Griffin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Griffin Meaning
Griffin is
a surname primarily of Irish
It derived from the Gaelic word for gryphon, the
mythical Celtic beast with the head of one animal and the body of
(normally an eagle and a lion). One
powerful warrior was called Griobhan
because he was feared in the same way as a gryphon. That name evolved
as a clan
into O’Griobhtha or O’Griofa. This clan was prominent in SW Ireland. The anglicized version was first Griffey and
then more commonly Griffin.
Griffin might have Welsh origins, a variant of Griffith
from the old
name Gruffydd. Griffin
in the
west of England could have been brought there from Wales, in the east
from Breton settlers

Griffin Resources on

Griffin Ancestry

The principal

in Ireland, first recorded in the early 14th century, were the chiefs
Cinel Cuallachta, a territory
in the southeast part of the barony of Inchiquin
in county Clare. Their fortress was
Ballygriffey castle in Dysart parish.


is still in a fairly good state of
preservation, even though the roof has fallen in and part of the upper
has collapsed. There are many defensive features to be seen – including a shot
hole and an internal wall on the upper floor which could be defended if
attackers penetrated that far into the castle.”

the time of the 1659 English
census, the spelling had become Griffin and they could be found
primarily at
Inchiquin and Bunratty in county Clare. The
name had also spread to Coshma and Limerick city in county Limerick and
to the Kerry
baronies of Corkaguiny and Truaghanacmy

19th century descendant of the Clare Griffins was the writer Gerald
. He

was born and grew up in Limerick.

Coshma in Limerick had its own Ballygriffin hamlet. In Kerry
Murtagh Griffin, the clerk of the Common Pleas in Dublin, purchased
lands near Killarney in 1700. In his will of 1712 he
directed that these lands be sold for his Catholic heirs as they could
not legally inherit them. Michael Griffin was recorded as living
at Rossanean in 1776.

Wales. The Welsh
name Gruffydd
tended to become either Griffith or Griffiths in Wales, not Griffin. Griffin ap Owen was recorded as a Sheriff of
Anglesey in the early 1300’s; and there were Griffins (otherwise
Penngruffwynds) at Penrith in Pembrokeshire in the 1600’s.
But there are few Griffins in Wales

England. The Griffin name
appeared at an early time in the east of England and then later in
numbers in the west of England.

of England. Some think the name was
brought there by Breton settlers.

earliest mention was a knight named Richard Griffin who was resident at
Gomundley in Leicestershire in the mid-1200’s.
His son Sir John married the Favell heiress in Northamptonshire
and their
descendants later held Dingley and Braybrooke in that county:

  • Edward Griffin was created Baron Griffin of Braybrooke in 1688, yet
    died in the Tower of London in 1710. The
    male line then died out thirty years later.
  • but John Griffin, an army officer and later Field Marshal
    who had
    adopted his mother’s maiden name in 1749, began a new Baron Braybrooke
    based at Audley End in Essex.

Griffin name also surfaced in Norfolk.
Gabriel Griffin was recorded at Greenhoe in 1550; while Benjamin
Griffin, the actor and playwright, was born in Yarmouth in 1680.

West of England. The Griffin name here
was first introduced
into the English counties bordering Wales and then spread into

There was a Griffin line
in William Shakespeare, with
his grandfather Richard having married Alys Griffin in Warwickshire in
mid-1500’s. Some scholars have argued
that Alys was descended from a line of Welsh nobility, but there is no
proof to
this assertion.

There were also
Griffins at Fenny Compton in Warwickshire from the 1600’s.
Later Griffins operated a lime and cement
works at Stockton in the 19th century.

The Griffin name appeared in Stroud in
Gloucestershire in 1599 when John Griffin acquired what came to be
known as
Griffin’s mill. It was to stay with his
family for almost two hundred years.
Meanwhile one family line in Somerset dates from around 1575
Griffin was born in West Pennard.

Griffins in Lancashire may have come from Ireland.

America. Some
claim that the brothers Edward and John
Griffin who arrived in America in the 1630’s were from Wales. But this has not been substantiated. Edward who came on the Abraham
ended up in Flushing, New York, John on the Constance
in Simsbury, Connecticut. Edward
had the more hair-raising experiences.

bound for Virginia
landed east of Chesapeake Bay and settled on Palmer Island. In 1638 armed emissaries of Lord
attacked the settlement and took Edward captive. However,
he managed to escape to the Dutch
colony at New Amsterdam. When the Dutch
authorities determined the truth of his captivity, they allowed him to
stay in
the colony.”

