Ford Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Ford Surname 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 England).

Ford Surname Resources on The Internet

Ford Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England and Ireland
  • to America, Canada, South Africa and Australia

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 of 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 family 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 Somerset.
  • 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.  Early Fords in America were English and came to New England.

New England.  Martha Ford was the first Ford in America, arriving on the Fortune in 1621.

Andrew Ford 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.  Meanwhile William Ford, a miller, settled first in Duxbury in 1643 and later moved to Marshfield, Massachusetts.

Irish Fords. However, the larger number of Ford arrivals in America came from Ireland rather than from England. 

The earliest line was from William Ford who immigrated to America (possibly with two brothers) 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 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.

But the most notable line was that of 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.

Among other arriving Irish Fords were:

  • Michael and Catherine Ford from Roscommon, fleeing the potato famine, who reached New York in 1849. They joined other Fords from Ireland that settled in Newark, New Jersey.
  • and John and Mary Ford from Mayo who arrived in New York in the 1850’s.  A descendant is the actor Harrison Ford.

Canada.  Ernest Ford, reportedly disorderly, came to Toronto from Birmingham in England at the age of eleven 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 Ford being the controversial mayor of Toronto from 2010 to 2014.  Doug Ford became Premier of Ontario in 2018.

South Africa.  James Edward Ford, a woolstapler from London, was almost sixty when he set off with his family as one of the 1820 British settlers to South Africa.  He lived there another twenty years and in fact embarked on a new career as miniature portrait painter from his studio in Cape Town.

Many of his descendants were judges or practiced law in the Cape Colony.  George William Ford, aged just one on the family’s arrival in South Africa, was a doctor who looked after the wounded and sick at Worcester during the Boer War.  The history was recounted in Tony Westby-Nunn’s 2020 book The Ford and Messina Families in South Africa.

Australia.  Thomas Ford from Wiltshire and his wife Agnes departed Plymouth for Australia on the Stebonheath in 1849.  They arrived in Adelaide but eventually settled to farm in Campbells Creek, Victoria.  Agnes died in 1912 at the grand age of ninety-one.

New Zealand.  William Ford and his large family (all daughters) from Hampshire arrived in New Zealand on the Cressy in 1850.  They made their home in Christchurch.

Ford Surname 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 the reign of Charles I, and Sir Henry Ford, briefly Secretary of State for Ireland 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 Elizabeth’s 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 and 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

Reader Feedback – Martha Ford in America.  One of the first Fords in America was Martha Ford.  She came to America on the second crossing of the Pilgrims on the Fortune.  Her husband died either on the trip or shortly after arriving.

Douglas Ford (

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 crown was awarding confiscated land to English Protestant settlers and this prompted the Ford family to leave their native Somerset in England and join other Protestant settlers in Ireland.

John Ford, Henry’s grandfather, lived in the simple stone cottage which his father 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 paper throughout this period.  However, after Ford had gone, The Irish World entered into a slow decline and closed in 1951.

Harrison Ford’s Ancestry.  Harrison’s Ford roots are Irish, with his forebears John and Mary Ford having arrived in New York from county Mayo in the 1850’s.

Their grandson John Edward, born in New York in 1881, took the stage name of John Fitzgerald Ford and became a vaudeville comedian.  Unfortunately he died at the age of thirty-six when he fell backwards onto a New York brownstone stoop right onto his head and succumbed.

His son John William was just eleven at the time.  He too took to the stage under his name of Christopher Ford.  Later he became an advertising executive and moved to Chicago.  His son Harrison Ford was born there in 1942.  Mostly the actor remembers his Catholic religious instruction and that he and his younger brother Terence were raised Democrat.

Film Director John Ford’s Meeting with Steven Spielberg.  The Fabelmans, a movie released in 2022, is Steven Spielberg’s fictionalized account of events that shaped his teenage years at the time of his family’s move from Arizona to California.

The film recreated his real-life meeting in California with the legendary film director John Ford.  The details of that encounter – down to the safari shirt, eye patch and chewed-up cigar – were exactly as they appeared in the final scene of The Fabelmans.

Ford had Spielberg (Sammy in the film) walk around the room pointing out where the horizon was in the various paintings hung up on the walls. The advice he gave Spielberg that day, as conveyed in the film: “When the horizon is on the bottom, it’s interesting. When the horizon is on top, it’s interesting. When the horizon is in the middle, it’s boring.”

The anecdote ended with Ford telling Spielberg: “Now get the f— out of here.”

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 Ford, born John Feeney to Irish parents, was one of the great American film directors of the 20th century.   
  • Jerry and Eileen Ford founded the Ford Modelling Agency in New York in 1946 and ran it for fifty years. 
  • Whitey Ford 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 stepfather.
  • Harrison Ford is an American actor best known for his Indiana Jones films. He like Henry Ford is of Irish descent.

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)

Ford and Like Surnames

These names are locational, describing someone who lived in those medieval times by the side of a bank, or by a barn or a lane or a shaw (which means a wood) or a wood and so forth.  Both the oak tree and the ash tree have in fact provided locational surnames – Oakes and Nash (from atten Ash).  Here are some of these locational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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