Geary Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Geary Meaning

Geary has an English and an Irish origin:

  • early English spellings of the name were Jery, Gery, and
    The root may have been the Old English word geri meaning “spear” or in this
    case probably a spear carrier; or the Medieval English geary meaning “fickle” and
    descriptive (as used by Chaucer) of someone who is giddy or
  • the Irish root is the anglicized Gaelic O’Ghadra, meaning “hound.” O’Ghadra were the descendants of
    , a nephew of Eadrha who had founded the O’Hara
    sept. From O’Ghadra came
    the O’Garas and McGearys. The Geary name was
    adopted by a branch of the sept which had first migrated to Mayo and
    in the 16th century to West Munster.

Resources on

Geary Ancestry

The name Geary may have originated in Leicestershire as the
largest cluster of Gearys in the past were to be found in that
county. A Thomas Geary appeared on the lists of Kirby castle in
Leicestershire in 1485. John Geary, rector of Swepstone in the
1680’s, was involved in the local politics of the time in Leicester.

The Geary name was prominent in Leicestershire villages such as
Atterton, Barwell, Desford, Groby and Ratby, close to or southwest of
Leicester. The Gearys of Atterton and Ratby were quite
well-to-do. John Geary was recorded as a gentleman of Atterton in
1701. And another set of Gearys were prosperous farmers at Old
Hays, Ratby
later in the 18th century. Geary’s the bakers have been the main
employers in the village since 1906. George Geary, a cricketing
who played for Leicestershire and England in the inter-war years, came
from Barwell.

Ireland. The Geary
surname has been most in evidence in the Munster counties of Limerick,
Kerry, and Cork. Some from the original O’Ghadra sept had been prominent in the Catholic
church and in the
education of the clergy. However, by the 19th century there had
begun an exodus
from the region to England,
America and elsewhere.

But the Geary name is still noticeable in West Munster, particularly in
Limerick. One Geary family operated a biscuit business from their
Limerick plant at Merchant Quay since the early 1900’s. More
recently, another Geary family has run its successful Pallas Foods
business there until their decision to sell in early 2009.

America. William Geary
was in Salem, Massachusetts by 1639 and later settled nearby at
Wenham. The main branch of this family continued the Geary name;
but one line became Gerrys (this line led to Elbridge Gerry, a signer
of the Declaration of Independence, and the man who gave us
“gerrymandering.”) Other early Geary arrivals were John and Henry
Geary from Hertfordshire who bought land in Pennsylvania in 1682.

By the 19th century, Irish Geary immigrants were outnumbering English
Gearys by about two to one. There was also a smattering of
anglicized Gearys from Germany.
One Geary family in Pennsylvania, for instance, traces itself back to
Peter Gary, a Revolutionary war soldier, and German immigrants from the
Palatinate in the 1700’s. This Peter had many descendants.

Heading West
Some Gearys at that time went West. John and Ellen Geary,
escaping the potato
famine in Ireland, were early arrivals in San Francisco, getting there
in 1847 before the Gold Rush. They later settled in Mariposa
county. Also coming to San Francisco were:

  • John
    White Geary
    from Pennsylvania who was the first mayor of San
    Francisco in 1850.
  • and Thomas Geary who arrived in San
    Francisco from Boston in 1863
    and became its local Congressman. He gave his name to the Geary
    Act, the
    act which extended Chinese exclusion from the United States.

Meanwhile, John
and Sophia Geary
reached Salt Lake valley from England in

and New Zealand.

Patrick Geary from Ireland was probably the first Geary arrival.
He had enlisted in the NSW Corps and arrived in Sydney in 1797.
He was later given a land grant and he and his wife settled to farm in

Then came Geary
convict arrivals
, from both Ireland and England.
William Geary had been transported from Nottingham to Tasmania in 1833
for stealing a bushel of
wheat. On his release in 1938 he joined a whaling fleet and moved
to Taraniki in New Zealand. There he married a Maori girl
later farmed in Otago, South Island. His wife brought with her
an ancient carved stick, the tokotoko
which has been preserved as a family heirloom.

A later Geary arrival in New Zealand was Bartholomew Geary and his wife
Hannah. They came in 1871 from county Cork in Ireland and settled
in Riverton on the south coast of South Island.


Geary Miscellany

Geary Origins in Ireland.  The O’Ghadra clan first
emerged in county Sligo.  They were descended from Tiachleach,
Lord of South Leyney, who was killed in 946.  They were closely
assoiated with the O’Haras from an early time and the chiefs of the two
septs alternated as rulers of Luighne.

The Leyney territory in Sligo was the early center of the family and by
the 13th century the O’Garas, as they were then called, has possessed
themselves of the eastern part of the barony of Costello in Mayo
county.  Their castle was Moygara on the shore of the lake still
called Lough Gara.  Two archbishops of Tuam in Galway were O’Garas.

A branch of the Mayo sept moved to West Munster and there the name
became Geary.

William and Elizabeth Geary – from Ireland to London.  William and Elizabeth Geary had emigrated from Ireland in 1818 as part
of a group known as Richard Talbot’s Settlers.  Talbot, a relative
of Thomas Talbot who distributed land west of London, had obtained land
north of London in Middlesex.  Geary was dsignated a “gentleman”
on this list of settlers.

He chose the north half of Lot 14, Concession 5, and built a home
called Wilton Cottage.  Their five children helped develop the
area in what was then open country.  Sons John and William built
log cabins and constructed roads and bridges for the early settlers of
Adelaide township (now the London suburb of Northdale).

Later Gearys prospered in business, in London and elsewhere.
John’s son Robert inherited 100 acres after his father’s death in a
buggy accident in 1873.  He built there “a handsome two-storey
brick pleasantly located in a grove of forest trees.”  This Geary
house has subsequently had just two owners, the Rubinoffs and, since
1956, the Pooles. 

