Ford Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Ford Meaning
Ford is one of
the oldest locational surnames, from the Old English ford – meaning a shallow place in
the river for crossing. It described either someone who lived by
a ford or who came from a place named Ford (of which there were many in

Ford Resources on

England. The surname is
to be found throughout England, but with
a slanting towards the west country – from Devon to Lancashire.

The Ford name in Somerset may date back to the 13th
century. Fords from that
county came to Cork in Ireland in 1585 as part of the
Protestant settlement there.

The Fords
Bagtor in Ilsington
were local gentry in Devon in the 16th
century. Fords were also farmers at Branscombe in east Devon at
that time. William Braddick Ford who farmed there in the late
18th century kept a diary which has been preserved. Another Ford
family from Devon – who were to emigrate to New Zealand – have traced
themselves back to William Ford of Woodleigh in south Devon in the late
18th century.

Ireland. The Ford name
can also be Irish in origin, either as an English implant
or an anglicization of a Gaelic sept name:

  • one Forde
    from Devon
    became landowners in
    Meath, Wicklow and county Down.
  • while the American auto maker Henry
    Ford had Irish roots
    , his ancestors in Cork having come
    there originally from
  • meanwhile
    a number of Gaelic septs adopted Ford as an anglicized form
    of their name, such as the O’Fuarain sept in Limerick. Their
    name was sometimes seen as Forde or Fourde.

America. The first Ford
in America may well have been William Ford, a miller, who settled first
in Duxbury in 1643 and later moved to Marshfield, Massachusetts. Andrew

was recorded as a landowner
in Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1642 and his sons subsequently settled in
Abington. This line was covered in
Elizabeth Stewart’s 1968 book Descendants
of Andrew Ford of Weymouth.

Irish Fords. However,
larger number of Ford arrivals in
came from Ireland rather than from England. Among these Irish Fords were:

  • William Ford who immigrated to America (possibly with two
    brothers) sometime in the 1770’s. He settled in Saratoga county
    in upstate New York. One of his sons drowned in the Hudson river
    after a night of drinking in a tavern. Other Fords of this family
    moved west to Ohio.
  • Patrick Ford
    who came to Boston as a young boy with his
    parents in 1846. He made his name as the editor and
    publisher of the Boston Tribune
    in the years prior to the Civil War. After the war he started up The Irish World in New York, a
    weekly journal that was to champion the Irish-American cause. His
    nephew Austin Ford was also a publisher in New York. Austin’s
    family became missionaries.
  • William Ford, who left Cork in 1847 with his parents at the
    height of the potato famine for Dearborn, Michigan. His son
    was the automobile pioneer Henry Ford.
  • and Michael and Catherine Ford from Roscommon, also fleeing the
    potato famine, who reached New York City in 1849. They joined
    other Fords from Ireland that settled in Newark, New Jersey.

Canada. Ernest Ford,
reportedly disorderly, came to Toronto from Birmingham in England at
the age of 11 in 1902, as part of a child immigration scheme. He married there and had two
sons – one Henry who was electrocuted at a railway station at the age
of six and the other Doug who became a successful businessman.
Doug’s sons Doug and Rob were both local politicians, Rob being the
controversial mayor of Toronto from 2010 to 2014.


Ford Miscellany

Fords in Devon.  There were
said to have been Fords at Moreton Hampstead in Devon from the 12th
century.  They were later to be found at
Chagford, Ashburton, and Ilsington.  From
Thomas Ford in Ilsington came John Ford of Bagtor, a playwright during
reign of Charles I, and Sir Henry Ford, briefly Secretary of State for
at the time of Charles II.  Bagtor House
in Ilsington still stands. 

Fordes in Seaforde in County Down.  The village
of Seaforde was named after the Forde family that descended from
Nicholas Forde
of Dunboyne in county Meath.  He had held
the post of Deputy Victualler in Cork in 1580, as supplier to Queen
army in Ireland.

The village lands were
purchased by Nicholas’s fifth son, Mathew Forde.  Although
Coolgreany in county Wexford was the
principal seat of the Forde family during the 17th century, they later
established themselves at Seaforde.
Seaforde was the birthplace of Colonel Francis Forde who fought
served with Clive of India.  And Fordes
still live at Seaforde House.

Fords in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
Ireland   1,633    49
England   1,559    47
Scotland     117     3
Elsewhere      43     1

Andrew Ford in Abington.  In 1664
Andrew Ford of Weymouth and his brother-in-law James Lovell purchased
200 acres
of land in Plymouth colony of what was called the Southern Grant, lands
purchased from local Indian tribes.
Andrew’s portion became known as Ford’s Farms.

The first settler on Ford’s Farms was
Andrew’s son Andrew who built a house there in 1679 on the knoll above
the stepping-over-place
on the Schumatuscacant river.  Andrew was
followed by two of his brothers.  In 1685
these Fords were recorded as the only inhabitants of Old Abington.  There is a road in Abington that is known as
Andrew Ford Way.

Henry Ford’s Irish Roots.  The Ford
family had initially settled in county Cork during the latter half of
the 16th
century.   At that time the English
was awarding confiscated land to English Protestant settlers and this
the Ford family to leave their native Somerset in England and join
Protestant settlers in Ireland.

Ford, Henry’s grandfather, lived in the simple stone cottage which his
William had built in 1800 on the Madame estate in Ballinascarthy where
he was a
tenant farmer.  There are still a number
of Fords in the area.  But in 1847 at the
height of the famine John was forced to uproot his family first to Cork
and then
across the Atlantic to Canada.  Henry’s
father William, then 21 years old, accompanied his family on the
voyage, which
Tomasine – Henry Ford’s grandmother – was not to survive.

From Quebec the Fords travelled to America
where John’s three brothers had
emigrated in the 1830’s.  Their
arduous journey finally ended in Dearborn, Michigan.
There in 1848 John bought an eight-acre farm
from a fellow Cork man called Henry Maybury.

Henry’s father William was a quiet-speaking, hard-working man and
expected his eldest son to take an interest in the farm.
But Henry did not like farm work.  He
was a boy with a vision of his own.  So at
16 years of age Henry left the farm for
the city.

Patrick Ford and The Irish World.  Patrick Ford arrived in America as a young boy and, as
he himself admitted, knew nothing of Ireland or its history or politics.  However, the conditions he encountered in
America in the 1850’s and 1860’s made him aware that he was Irish.  He recalled later:

“I travelled footsore day after day through
Boston for a place for a place at a dollar a week or at any price.  I would see a notice: “Boy wanted – no Irish
need apply.”  To get that place I must
lie.  I couldn’t do that, even if I could
have got rid of the brogue which would have betrayed me.”

In 1870 Ford started up The Irish World in Brooklyn, a
weekly journal that was to champion
the Irish-American cause.  He was to run
this paper with the help of his brothers until his death in 1913.  It remained an influential at times radical
throughout this period.  However, after
had gone, The Irish World
entered into a slow decline and closed in 1951.


Ford Names

John Ford from Bagtor in
Devon was a
pre-Restoration playwright of the early 17th century.
Henry Ford was the founder of Ford
Motor Company and of modern assembly line practice.
John Feeney to Irish
parents, was one of the great American film directors of the 20th

and Eileen Ford

founded the Ford Modelling
Agency in New York in 1946 and ran it for fifty years.


of the New York Yankees
was a leading baseball pitcher of the 1950’s.

Gerald R. Ford was the 38th
President of the United States. He took the name Ford from his
Harrison Ford is an
American actor best known for his Indiana
films. He
like Henry Ford is of Irish descent.

Select Ford Numbers Today

  • 54,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 68,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 35,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)




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