Gorman Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Gorman Surname Meaning

The Irish name is Mac Gormain, derived from the Gaelic gorm meanng “dark blue” or possibly “noble.”  Early Celtic warfare entailed painting the face or body to intimidate the enemy.  It is conjectured that Mac Gormain warriors might have picked up this nomenclature in battle and it was handed down to their offspring.  Under English rule this surname became Gorman.

Gorman is an interesting example of a surname which, having lost its Gaelic prefix under English rule, put back the wrong one, O’Gorman, after the restoration of national consciousness.  The person probably responsible for the “O” for “Mac” was Tomas Chevalier O’Gorman, an exiled vineyard owner in France in the 18th century.

Gorman Surname Resources on The Internet

Gorman Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Leinster)
  • to France, Argentina, America, Canada, and Australia

Ireland. The Mac Gormains were originally a sept established in Meath and in Slieve Margy in the southeast corner of present-day Laios, although they were driven from here to Clare and Monaghan by the Anglo-Norman incursions of the late 12th century.

The first of the family to settle in Munster was Murtagh, son of Donogh, who died there in 1124.  The chiefs of the family held lands in Ibrickan and Moyarta in county Clare that was under the control of the O’Briens, the Princes of Thomond.  A branch of the family acted as hereditary marshall for the O’Briens.  In the 15th century the Mac Gormains of Ibrickan were known for their wealth, hospitality, and patronage of Gaelic poets.  

“In 1484 Donald Mac Gormain of Ibrickan died, one of O’Brien’s servants of trust.  He kept a house of general hospitality and was the richest man in Ireland in livestock.”  

Many Mac Gormains lost their lands in Meath in the 16th century and many in Clare suffered the same indignities at the time of Cromwell.  Denis Mac Gormain, captain of the confederate armies in Clare, was captured and executed by Cromwell’s forces in 1652.

Gormans did remain in Clare during the penal years and later some Gormans migrated east into Tipperary.

France.  Thomas Gorman of Inchiquin in Clare was one of the “wild geese” who fled Ireland for France in the early 1700’s.  He settled in Burgundy.

His grandson Tomas Chevalier O’Gorman owned vineyards in Burgundy, promoted the O’Gorman name back in Clare, but lost everything during the French Revolution.  He returned to Ireland where he died in 1810.

South America.  The Gorman name was to be found early on in Argentina and later in Mexico.

Argentina.  Miguel O’Gorman from Ennis in county Clare had studied medicine in Spain and practiced as a physician at the Spanish Court.  This status and position made him popular with the elite at Spain’s River Plate colony when he arrived there in 1777.

The O’Gormans remained well-connected in post-colonial Argentina.  But this did not prevent the tragic death of the young Camila O’Gorman, shot by a military firing squad, occurring in 1848.

Mexico.  Charles O’Gorman was appointed the first British consul to Mexico City in 1826. Charles and his Mexican wife Anita returned to the Britain with their eldest son John, who married his Mexican cousin and went back to Mexico.  

Charles’s grandson Cecil was a mining engineer and painter who arrived in Mexico in 1895.  His two sons distinguished themselves in Mexico, Juan as an architect and Edmundo as a writer and historian.

America.  The first Gorman in America may well have been John Gorman, recorded among the Scots Irish settlers in Augusta county, Virginia in 1748. He was next in Botetourt county and descendants moved to Ohio and Missouri. 

Another early Gorman was Christopher Gorman, found in Lunenburg and Pittsylvania counties, Virginia in the 1750’s and 1760’s.  Simpson Gorman, born in South Carolina in 1805, migrated to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and finally to Arkansas.  From him, it is thought, came the Bradley county Gormans in  Mississippi.

John Gorman came around 1794 and settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where he engaged in the cattle trade.   His grandson Arthur Pue Gorman was one of the early developers of the game of baseball and later served for more than twenty years as the US Senator from Maryland

Later Gormans in America from Ireland included:

  • David and Elizabeth Gorman who settled in Kentucky.  Elizabeth died in the cholera epidemic of 1833.  Their son Willis fought in the war against Mexico and went on to be Governor of Minnesota and a Union general during the Civil War.
  • and Richard O’Gorman, a nationalist who faced the death penalty in Ireland in 1848, escaped to America, and became a High Court Judge in New York.

