Fox Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Fox Meaning
If your surname is Fox, it could be of English, German, or Irish
origin. The English name was at first Foxe and then Fox.
The German word is Fuchs,
often anglicized to Fox. The Irish source is either the Gaelic Sionnach or the Anglo-Norman de Bosque. In each case, the
root is the animal, the fox.
Fox must have started out as a nickname. Did it refer to someone
of red hair, the color of a fox? Or was it someone considered
crafty or cunning, characteristics that are attributed to a

Resources on

Fox Ancestry

England. Where were the
foxes? A 14th century name distribution showed the Fox
surname to be mainly concentrated in a broad swathe of Middle England
from Nottinghamshire to Cheshire, with a lighter smattering in the
southern counties.

Notable Foxes in Tudor and Stuart times came from Lincolnshire and

  • Lincolnshire supplied Richard Foxe, the prominent
    churchman who founded Oxford’s Corpus Christi College, and John Foxe,
    the author of Foxe’s Book of
  • George Fox,
    the founder of the Quaker movement, was born in a small
    village just outside Leicester.

rural Wiltshire came two

  • one prominent in politics, the Foxes who were ennobled as the
    Barons Holland of Foxley
  • and the other a Quaker family who moved to Falmouth
    in Cornwall and started there various businesses based on Quaker

The ship agency business which George Croker Fox
began in Falmouth in 1762 still survives today. So too do
Caroline Fox’s diaries of her meetings and correspondence with
prominent Victorians of her day. From this family also came
Edward Long Fox, the medical practitioner who in 1800 built an asylum
for the well-to-do insane at Brislington House near Bristol.

A Fox family dated
from about 1500 at Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.
Henry Fox of this family was a London
merchant who traded with the American colonies in the early 1600’s. This trading was then carried on by his son
John and grandson John, the latter who was granted land in Virginia and

Yorkshire and Lancashire.
By the 19th century for whatever
reason, the Fox name had spread steadily northwards, into Yorkshire and
Lancashire. Did this represent migration? Or some quirks in

In Yorkshire the
cluster of Foxes was mainly in the South Riding,
particularly in and around the town of Dewsbury. Thomas Fox was
born there in 1591 and there was the redoubtable Squire Fox of the
18th century. A Victorian instiitution was Fox’s biscuits
in nearby Batley. Another Fox family business was the curiously
“shoddy and mango” merchant. And Dewsbury produced in the
20th century Leslie Fox, the noted mathematician, and Sir Marcus
Fox, the Conservative politician.

In Lancashire a
family historian has traced
own family in Roeburndale near Lancaster back to the early
1700’s. Isaac
went out to Jamaica in the early 1800’s.
Interestingly enough, a descendant of this family has seen the DNA’s of
a number
of Foxes in Yorkshire and Lancashire and found little genetic
connection with his family.

If there was no Fox clan in England, there
definitely was in Ireland, or rather two of them:

  • the Sionnach
    who claimed an ancient heritage
  • and the de Bosque Foxes who came with the Anglo-Norman influx in
    12th century.

The Sionnach heartland was County Offaly in the
middle of Ireland; the de Bosques were mainly in County
Limerick, in particular in Doon. When the English began to enforce
the anglicization of names, both Sionnachs and de Bosques became Foxes
(although some Sionnachs did opt for Shinnick instead). In
Gaelic speaking schools, a distinction did remain between the two names.

Tadg O’Catharnaigh, the Offaly clan chief
died in 1086, was the first to adopt the Sionnach (Fox) name.
Their base was an area between what is now Clara and
Ballycumber (the Rock of the Fox, an ancient ceremonial place, still
exists there).

They were an aggressive warlike clan, engaged in
raiding against their neighbors and fighting the Anglo-Norman presence
in the region. Their chief Hubert
resisted but lost against the forces of
Cromwell in the
1650’s. As a result, his estates were confiscated and the family

One who did well for himself, as a merchant in Dublin,
was Patrick Fox. He acquired Foxhall in County Longford and his
family became landed gentry there. But Foxhall, like Kilcoursey
castle in Offaly, is just a ruin today. The last of this line
two sisters, Amelia and Evelyn Fox.

America. If you are a Fox
in America, you could be of English, Irish, or German origin.

