Grace Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Grace Meaning
usual explanation of the Grace surname has been that it was a nickname,
derived from the Middle English and Old French grace, meaning a charming and
pleasant person.  That may have been true in some instances.
But the female name Grace probably came in too late to have had any
surname influence.
Grace as an Anglo-Norman surname, found in both Ireland and England,
had different origins and meanings.  The word le Gras or le Gros, from which Grace derived,
was also a nickname – but one meaning “the big” or “the fat.”

Grace Resources on

Grace Ancestry

IrelandSheffield Grace’s 1823 book
Memoirs of the Family of Grace endeavored
to trace the Grace family in Ireland back to pre-Norman Conquest days.  The assumption of the book was that the
forebear of the Grace family in Ireland was Raymond le Gros, a Norman
who had accompanied
Strongbow to Ireland in 1170 and indeed married his sister.   Le Gros was the nickname given to him by

However, Raymond le Gros died without issue.  Later
research has suggested that the Grace
forebear in Ireland was another Norman, William
le Gras
from Gloucestershire, who had arrived around 1210 and
made his base
in Kilkenny.  A century or so later the
name became Grace.

Kilkenny.  The
Graces lived primarily at Courtstown Castle in Tullaroan, about ten
miles from
Kilkenny town, on extensive farmlands and the courthouse would have
been their
townhouse.  In the late 1400’s Baron
Oliver Grace of Tullaroan was the Keeper of the Peace in Kilkenny and
descendants remained a force in Kilkenny until the end of the 17th

Graces were Catholic.  Colonel Richard
Grace took the Royalist side during the English Civil War.

“Colonel Robert Grace
was at the head of 3,000 men, harassing the Parliamentary troops at
Wicklow and
then at Crogan beyond the Shannon river.
A reward of £300 was set upon his head by the English
Government in 1652.  Yet at the
conclusion of the war he was permitted to enter the Spanish service
with 1,200
of his men.”

Following the Jacobite defeat at the Battle of the Boyne in 1689,
some of the Grace families went with the exiled James II to France;
became soldiers of fortune.  Richard
died in 1691, still fighting the English.

Elsewhere.  From
the Graces of Ballylinch in Kilkenny
came Oliver Grace of Gracefield Lodge in Queen’s (now Laios) county.  He was able to survive the change of fortunes
in 1689.  Irish Protestants there
prevailed upon the Government to grant him a pardon for his adherence
to James
II.  Oliver’s descendants included
the Grace baronets from 1818 to 1977.

Near Gracefield was the village of Ballylinan
where William R. Grace – the founder of W.R. Grace and Company – grew
up before
he departed for New York in 1846.

Graces migrated to west Cork.  Patrick
Grace, for instance, settled in Drinagh in the mid-1700’s and his
are still to be found there.  Graces
surfaced at the resort town of Clonakilty where the Grace Centre now

While the Grace numbers in Ireland had
spread by the mid-19th century, Griffith’s Valuation showed that more
than half of the Graces in Ireland were still to be found in Kilkenny.

England.  Early renditions of the
name, as in Ireland,
were the Norman Le Gras or le Gros.  It
had appeared in this style by the 13th century in Gloucestershire (at
Sodbury), in Essex (near Chelmsford), and in Buckinghamshire (at

The Grace name distribution prior to 1600 showed
a concentration of the name in Buckinghamshire and, to a lesser extent,
neighboring Hertfordshire.  Whitchurch in
Buckinghamshire has been one place for Graces, Tring in Hertfordshire
another.  One Grace family in Tring were
farmers, millers and corn merchants dating back to 1766.

What about W.G. Grace, the
famous Victorian
cricketer?  In 1800 his grandfather Henry
had been a butler and footman at Ashton Court in Somerset where he had
met his
wife.  But his origin? – some have
suggested possibly Ireland.  His father
Henry became a doctor at Downend near Bristol, which is where WG was

Grace family became a great cricketing family.
Fourteen members of the family played first-class cricket, with
WG, EM, and Fred (sometimes called the “three Graces”) all going on
to play Test cricket for England against Australia.

Lancashire.  There were Graces in the
1881 census also in
Lancashire.  One Grace family there dated
back to the birth of Thomas Grace in 1604.
These Graces rented Speke Hall, just outside of Liverpool, from
1740 to
1795 and were tenant farmers there.

Hall was a Tudor-built mansion.  Henry
Grace had farmed the area for many years, using the great hall there as
milking shed and the old tapestries as cow blankets.
By 1795 the mansion had fallen into such
disrepair that the Grace lease ended and Speke Hall was sold.”

John and Sarah Grace lived in Liverpool and
their son Thomas, born in 1815, became an Anglican missionary in New
Zealand.  Graces in Lancashire, many of
them in
Liverpool, could also be of Irish immigrant stock. James
and Joanna Grace had come to Ashton
under Lynefrom Waterford in the 1850’s.