CanadaDaniel O’Gorman married Catherine Power in Prospect, Nova Scotia in 1829.  Gormans from Dromore in county Tyrone were recorded in St. John, New Brunswick by the 1830’s. 

Larry Gorman, the son of Irish immigrants Thomas and Ann Gorman from Kilkenny, was born in Prince Edward Island, Canada in 1846.  He was a wandering laborer throughout his life, first in New Brunswick and then across the border in Maine, but is best remembered for the songs he composed, often of a satirical nature, which he brought with him on his travels.

Richard and Mary Gorman came to Ottawa via Quebec in the 1860’s.  Another Mary Gorman was the mother of the great sports promoter Tommy Gorman, born in Ottawa in 1886 (his father had died soon after the birth). The house on Euclid Avenue where she raised him stayed with the Gorman family until 1971.

Australia.  James Gorman from Tipperary was transported to Sydney as a convict in 1834 on the Blenheim.  He was granted his Certificate of Freedom in Bathurst, NSW in 1843.  He married Irish immigrant Ellen Phillips, aged then just fifteen, five years later.  They were the parents of fifteen children between 1848 and 1871 when Ellen died after being gored by a bull.

Gorman Surname Miscellany

Gormans and O’Gormans Today.  O’Gormans outnumber Gormans in Ireland today.  But outside Ireland it is almost all Gorman.

Numbers (000’s) Gorman O’Gorman Total
Ireland    4    5    9
Elsewhere   26    1   27
Total   30    6   36

O’Gorman was a reintroduced spelling after years of English rule.  It had become the majority spelling in county Clare by the late 19th century and in Tipperary and indeed for all of Ireland by the late 20th century.  A few McGormans exist, mainly in northern Monaghan.

The Gormans of Meath.  The migration of members of this family to Meath took place in the ninth century, where their descendants remained until the 16th century when Gormanstown passed into the possession of the English family of Preston.

Though their property was lost to them, the Meath O’Gormans did not forsake their ancient district. Numbers of them were still to be found at Monknewtown and Slane, although some of them were in reduced circumstances. Slane had been their burial-place.  In that churchyard numerous tombstones belonging to them still exist.

One line of Gormans did prosper later.  James O’Gorman had served as a lieutenant in King James II’s army in Ireland.  His son James Gorman, toeing the English line, was a timber merchant in Dublin and his descendants remained there, although they continued to be buried in Slane.

Richard O’Gorman, from Dublin via Prison to America.  Richard O’Gorman, from a respectable Dublin family, joined the Young Ireland Party and took an active part in the public disorders of 1848.

But the British Government took a hard line on their protests.  He and eight others were captured, put on trial, convicted of treason, and sentenced to death.  Protests from all round the world then forced the Government to commute the sentence to life transportation.

O’Gorman never went to Australia. Instead he managed to escape to France in a fishing smack out of Cork and later made his way to America.  He did not become, as some stories have it, Governor General of Newfoundland.  Instead he became an American High Court Judge and a proud American patriot. 

The Tragic Story of Camila O’Gorman.  The O’Gormans with their money, position and background were very influential in Argentine society in the 1840’s.  Adolf O’Gorman’s daughter Camila was a friend of the ruthless and repressive dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas’s daughter, Manuelita, and she was received at functions in the official residence.

In 1846, at the age of twenty, she met and fell in love with Father Uladislao Gutierrez, from a well-known family in Tucuman, who had recently arrived in Buenos Aires. The young couple eloped on horseback.

The fugitives fled to the north and were at large for around six months. They were in the end captured in the small town of San Andres.  It was here on August 18, 1848 that the lives of Father Gutierrez, Camila O’Gorman, and her unborn child met a violent end.  They were tied to chairs and shot to death by a military firing squad.

Camila got no leniency from Rosas.  He accepted full responsibility for the execution and said that nobody had made any plea for the couple.

Reader Feedback – O’Gormans in Nova Scotia.  I was wondering if you happen to know the origin of the O’Gormans in Nova Scotia.  They started with Daniel O’Gorman who married Catherine Power in Prospect, Nova Scotia in 1829.  Some say it was county Cork, others say county Clare or county Limerick.  Any tips would be most welcome.

