Like Surnames   The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion.  The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.

Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance.  They became more Irish, often Catholic.  When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded.  But others resisted and had lands confiscated.

Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.




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