English Foxes
early arrival was Thomas Fox who settled in Concord, Massachusetts in
the 1640’s. In 1819, the Rev. James Angel Fox moved to
Mississippi and later generations lived in Louisiana. Charles
Fox, a descendant of another early Fox immigrant into Massachusetts,
headed West in the 1860’s and was one of the founding fathers of San
Diego in California.

Justinian Fox from the Fox family in Falmouth had arrived in
Philadelphia in 1686. A descendant, Joseph Fox, was Speaker of
the Pennsylvania Assembly during the Stamp Tax uproar and the family
later moved
to Foxburg in western Pennsylvania. The family story was
in Joe Fox’s 2006 book, The Fox
Family of Philadelphia

John Fox
, a London merchant, came to Virginia in 1664 and
the forebear of a well-to-do Virginian family.
Gentleman Henry Fox was his son and he made his home at Huntington along the Mattaponi river in
King William county. There followed:

  • the Rev. John Fox who was the rector at
    Ware in Gloucester county in 1750.
  • William Fox who was supposed to have “put a period to his
    existence by
    firing a ball into his head” in 1795 after having been indicted for
    killing one
    of his servants for stealing.
  • while William D. McCain’s 1971 Fox book covered the
    later Henry Fox lines in South Carolina and Mississippi.

Irish Foxes John
Fox had arrived in Virginia from Ireland in 1649. Possibly he was
the forebear of the writer John Fox Jr.

His earliest known
ancestor was William Fox who was born in Loudoun county,
Virginia around 1710. His
Scots Irish descendants crossed the Wilderness Road to Kentucky in
1790. There followed three generations of Kentucky schoolmasters
and then John Jr. who became famous through his
novels about the mountain people of the bluegrass region. John
settled in Big
Stone Gap, Virginia where there is now a John Fox Jr. museum.

It is unclear whether James Fox was of Irish or English origin.  Born around 1740 and first found in Shenandoah county in Virginia, he had descendants who spread widely.  Some moved after the Revolutionary War to Kentucky; while Allen and Virginia Fox left for Buncombe county in North Carolina.  One line of this family later crossed the border into Canada and settled in Winnipeg.

The Fox influx from Ireland gathered pace as the 19th century
proceeded. William Fox, for instance, came to Wisconsin from West
Meath in the 1830’s; Richard Fox to Ohio from Dublin in 1841; Francis
and Mary Fox to Tennessee from Roscommon in 1848; and Miles and Bridget
Fox to Bytown in Ontario from Sligo in the 1870’s.

German Foxes The
Fox/Fuchs immigration from Germany seems to have started
in the 1700’s, into New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Christoph Fuchs, later Christopher Fox, came to Ohio in the

well-known descendants of
19th century immigrants were William Fox, who founded the Fox Film
and Vicente Fox, a recent President of Mexico.

Canada. James and Johanna
Fox left Ireland for Canada in 1825. They kept the old Gaelic
name of Sionnach until the 1830’s. They were listed as “Shinig”
in the 1826 Newcastle district census. By the time of the 1839
census, they were referred to as Fox.

Australia. Arthur and
Frances Ellen Fox arrived from Cavan in Ireland in the 1840’s.
They bought the Marybank estate in the Adelaide foothills in 1852 and
their descendants (now into the fifth generation) have held onto the
property ever since.

Another early settler was the English Isaac Fox. He was said to
be a man of stern principles and never happy with his lot.
However, he married twice and raised thirteen children in total.
They made their homes in New South Wales and Queensland.


Select Fox Miscellany

Origin of the Sionnach Name.  No doubt there are several of us who have read or heard that the origins of the Fox name have something to do with the 11th century Tadhg O’Catharnaigh’s cleverness in battle as well as ability to acquire land.  When you travel to Ireland, you can even
buy a plaque and scroll which makes this claim.  Since this was the time period when nicknames were not uncommon and surnames began to be used, this seemed and still seems plausible.

However, recent close reading of The Annals of Ireland by the Four Masters as well as The
Annals of Loch Ce
and The
Annals of Ulster
reveal a quite different story, one that is
also quite plausible but not as charming or pleasant.

Collectively, these sources report that in the year 1024
Ireland’s chief poet and historian Cuan Ua Lothchain (Cwan O’Logan) was
killed in Teathbha by “the men of Teathbha.”  Here the story
splits: one version is that the murderer thereafter acquired a strong
odor, making him “easily known among the rest of the land.”  He
was therefore nicknamed “Fox,” anyone who has ever experienced the
scent sprayed by a skunk has a very good idea of what fox smells like
too.  The other version of the story is that the men who killed
him were killed within an hour of the poet’s death and they were not
buried but left as carrion for the birds and beasts, and one can
imagine the stench in the air from that.

