Green Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Green Meaning
Green could have various origins;
locational, one who lived near
the village green; or a nickname, someone who was fond of dressing in
green. The Green root is the Old English grene, which is reflected in early
spellings of the name (such as William Grene in the 1230 Yorkshire
Green and Greene are the two main spellings in the English-speaking world.  Greene is now scarce in England, but relatively more common in Ireland and America.
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England. An
early and prominent Greene family were the Greenes of Buckton, later
Boughton, in
the county of Northamptonshire. The first recorded was
Alexander de
Boketon Grene, said to a younger son of the Norman de la Zouche family,
in the early 13th century.

Their numbers
included Sir Henry Greene, the foremost lawyer of his day and the Chief
Justice of England in the 1360’s. They lived at Greene’s Norton
and they sponsored the annual Boughton Fair which is
still held to this day. These Greenes then ran into royal
trouble. One was executed in 1400, another died in the Tower of
London in 1417, and his son fled abroad. Later Greenes were
Yorkists. John
ran into more royal trouble in 1485 when the Yorkist
Richard lost the throne and the Lancastrian Henry Tudor ascended.

Greenes in Bobbing, Kent can be traced to the early 1500’s (they were
originally Nortons and for some reason changed their name to
Greene). Other Greenes in the 16th century were to be found at
Navestock and Toppersfield in Essex and at Wilby in Suffolk.
Wilby has the following memorial plaque:

“Here resteth the body of Richard
Greene gentleman. He departed this life on May 21st 1658 aged 80
years. His life a warfare, his death victorious, his body under
hope, his soul glorious.”

Greenes from
in Northamptonshire were 19th century brewers of
beer in Bury St. Edmonds. They left their name to the Greene King
brewery chain. From one line of the family came Graham Greene the
writer and Hugh Carleton Greene, the Director General of the BBC.

By the 19th century the Greene spelling in England was being replaced
by Green. Green was then widespread throughout most of
the country, with the exception of its northeast and southwest

Ireland. In Ireland the
surnames Greene and Green
prevalent, often
being an anglicization of the Gaelic names O’Huaithnin or O’Huainidh which also meant

There were Gaelic Greenes in county Clare and in Ulster. Daniel
O’Hunonyn from the Greenes in Clare became an
Admiral in the Spanish navy around 1750. Augustine Greene of
Liscannor was a 19th century lawyer in Clare. His daughter Henrietta Greene,
a nun, went by the name Mother Clare.

America. John Greene from
Dorset, a surgeon, came to America in 1635, first
settling in Salem, Massachusetts and then moving to Providence, Rhode
Island. The Revolutionary War general Nathanael Greene was a
descendant. Another early arrival, around the same time, was
Thomas Greene from a Catholic family in Bobbing, Kent. He settled
in Maryland and was briefly, in 1647, governor of the colony.

Later came Greene and Green arrivals from Ireland and
from elsewhere in Europe. The surname was often adopted by German
or Jewish immigrants (from
the German grun) and even by
incomers from Sweden.

Canada. Early
Greens in Canada were Loyalists:

  • Benjamin
    Green from Massachusetts who was a British naval officer at Halifax in
    Scotia in 1750 and subsequently a justice of the peace there.
  • and Adam Green
    from New Jersey who moved his family to Stoney Creek, Ontario in 1792.

Adam’s youngest son, known as “Billy Green
the Scout,” became famous at the Battle of Stoney Creek in 1813 when he
was able
to pass the American troop movements to the Canadian side and stop
advance. Billy himself died in
1877. His farm at Stoney Creek was to
stay with the Green family for six generations.

Lorne Greene the actor, famous for playing Ben Cartwright in the
Bonanza, was born in Ottawa of
Russian Jewish immigrant parents who had changed their name from
Grinvosky to


Green Miscellany

The Early Grenes of Buckton.  The de la Zouche family is thought to have arrived
in England from Brittany sometime around 1160.  Alexander
de la Zouche was given an estate and the title of Great Baron
by King John in 1202. The estate was that of Grene de
Boketon in Northamptonshire.

The line then went to Walter
de Boketon who was in the Seventh Crusade in 1244 and his son John who
died in
the next crusade in 1271.  John left a
one year old son, Thomas, who became Sir Thomas de Grene and was
followed in
the mid-13th century by another Sir Thomas de Grene.