He made his home in Flushing, Long Island. His
descendants migrated to Westchester and
Dutchess counties in upstate New York in the 1700’s.
Paul Griffin’s 1995 book Annotated Bibliography of
the Griffin/Griffen Family
covered this

New England. Unproven Welsh
connections have also hovered around other early Griffin arrivals in

  • Hugh
    Griffin from London who was an early settler in Sudbury in 1639.
  • Humphrey
    a butcher, who came to Ipswich in 1641. Later Griffins migrated
    to New Hampshire.
  • and
    Matthew Griffin who
    came to Charlestown around this time. His
    kinsman Richard had settled in Concord.

A notable early line was that of Thomas Griffin, the son of a London
merchant family, who had reached Virginia via Barbados in the early
1640’s. His son Leroy became a large landowner in Richmond
county. The line led to Judge Cyrus Griffin, the last President of the
Continental Congress in 1788, and to his son John, an early judge in
Michigan territory.

William Griffin, possibly related, had come to Virginia as a young boy
in 1638. Some of his descendants settled in South Carolina in the
mid-1700’s. One line via William S. Griffin migrated to Tennessee
in the early 1800’s and then to Arkansas.

Griffins in the South.
There were more Griffin numbers further south in the 19th century – in
Carolina, in Georgia, and in Mississippi in particular.

The Peter Griffin born in Ireland who married Elizabeth Owens in South
Carolina in 1770 was the grandfather of Lewis Lawrence Griffin, a man
from humble beginnings in Georgia who made a fortune with the Monroe
railroad, lost it in 1840, and then made another fortune in Aberdeen,

John Thomas Griffin came to Georgia with his family in
1792. He was, as his son Thomas called him, a “dry-footed
Baptist,” one who said “go down to the water” but never went there
himself. The son Thomas Griffin was an early circuit
preacher who rode the Mississippi territory along the Tombigbee

Griffin departed North Carolina, taking his young wife and family by
boat, and settled in the Walnut Hills area of Mississippi territory in
. His son Francis purchased land on a high ridge
bordering the Mississippi river in 1831 and established his plantation
there. The family history here was recounted in Mary Halloran’s
2009 book The Griffins of
Magnolia Terrace

William Griffin, born in Georgia, came to Moss Point, Mississippi in
the 1850’s where he built a sawmill and became one of the wealthiest
men in Jackson county. He sold his sawmill to his son-in-law in
the 1870’s. His grandson Wyatt became the owner twenty years

Canada. Two Griffins of
Dutchess county, New York – descendants of immigrant Edward Griffin –
were Loyalists at the time of the Revolutionary War. Thomas and
Obadiah Griffin escaped to Nova Scotia where they received land
grants. Obadiah moved to Smithville, Ontario in 1814 where other
Griffins from Dutchess county had previously settled. Justus
Griffin’s 1924 book Ancestors and
Descendants of Richard Griffin of Smithville
covered the family
line here.


Griffin Miscellany

Griffin Origins in Ireland.  O’Griobhtha, pronounced O’Greefa, was one of the many Gaelic surnames which
assumed in their anglicized form those of English names of similar
sound.  In this case, the earlier form of
O’Griffy was
almost entirely superseded by the English Griffin.

There is no doubt, however, that the
great majority of Irish Griffins are really O’Griffys of Gaelic stock.  Their numbers in Ireland amount to over eight
thousand.  Griffin stands seventy fifth in
the list of the most common Irish surnames.Griffins are chiefly to be found in Munster – in
Clare, Limerick, Kerry and Cork.

Gerald Griffin’s Emergence as a Writer.  Gerald’s
parents came from good families in the south of Ireland.  Thirteen children were born to them, nine
boys – of whom Gerald was the youngest – and four
When Gerald was seven years old his
parents moved to Fairy Lawn by
the river Shannon about twenty-seven miles from Limerick.

ten years
later in 1820 the family at Fairy Lawn was
broken up.  His parents and
several of their children emigrated to America.  Gerald was left behind
under the care
of an elder brother.

though he was at this time, he conceived the bold
project “of revolutionizing the dramatic tastes of the
time by
writing for the stage.”  With this idea in mind he wrote several
expecting to have them staged in London. When
only nineteen years old he started on his quixotic journey –
“a young gentleman totally unknown coming into town with a few pounds
one pocket and a brace of tragedies in the other.”