John and Sophia Geary – from Leicestershire to Utah.  John Geary was born to a well-to-do family in Atterton,
Leicestershire.  He married well and practiced law in

However, his and his wife’s lives were to change after an
elder from the Mormon church knocked on his door in London one day in
1851.   They subsequently attended many meetings of the
church and soon both he and Sophia were baptized.  This caused
“such a commotion” that his Geary family turned them out “without a
single copper.”  They also “disowned him entirely and wished never
to see him again.”  John and Sophia became fugitives, John even
having to shave his head in disguise.

They went to Liverpool where church members took them in, and
John worked on the docks at night loading and unloading freight to pay
for the passage to America.  They then crossed the Atlantic to New
Orleans, made their way up the Mississippi River, and then crossed over
to Council Bluffs, Iowa (where a son was born and died).  They
finally arrived in Salt Lake valley through the snows in late 1856.

Sophia Geary wrote in her diary:

“After a long pull and a strong pull
and a pull all together, we have managed to fight our way through
rivers, roads, creeks, over hills, and dales and snpw, and everything
else which is good and bad.  I am thankful we are here.”

John White Geary.  John White Geary cut an interesting figure.  Born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania  in 1819, he stood six
foot five and 1/2 half inches tall and weighed at least 200
pounds.  Photographs show Geary with a full and luxuriant beard;
which he kept black with a preparation that some say led to his death
by poisoning in 1873.  Deeply religious, Geary was a teetotaler
and abolitionist who would do anything to serve his country and
maintain the Union.  But he also sported a very bad temper, was
egotistical to a fault, and was a tireless self-promoter.

After fighting in the
Mexican war, Geary moved his family to San Francisco where President
James K. Polk appointed him as the city’s postmaster.  In 1850, he
became the city’s first mayor and spent two stormy years doing things
his own way, then returned home to Pennsylvania because his wife had
become deathly ill.  She passed away in 1853.

Three years later,
Geary accepted President Pierce’s offer to become governor of the
bloody Kansas territory. Although a Democrat, Geary opposed slavery,
which made him a target of repeated threats of assassination. Geary
resigned in 1857 when James Buchanan became president, and returned to
Pennsylvania where he farmed, practiced law, and remarried in 1858.

When the Civil War began, Geary got himself commissioned a colonel and
raised the fifteen-company 28th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
regiment. Promoted to brigadier general in early 1862, he was seriously
wounded at the Battle of Cedar Mountain.  He returned to duty as
commander of the Second Division, Twelfth Corps. and was to lead his
division in the fighting at Lookout Mountain, throughout the lengthy
campaign for Atlanta, Sherman’s March to the Sea, and into the
Carolinas in 1865.

A Tale of Two Convicts.  There were two William Gearys transported to Australia of which we have significant records.  It is important not to confuse
them because their experiences in Australia were completely different
and their outcomes were different.

The first William Geary arrived in Sydney on the Surrey in 1814.  He was a
violent man who escaped twice from prison.  The second time he was
at large for two years, the leader of a notorious gand of bushrangers.
He was eventually captured and executed. The following is this William
Geary’s trail through Australia according to the official documentation:

1814 On list of convicts diembarked
from the Surrey and forwarded
to Windsor for distribution.
1817 Prisoner at Newcastle.
Stabbed two men.  Thought to be insane.
1819 Runaway from Newcastle.
Recaptured (sentenced to 100 lashes).
Planned a murder in Newcastle so
that he could be sent to Sydney.
1821 Leader of bushrangers.
Escaped from Sydney jail.
Recaptured and executed.

The second William Geary, a framework knitter from
Nottingham, had an unpromising start, being holed up in a hilk on the
Thames for almost two years.  He eventually arrived in Tasmania on
the Jupiter in 1833.
But he served out his sentence without problem and joined a whaling
fleet.  The captain of the whaling fleet then helped him set up in
New Zealand.  He married a local Maori girl there and became a
successful farmer in South Island.

Francis Geary – Native of Ratby.  Imagine children playing where cars now scream
along the M1, where a horse called ‘Captain’ used to give three boys a
lift to the field before ploughing – Francis Geary, the ex ‘bowser
boy,’ gave his remembered account about climbing around Tigermoth
‘planes until two o’clock in the morning and diving “under the table”
when a stray wartime bomb went off nearby … “all the bums sticking
out from underneath this table – it was quite a laugh really.”

On his bike as a twelve year old paper boy Francis used to cycle
daily from Ratby to Groby, Newtown Linford and Woodhouse Eaves, often
delivering telegrams to the WAFF’s and WAC’s at the wartime
airbase.  Recalling how Newtown Lane used to be a lonely stretch
with no houses, Francis described some of the changes that have
happened in the landscape around the Ratby area in the last 60

Do you find yourself quoting the age old refrain: ‘kids wouldn’t
have acted like that in my day.’  Well perhaps things haven’t
changed that much as Francis ‘confessed’ to getting “chucked out of the
Scouts for fighting.”



Select Geary Names

  • Sir Francis Geary, said to be of Irish origin, was Admiral of the
    British fleet in 1773 and created a baronet.
  • John W. Geary was a prominent
    politician of the American West in the 19th century, serving as mayor of San Francisco and governor of Kansas Territory.
  • Benjamin Geary was a WW One
    hero from Canada who received the Victoria Cross for his bravery in combat.
  • James Geary is the
    London-based editor of Time magazine
    and author of The Body Electric.

Select Geary Numbers

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Edinburgh)
  • 5,000 in America (most numerous
    in Pennsylvania).
  • 5,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Geary and Like Surnames

Some surnames have originated from the English Midlands – the swathe of countryside which covers such counties as Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.





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