America.  Early Grace arrivals into
Virginia were
probably English.  George Grace was a
London merchant who came there on the Globe
in 1635.  He did not stay.
John Grace died in Westmoreland county in
1717.   His descendants moved onto
Carolina and then, after the War, to Georgia.
Michael Vaughn’s 2001 book Descendants
of John Grace
covered this line.

Irish.  An early arrival from Ireland
was Nathaniel
Grace, an indentured servant who came to Maryland on the Constant
in 1673.
His descendants later migrated to Kentucky and Arkansas.

Robert Grace, born in Philadelphia in 1709,
bore the Grace Irish coat of arms.  His
father, a son of rebel Richard Grace, had left Ireland for an estate in
Barbados.  Robert, on growing up, became
a friend of Benjamin Franklin and produced the first Franklin stoves.  He died in 1766, but with no children to
carry on his name.

Thomas Grace, a schoolmaster, and his wife
Margaret – said to be “of genteel stock” – came to Charleston from
Kilkenny in
the early 1800’s.  Their son Thomas
became the second Catholic Bishop of St. Paul, Minnesota in 1859.  A later Thomas Grace, born in Wexford, arrived
in America in 1876 and was ordained as the second Catholic Bishop of
Sacramento, California twenty years later.

The Irish potato famine brought two notable Grace families to America:

  • William R. Grace
    came first to Peru
    where in 1854 he and his brothers
    started W.R.
    Grace and Company, a steamship line that would run between South and
    America.  It made him wealthy.
    He moved to New York in 1866 and was twice elected
    mayor of New York City in the early 1880’s.
  • meanwhile in 1850 Thomas Grace departed Tipperary for
    upstate New York
    where he farmed for the next twenty years.  He
    and his family then crossed the country in the 1870’s and
    made their home in Sonoma
    county, California.  His
    sons Frank and Joe started a grocery store in Santa Rosa and then
    acquired what
    became the Grace Brothers Brewery
    in 1897.

Australia.  Patrick and Mary Grace
were bounty emigrants
from Dublin who arrived in Sydney in 1841.
Patrick ended up farming in the Murrumbidgee region west of
Yass, NSW.  Patrick also operated the only
hotel there,
the One Tree Hill Hotel.  Many of his
descendants still live in the Yass area.

Joseph and Albert Grace, brothers from
Buckinghamshire, came to Sydney in the early 1880’s and started the Grace Brothers department store
chain.  The business went through three
generations of Graces before its sale in the 1980’s.


Grace Miscellany

William le Gras of Gloucestershire and Ireland.  The
senior William le Gras, also known as William Crassus,
had founded the
town of Chipping Norton in Gloucestershire around the year 1150.  He came from an old Anglo-Norman baronial
family that had been long established in central Normandy.
He died without male issue in 1179.

It was his nephew William le Gras who
inherited much of his estate and was granted a license to hold fairs
markets in Chipping Sodbury.  This
William, a kinsman and follower of the Earl of Pembroke, is believed to
come to Ireland around 1210 and established himself at Kilkenny.

Graces in England up to 1600

County Number
Buckinghamshire    17
Essex     3
Hertfordshire     6
London     3
Oxfordshire     3
Surrey     4
Sussex     6
Wiltshire     5
Elsewhere    15
Total    62

WG Grace and Cricket.  H.S. Altham in his 1926 A History of
had the following to say about W.G. Grace:

“WG did more to popularize
cricket than any man who ever lived.  His
genial personality, his Jovian form, his inexhaustible vitality and
stamina and
enthusiasm, all combined with a prodigious prowess to make him the
focus for an
Empire’s devotion to the game.  He was
incomparably the greatest draw of all the sportsmen in history.  He was nearest approach to a living
embodiment of John Bull that England has seen.

I can believe that the Bishop of
Hereford read deep into the hearts of man when he spoke of W.G. the
words with
which his memorial biography closed.‘ Had Grace been born in ancient Greece, the
Iliad would have been a different
book.  Had he lived in the Middle Ages,
he would have been a crusader and would now have been lying with his
crossed in some ancient abbey, having founded a great family.  As he was born when the world was older, he
was the best known of all Englishmen and the king of that English game
spoilt by any form of vice.’”

But WG was no saint.  The stories are
legion about his
gamesmanship, about how he would seek to con the umpires.  Did he really tell the
umpire that the people had not turned up to see his decisions but had
come in
hordes to see him batting?  Did he really
replace the bails and carry on batting as if the ball had never been
close to
the stumps?

After a series of appeals turned down, mostly due to powerful stares of
WG over his domineering beard, the fast bowler Charles Kortright
knocked the
middle and off stumps down with a vicious yorker.  As
the great man turned to leave, the bowler
said: “Surely you’re not going Doctor, there’s one stump still standing.”