They lived in high style if this account is
anything to go by:

Lords de Grene
lived in state.  They wore rich apparel,
belted with a gold or silver girdle to which was attached a purse,
rosary, pen,
ink horn, set of keys, and an elaborately chased and sheathed dagger.
accoutrements showed their rank.  When
they rode, they always wore gold spurs, and their armor was brightly
and magnificent. They wore robes in
Parliament, hats and plumes at court and at the king’s coronation, and
crimson velvet cap lined with ermine and having a plain gold band.
servants wore the Greene livery, which was blue and laced with gold.“

John Greene the Yorkist.  John
Greene was reputedly one of the top swordsmen in
England and a favorite of the Yorkist Richard III.
In 1483 he was used by the King as a
messenger to the Keeper of the Tower of London to give notice that his
nephews, “the little Princes in the Tower,” should be put to death.

Henry VII came to the throne in 1485 he
bore enmity against the House of Greene.
Old Sir Thomas Greene was imprisoned in the Tower on the charge
plotting treason.  John Greene was held
in particular low regard because he had played the role of messenger in
Richard’s wicked designs.  John fled
England lest he be captured by the King.

was said that “John the Fugitive”
did return to England and for safety reasons assumed the name of John
Clarke.  Despite this change of name, his
identity was discovered.  He again fled
England; and his further history is unknown.

Greene Brewers.  The Greene
family had been involved in the woollen drapery business in Oundle,
Northamptonshre for most of the 18th century.
It was Benjamin Greene, born in 1780 and the youngest of
children in the family, who was to move them in a different direction.

Benjamin had been apprenticed as a young lad
to the London brewing firm of Whitbread in the late 1790’s.  He took that training with him when he
started his brewing business in Bury St. Edmonds in 1801 and five years
took over the established Westgate brewery there.

Benjamin later got sidetracked by sugar
plantations in the West Indies that he had inherited from a neighbor.

It was his son Edward who refocused the
Greene attention on beer.  He expanded
and transformed their brewery business between 1840 and 1870.  In 1887 he merged it with the King brewery to
found Greene King, a major brewery still around today and still based
in Bury
St. Edmonds.

Memorials of Nathanael Greene.  There are countless cities, counties, and parks in America
that have
been named in honor of Nathanael Greene, the Revolutionary War General.

A large bronze statue of him stands on a
marble pedestal by the steps of the Rhode Island State House and,
inside, there
is a large oil portrait of him.  His
statue represents the state of Rhode Island at the National Hall of
Statuary in
the Capitol at Washington.   And a
monument to Greene (under which his remains were interred) stands at
Square in Savannah.

He is also memorialized by an equestrian statue designed by
Francis Packard at the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in
the city named after him in North Carolina.
Another statue of him stands in the middle of the traffic circle
Greene Street and McGee Street in downtown Greensboro. Greeneville
in Tennessee and Greenville in
South Carolina were also named after him.

Henrietta Greene, Mother Clare.  Augustine
and Catherine Greene raised five boys and six
girls at Liscannor in county Clare.  Four of their daughters

was the second youngest of these daughters and she entered the
religious sisterhood of Nazareth in London before her 15th birthday in
Her convent name was Mother Clare.

years later she left London on the long sea journey for Australia and
made her
way to the gold mining town of Ballarat.
This was to be her spiritual home for the rest of her
life.  She did return
to London for a while and in 1929, at the invitation of Archbishop
opened Nazareth House in Melbourne which she directed for six years.
Then she
returned to her beloved Ballarat, where she died in 1945. 

Green and Greene.  Green and Greene are the two
main spellings in the English-speaking
world.  Greene is now scarce
in England, but relatively more common in Ireland and America (and
particularly in North Carolina).  The table below shows the
number of Greens and Greenes today.

Numbers (000’s) Green Greene Total
UK   160     6   166
Ireland     2     5     7
America    95    30   125
Elsewhere (1)    48     8    56

(1)  Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.


Green Names

  • Nathanael Greene was one of Washington’s generals in the Revolutionary War.
  • Charles Green was an early
    aeronaut, making the first ascent with a hydrogen gas balloon in 1821.
  • Benjamin Greene was the 19th
    century founder of the Greene King brewery chain based in Bury St. Edmonds.
  • John and Benjamin Green, father and son, was prominent architects in NE England in the early 19th century.
  • Graham Greene was the highly
    regarded 20th century writer of novels and thrillers.
  • Al Green is a very popular soul and gospel singer.

Select Green Numbers Today

  • 166,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 150,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 63,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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