The problem with this line of explanation is that it is hard to believe
descendants of someone nicknamed in such a derogatory way would opt to
keep that name through the generations, “Fox” being equivalent to
“stinking assassin.”  The second explanation makes even less
sense, since no one would want to name themselves after a relative or
relatives who were not even worthy of burial after the murder of a
great poet and historian.

This brings us back to the original line of explanation – that old Tadg
O’Catharnaigh was skilled in battle as well as in acquiring land.
Since Tadg died in 1086, he most likely could not have taken part in a
murder from 1024 unless he died a very old man and was born well before
1024.  Although none of the reading supports or even suggests he
was a skilled warrior/landowner, the reasoning behind it nevertheless
makes more sense than the “stinking assassin” story.

Hubert Fox in Ireland.  The Irish love a rebel and Hubert Fox can stake a claim
to this affection.  Chief of the Fox clan in the 1600’s, he
resisted English rule and fought against Cromwellian forces.  He
lost his estates and fled his ancestral home, Lehinch castle, in 1641
with a price of £400 on his head.  The English even promised
outlaws a pardon if they delivered Fox into their hands.  A
testament to the loyalty of the Irish, no one did and he disappeared
from history.

Many lines of the Fox family today claim descent from him.

George Fox – The Founder of Quakerism.  George Fox was born in Leicestershire in 1634.  His father was a
weaver, called “righteous Christer” by his neighbors; his mother, Mary
Lago, was – as he tells us – “of the stock of the martyrs.”  Even
at a young age, George Fox was fascinated by the Bible which he studied

“When I came to eleven years of age,” he said, “I knew
pureness and righteousness; for, when I was a child, I was taught how
to walk to be kept pure.  The Lord taught me to be faithful in all
things and to act faithfully two ways, inwardly to God and outwardly to

The following address by Brinley Morris in Falmouth,
where there were many Quaker Foxes, invoked the spirit of the man.

“George Fox was a shoemaker.  He toured the country
as he plied his trade, giving sermons to anyone who would listen and
arguing that consecrated buildings such as churches and ordained
ministers were irrelevant to the individual seeking God.  Three
years later Fox had a divine revelation that inspired him to preach a
gospel of brotherly love.  And so the Society of Friends was born,
later to be called the Quakers.  The word itself, I understand,
was first used by Justice Bennet of Derby who heard Fox urging his
followers to ‘tremble I urge thee at the word of God.’  And so the
Quakers were born.”

A Letter Dated 1662 to Captain John Fox.  Captain John Fox the London
merchant who came to Virginia in 1664 apparently had a brother named
Stephen who
was lost at sea one year earlier.  In
1662 he had sent the following letter to his brother:

“Loving brother,

We set
sail from New England on August 5th and encountered two storms.  Have thrown overboard fish and mackerel and
pipestaves.  Three horses drowned, one of
which was between yourself and my brother Thomas, so that you have lost
all as
well as my brother Thomas and myself and Peter.
I know not whether I have saved anything until I come to some
port.  I hope you paid the three guineas I
to you from Deal.

I have sent 50-70 cwt of tobacco to Captain Thomas Carter
Nancemund on the James river.  I had a
servant run away in Virginia and that makes me not know what quantity
tobacco is in Captain Carter’s hands.
Let my brother Peter, my sister Mary and my brother William have
it.  Captain Jonathan Whitty who uses
Virginia knows the man and will bring it home.
That will be £70 or £80 apiece.

I am in haste as the ship is under sail.

Your loving brother
Stephen Fox”

Isaac Fox of Jamaica.  Isaac Fox of Roeburndale was born in an uphill sheep farm some 12 miles
east of Lancaster in Lancashire.  He moved to Kingston in Jamaica
around 1790.  Our first record of him there is in 1792 where he is
listed as a merchant.  Two years later, he married Christiana
Stevenson, a widow, at St. Andrews.

Fox appears to be a man of some substance and
vigor.  He was a merchant, soldier, and clergyman.   He
owned a coffee plantation, Mount Chrissey.  In the Jamaican
Almanac of 1818, Mount Chrissey is listed as his property, with 78

When Christiana died, Isaac married for the second time
to Mary Eliza Young in 1806.  She was an 18 year old bride who
required her father’s permission to marry.  It seems probable that
the new bride never travelled to Jamaica as her two children were born
in England.