His life in
London during the first two years was life in a city wilderness.  It was a sad time. He could not get an
opening for his dramas
and he did
not live to see his play Gisippus acted at Drury Lane in 1842.

survived and eventually made his literary mark in London.
He began a series of short stories, Anecdotes of
, which established
his reputation and
enabled him to
give up his literary drudgery. No longer haunted
by the
failure he was able to return to Ireland.

broken down by poor health, he
kept on working and produced his finest work, The
, published in his twenty fifth year, which assured
him of fame and and a little fortune. This novel gives a comprehensive
picture of every
phase and gradation of Irish life.

The Rise and Fall of Baron Griffin of Braybrooke.  Edward Griffin
rose to prominence in English court circles during the Restoration
Charles II had come to the throne.  He
was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Duke of York’s Regiment of Foot Guards
and then
served as Treasurer of the Chamber to the King from 1679 to 1685.  During that time he narrowly escaped drowning
in the wreck of the Gloucester off
the Yorkshire coast in 1682.

Charles died in 1685 he served James II in the
same capacity until his exile in 1688.
He followed the King into exile and was with his son, the titular King
James III, in France
until 1708.

was then captured on the Salisbury
off Leith whilst on a mission to Scotland.  Taken prisoner, he was
tried for treason in
London and condemned to death.  He was
reprieved shortly before the date set for his execution and spent the
two years of his life locked away in the Tower of London.

Edward Griffin, Early Emigrant to America.  Some
have maintained that Edward Griffin was Welsh, either
connected to early Welsh princes or to the Pengruffwnd
of Pembrokeshire in Wales.  There is no
substantive evidence that either of these connections are true.
Other reports
have his family originating from Yorkshire.

More likely was the report that he was a constable in London and had
killed a man in a tavern in the line of duty.  He was pardoned by
the King in 1625 and subsequently held a trusted position as an agent
in London before his departure for America, indentured to Captain
William Claiborne, in 1635.

He ended up in Dutch New York in the 1650’s and converted to the Quaker
faith.  He died there in 1698.

Lewis Lawrence Griffin.  Around 1810 a young man named Lewis Lawrence Griffin came to Georgia with his
mother and settled in Twiggs county.  This
poor Georgian would become President of the Monroe railroad and the
founder of
the city of Griffin.

Griffin became a
General in the Georgia militia after fighting in the Indian Wars
against the
Creeks. He served in the Legislature in 1829 and 1830. He lived in
Monroe county
and Macon, all the while amassing a large fortune with the Monroe
railroad.  The general purchased 800 acres
of land
and planned a city at the crossing of his Monroe railroad and another

not long after June 1840, when the city’s
first lots were sold, a depression hit the nation and the Monroe
Railroad and
Banking Company collapsed.  General
Griffin lost most of his fortune.

He then
moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi.  There, he remarried, raised a
family, ran a drugstore, and
acquired another fortune.  He died in
Aberdeen in 1867, survived by his wife and two children.  General
ante-bellum home still stands across the street from Aberdeen’s city
hall, owned
and occupied by his grandchildren.

A Mississippi Family – The Griffins of Magnolia Terrace.  From a plantation ledger, an abandoned graveyard, a fragile manuscript, and
old newspapers, author Mary Halloran has raised the bones of her
ancestors and
made them come alive in this memoir that traced the history of five
of her Mississippi family.

A Mississippi Family, Halloran painted a backdrop
to the life
the family lived.  The story began with
the life and times of three men:

  • Jonas
    Griffin (1762-1815)
  • his
    Griffin (1800-1865)
  • and
    his son Judge John Bettis Griffin (1826-1903).

ended with portraits of two remarkable
women, Judge John’s daughters, Mary Lane Griffin (1858-1942) and Helen
Griffin (1864-1949).

The stories of these five people, whose fates and
shaped the lives of their children, capture the early history of the
Mississippi Delta, Warren and Washington counties, and the town of
Greenville.  Telling
tales of river journeys and life on
southern plantations, Halloran’s meticulous research has provided a
record of
her fascinating family saga at a crucial period in the history of the
state, and nation.



Griffin Names

  • Sir Thomas Griffin was an English knight of the shires in the 14th century.
  • Cyrus Griffin served as the last President of the Continental Congress in 1788 prior to American
  • Gerald Griffin was a notable
    Irish novelist of the early 1800’s.
  • Merv Griffin hosted the Merv
    Griffin Show
    on American TV from 1965 to 1986.

Select Griffin Numbers Today

  • 32,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Lancashire)
  • 69,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 29,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




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