Grace Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Grace Surname Meaning

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.”

The 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 arrived too late to have had any surname influence.

Grace Surname Resources on The Internet

Grace Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Kilkenny) and England
  • to America and Australia

IrelandSheffield Grace’s 1823 book Memoirs of the Family of Grace endeavored to trace the Grace family in Ireland back to 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 Strongbow.

But 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 his descendants remained a force in Kilkenny until the end of the 17th century.

These Graces were Catholic.  Colonel Richard Grace took the Royalist side during the English Civil War.  “Colonel Richard 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 Commonwealth 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; others became soldiers of fortune.  Richard himself 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.

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

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 Chipping Sodbury), in Essex (near Chelmsford), and in Buckinghamshire (at Hurley).

The Grace name distribution prior to 1600 showed a concentration of the name in Buckinghamshire and, to a lesser extent, in 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 it was possibly Ireland.  His father Henry became a doctor at Downend near Bristol, which was where WG was born.

The Grace family were a great cricketing family. Fourteen members of the family played first-class cricket, with brothers 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.

“Speke Hall was a Tudor-built mansion.  Henry Grace had farmed the area for many years, using the great hall there as a 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.”  

Meanwhile 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 North 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 Friendship 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 North 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 Surname 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 and markets in Chipping Sodbury.  This William, a kinsman and follower of the Earl of Pembroke, is believed to have 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 Cricket 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 legs 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 least 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

Reader Feedback – Grace from Kilkenny or Cork.  My name is Jon Grace and I live in eastern Kentucky where we’ve lived for four generations. I’m planning a trip to Ireland and am trying to climb my family tree a little higher.

My paternal ancestor who came to America was Philip Grace in the early 1800’s. I know he was baptized in Kilkenny around 1775 and his father Pat may have come from Cork,  I found where Pat’s father Edmond had Pat baptized in a place named Ballincranny (which I assume is Ballincrannig townland in Cork). But the trail stops at Edmond. Any advice for how to keep finding info is appreciated.

Jon Grace (

Reader Feedback – Joshua Grace in Delaware.  I am a Grace descendant from Kilkenny, from Joshua Grace of Sussex county, Delaware who died in 1799.

Melissa (

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 initiated 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 powerful men navigating the Atlantic Ocean.  Like many of the nouveau riche, Grace lived in Brooklyn Heights with his wife where he could observe his burgeoning shipping 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 the Tammany Hall forces.

Grace 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, officially accepting the gift from the French in 1885. That same year he successfully 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 before heading to City Hall.

Grace’s latter days were devoted to philanthopic activities such as the Grace Institute.  His company W.R. Grace and Company would grow, from its salad days in bat guano, to become 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 in 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 $25-30,000.

The 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.

These improvements allowed the brothers to brew fifty barrels of beer a day, compared 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 Grace 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 the wagon he had tapping equipment, plus tools to repair the wagon.  The brewery also shipped beer by train.

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 large 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 the slogan: ”Sure to get it at Grace Bros.”

Business prospered.  In 1891 the brothers took over three adjacent shops and four years later had a four-storey building erected at the rear in Grose Street. Further extensions with clock tower, globe and an electricity power 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 1980’s.

Grace Names

  • William le Gras is now considered to be the forebear of the Anglo-Norman Grace family in Ireland. 
  • Colonel Richard 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.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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