Isaac Fox was lost at sea in January 1811, leaving or
returning from Jamaica.  His estate took some time to finalize as
it received £16,000 from the British Government to free the slaves.

The Falmouth Foxes Travelling to London.  Travelling by coach or horesback at that time was slow, tedious, and
uncomfortable.   The Foxes would have to travel to their
religious meetings in London in the very uncomfortable Royal Mail coach
via Bodmin, Exeter, and Salisbury – starting from the Falmouth Ship Inn
at 3 am, arriving at Exeter at 9 am, and then some passengers joining
the different coaches to Portsmouth, Bristol, and Bath.  Russell’s
cheaper fly wagon would go to London every Monday and Thursday and
would start from Killigrew Street and arrive late the next day.

Sometimes the Foxes would go by sea in a sloop to Plymouth and would
visit the Crown and Anchor Tavern in Falmouth and negotiate the fare
with the captain who would stay to meet the passengers.  A packet
boat from Truro would come and return with the tide each day, weather
permitting, with goods and passengers. The passengers would visit with
the proprietor Mr. Vann, also at the Crown and Anchor Tavern, for a

The Fox Family in Ohio.  Christopher Fox (his name changed from Fuchs to Fox) had left Germany
and arrived in America in 1852, finally reaching Greenfield in Highland
County, Ohio in 1855.  He married Katherine Ohmberger in 1856 and
he and his wife resided there for the remainder of their lives.
Most of their married life was spent at 111 Mirabeau Street in a
property which they had purchased and where most of their eleven
children were born.

Living near the edge of Greenfield, then a village, and
having a large lot, they kept a cow, pigs, and always a large garden
and abundance of flowers and shrubbery with trees surrounding on the
roadside, which made the home very attractive.

They were people of the pioneer type, upright,
industrious, sociable, and neighborly, of Protestant faith, attending
church regularly, respecting Sunday as a Holy Day, and living a
Christian life every day of the year, always morning, night and before
all meals offering prayer.

They were more interested in living as they loved life
more than the accumulation of wealth.  Their home and the rearing
of their large family was their main interest.

Reader Feedback – Clan Fox.  The listing for Clan Fox is factually incorrect.  Hubert Fox was not the last Clan Chief.  The last and current Clan Chief, “The
Fox,” is John William Fox of New South Wales, Australia.

clan, a sept of the Southern O’Neil
originated with Catharnaighe, is pronounced “Caharney” or “Carney.”
Teige or Tadgh O Catharnaighe was given the nick-name “Sionnach”,
which means “Fox.”  The reasons
are unclear, but he was the first of that name.  Other
family members adopted Sionnach as their
family name, some retained Carney.

1698 when the Irish Penal Laws were introduced by the English, it
unlawful to use ones Gaelic family name, so Sionnach was
generally, to Fox.  Some clan members reverted to Carney,
some to Shinnick,
and, possible due to semi-literate recorders, Kearney.


Eoin MacSeai’n O’Sionnach (



Select Fox

  • Tadg O’Catharnaigh, the Irish clan chief who died in 1086, was the first to adopt the Sionnach (Fox) name. 
  • John Foxe published his Foxe’s
    Book of Martyrs
    in 1563, a book that helped inflame
    anti-Catholic sentiment in England at the time. 
  • George Fox, born in Leicestershire in 1624, was the founder of the Religious
    Society of Friends, i.e. the Quaker movement. 
  • Charles James Fox was a leading
    Whig politician of the Regency age, bested, however, by his
    arch-rival William Pitt. 
  • John Fox Jr wrote books such
    as Trail of the Lonesome Pine and
    The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come which were the first million-copy sellers in the United States. 
  • William Fox, born Wilhelm Fuchs, started the Fox Film Corporation in 1915, the forerunner to today’s 20th Century Fox and the Fox Television Network. 
  • Vicente Fox was President of Mexico from 2000 to 2006.
    Although born in Mexico, his paternal line traces back to a German immigrant Fuchs family that settled in Cincinnati.

Select Fox Numbers Today

  • 92,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Gloucestershire)
  • 61,000 in America (most numerous
    in California).
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Fox and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.





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