Kathleen Louden (kathleeninc@rogers.com)

Reader Feedback – Gormans in Lynchburg, Virginia.  James Gorman (1866-1924) was a saloon keeper and whiskey dealer in Lynchburg, Virginia.  His lasting legacy was probably in the achievements of his children whom he empowered to obtain the advanced education he never knew.  Two of his sons became prominent physicians and a third son a lawyer and judge.

My grandfather Dr. James Raymond Gorman married Mary Woodville Ferguson which tapped into the Pioneers, First Families of Virginia and William and Mary Brewster. William was the Elder on the Mayflower that landed in Plymouth.

Tom Gorman (tlgjr12251962@yahoo.com).

Larry Gorman’s Barren Town.  Larry Gorman’s song Barren town, made up in New Brunswick “to speak my mind on womenkind,” has a satirical bent.  This verse is a fair sample:

  • “Now they’ll marry a man, it’s if they can,
  • And keeping house they’ll go;
  • Till all at once they’ll shove on style,
  • Let the wages be high or low.
  • And it’s all for a cake they cannot bake –
  • It is fun to see their pies –
  • And they’ll swear that the flour is poor and sour,
  • And the dough it will not rise.”

Not that many of Larry’s songs survived.  When he died in Brewer, Maine in 1917, his widow Julia destroyed copies of every piece that he had written.

Gormans in Baseball.  The Gorman name has had a long association with the game of baseball.

It started with Arthur Pue Gorman, the US Senator from Maryland who in his youth was one of the founding members of Washington’s first baseball club.  It was even said that the capital’s famed baseball nickname, the Senators, derived its name from Gorman’s stature within the game and the city and his presence at the ballpark.

Until his death in 1906, Gorman held a special place in the game’s history, as a member of the Mills Commission which eventually unearthed, although erroneously, the historical origin of the game with Abner Doubleday.

Another Gorman, Lou Gorman, spent more than three decades in baseball management, beginning in the 1960’s and mostly with the Boston Red Sox. Then there are the Gorman umpires – Tom Gorman, starting in the 1950’s, and his son Brian who began in the 1990’s.

Reader Feedback – Lou Gorman and Tom Gorman.  I met Lou Gorman when he was the General Manager of The Seattle Mariners baseball team.

I played professional tennis on the ATP Tour in the 1970’s and captained the US Davis Cup team from 1986 to 1993.  Tom Gorman (Tgor10s@aol.com).

Bartley Gorman, King of the Gypsies.  It was said that Bartley’s great grandfather Boxing Bartley (the King of the Tinkers) and grandfather Bulldog Bartley had both been champion gypsy boxers back in Ireland.  But his father Samuel was a law-abiding, religious man who lived in Wales.

When he was nine years old, as his autobiography revealed, the young red-haired Bartley saw his uncle killed before his very eyes by a punch thrown by a rogue showman.  Bartley therefore decided to follow his family’s genes and he became as an adult the most famous bareknuckle boxer of modern times.  When he won the title of bareknuckle champion in 1972, he was 28, six foot one inch high, and weighed 15½ stone.

For the next twenty years, he reigned supreme in the world of illegal gypsy boxing.  He would fight down a mineshaft, in a quarry, at horse fairs, on campsites, in bars and clubs and in the street.  He even survived a brutal attempt on his life by a mob at Doncaster races who were determined to end his reign.

He retired to Uttoxeter in Staffordshire.  In 2002, hundreds of gypsies from across the country came to the town for his funeral after he died from liver cancer.

Gorman Names

  • Maelmuire Mac Gormain was Abbot of Knock and he composed the Calendar of Marianus in 1171.
  • Charles Gorman was from New Brunswick and known as “the human dynamo.”  He was a North American speed skating star of the 1920’s. 
  • Tommy Gorman was well-known in Canada as a sports and entertainment promoter.  He was a founder of the National Hockey League and managed seven clubs to Stanley Cup Championships between the 1920’s and 1940’s.
  • Bartley Gorman was a bareknuckle boxing champion in the UK in the 1970’s.  Known as the ‘King of the Gypsies,’ he came from Irish Traveller stock.

Gorman Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 12,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 16,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

Gorman and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Leinster in SE Ireland covers the counties of Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Offaly, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, West Meath, Wexford, and Wicklow.  Here are some of the Leinster surnames that you can check out.




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Written by Colin Shelley

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