Graces in Griffith’s Valuation

County Number
Kilkenny    268
Tipperary    110
Cork     33
Wexford     31
Laios     24
Elsewhere    105
Total    571

William R. Grace in New York.  Young William and his family fled
the potato famine in 1846 and eventually found themselves in
Peru.  Grace became
a successful merchant to the shipping and delivery vessels mining South
America’s natural resources, particularly bat guano.

By 1854 Grace and his
brothers had their own operation – W.R. Grace and Company – which
steamship lines traveling between North and South America.  By the
time the
young entrepreneur decided to relocate to his North American office in
New York
City in 1866, he had become independently wealthy and one of the most
men navigating the Atlantic Ocean.  Like many of the nouveau
, Grace lived in
Brooklyn Heights with his wife where he could observe his burgeoning
empire in New York harbor.

His new financial powers granted him avenues into New
York’s political
scene. At first entirely uninterested in civic matters, he ran for
mayor in
1880 and won, incredibly as a Democrat who also happened to be foe to
Tammany Hall forces.

was mayor for two
non-consecutive terms. from 1880 to 1882 and from 1884 to 1886.  He was mayor when the Statue of Liberty came to town,
accepting the gift from the French in 1885. That same year he
secured the permission to have the body of Ulysses S. Grant buried in
the city,
in the ostentatious mausoleum that would be known as Grant’s Tomb.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia,
Grace went to
Mass every morning
heading to City Hall.

Grace’s latter days were devoted to philanthopic
such as the Grace Institute.  His company
W.R. Grace and Company would grow, from its salad days in bat guano, to
one of the world’s biggest chemical conglomerates.

Grace Brothers Brewery.  Frank and Joe Grace purchased the original Joseph
Metzger’s steam brewery at Second and Wilson in Santa Rosa, California
February, 1897, only to see it burn down three months later.  It
was apparently
insured for $6,000, although their loss was estimated at around

old wooden brewery was then replaced by a four-story brick building.  And when the brothers rebuilt the brewery,
they updated it and added a new power mash machine and new steel
cooler, plus a
first-class ice machine, new fermentation tanks, and brew tubs.

improvements allowed the brothers to brew fifty barrels of beer a day,
to the Metzger brewery which had brewed 78 barrels of beer a week just
a few
years before. They also moved to brewing a lager beer.
The making of a lager beer was in fact a big
step in increasing the quality and quantity of Grace Bros beer.

The brothers
soon added a wood frame building for making barrels and wooden beer
boxes.  Beer came in full keg and one-half
keg and
the boxes had the ubiquitous brand of GBB Company on the sides.  A bottling plant was also added. The dark
amber bottles with porcelain tops were also embossed with GBB Co and
Brothers’ Brewery.

Beer was delivered to
hotels and saloons by horse and wagon. The driver was responsible for
his horse
and his wagon as well as the sale of his beer to hotels and saloons. On
wagon he had tapping equipment, plus tools to repair the wagon.  The brewery also shipped beer by

Business was good and the brothers continued to expand
their marketplace.

Grace Brothers in Sydney.  Albert and Joseph Grace, two brothers
from Winslow in Buckinghamshire, had a dream in the 1880’s to own a
store.  Albert sailed to Boston while
Joseph set out for Sydney, agreeing that the first to succeed
would call for
the other.

Joseph hawked goods to
railway construction gangs and prospered.  Albert was summoned and
in 1885 the
Winslow boys established a drapery store in George Street West.
With £500 of
merchandise, the brothers – at the start they had no staff – invented
slogan: ”Sure to get it at Grace Bros.”

prospered.  In 1891 the brothers took
over three adjacent shops and four years later had a four-storey
erected at the rear in Grose Street.
Further extensions with clock tower, globe and an electricity
house were completed in 1904.

Grace Brothers passed through three generations of Graces
and expanded
to 163 stores before it was sold to rival department store Myer in the


Grace Names

  • William le Gras is now considered to be the forebear of the Anglo-Norman Grace family in Ireland. 
  • ColoneRichard Grace was an Irish Royalist who commanded troops for three English
    monarchs – Charles I, Charles II, and James II. 
  • W. G.Grace was an English
    cricketer who was important in the development of the sport and is widely considered as one of its greatest-ever players.
    He played the game for a record 44 seasons,
    from 1865 to 1908. 
  • William R. Grace was an Irish-American
    businessman and politician – the first Catholic mayor of New York City and the founder of W.R. Grace and Company

Select Grace Numbers Today

  • 8.000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 11,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Grace and Like Surnames

The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion.  The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.

Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance.  They became more Irish, often Catholic.  When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded.  But others resisted and had lands confiscated.

Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.




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