Griffiths Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Griffiths Meaning
The elements griff, thought
to mean “strong grip” and iudd
meaning “chief” or “lord” helped form the Welsh name
Gruffydd, a fit name therefore for a Welsh prince or leader. The
first standard-bearer of the name was probably Gruffydd
ap Cynan, a descendant of Rhodri Mawr, who rallied the Welsh against
the Norman invaders in the 12th century.
The normal pronunciation of the name in Wales was “Griffidd,”
which medieval scribes who were not Welsh generally wrote “Griffith” as
being the closest phonetic spelling in their writing system.
Griffith and Griffiths
exist as surnames, as well as,
occasionally, Griffis. Griffith used to be the main spelling (and
still is in America), but has given way to Griffiths in both Wales and
England. The Griffin surname has a different origin.

Resources on

Griffiths Ancestry

The Griffith name in Wales started out in north Wales and worked its
way south.

North Wales The
Griffith family of Penrhyn in Carnarvon, descended from Welsh
royal and princely houses, was probably the first family in Wales to
emerge as landed gentry. As the leading family of north Wales in
the 15th century, they were appointed Chamberlain of the
region. However, the line came to an end with the adventurer
Piers Griffith

in the late 16th century, although a branch of the family did last
longer at Carreglwyd
in Anglesey.

There were two other early Griffith families in north Wales:

  • one at
    Cefn Amwich in
  • and the other at Garn in
    Denbighshire (in Glenn’s 1934 book The
    Family of
    Griffith of Garn and Plasnewydd

Generally, these
Griffiths were Anglican by persuasion, opposing the radical Puritans
and only returning to favor with the Restoration.

Although the ancient Griffith families came from north Wales, there
were in fact more Griffiths in south Wales and across the border in

South Wales The
Griffith surname generally came about during the 16th century as
Welsh families began to adopt English-style surnames and the first-name
Griffith then became the last-named Griffith. This happened, for
instance, with the Griffiths
of Penybenglog
in Pembrokeshire and with Jenkin ap Griffith
and his son Hugh Jenkin Geriffith at Llanddeiniol in

The Griffith and Griffiths names
cropped up in a number of parish records in Carmerthenshire during the
17th and 18th centuries:

  • one family history traced itself back to
    Llangunnor near
    the town of Carmarthen in
    the 1750’s.
  • another account began in the early 1800’s with William and
    Catherine Griffiths
    in the same village. David
    Griffiths, a blacksmith in nearby Cydweli, lived to be 95, and his wife
    Mary to be 105.
  • there were also Griffiths in and around
  • and there were the Griffiths who worked in the Ammanford
    coal mines
    in the
    eastern part of the county (Jim Griffiths, a miner from Ammanford, rose
    through Labour party ranks to become the first Secretary of State for
    Wales in the 1960’s).

Many Griffiths from Carmarthen migrated to Swansea or to the other
industrial towns of Glamorgan. Glamorgan had the largest number of
Griffiths in Wales by the end of the 19th century.

Across the border there has been a Griffiths family (originally spelt
Griffit) at Ruardean in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire from the
17th century and Griffiths elsewhere in the county from the 18th
century. Griffiths arrived into Lancashire, mainly from north
Wales into Liverpool, somewhat later; but the numbers there built up in
the 19th century.

Ireland. Welsh Griffiths
also came to Ireland although there is scant record of them – except
for two famous Dubliners:

  • one was Richard Griffith who devoted
    himself to land valuation in Ireland. His epic work, Griffith’s Valuations, was
    undertaken in the 1840’s and 1850’s.
  • the other was Arthur
    Griffith, the founder of Sinn Fein and the man who led the Irish
    delegation that produced the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921. Griffith
    Park and Griffith College in Dublin were named after him.

America. There were early
Griffith settlers in Maryland possibly by 1651 (Samuel Griffith) and
more definitely by 1675 (William Griffith in Anne Arundel

More Griffiths then arrived into Pennsylvania which under Penn had
opened its doors to religious nonconformity. Among the arrivals

  • Hugh Griffith who had come with
    a group of families from north Wales in the late 1600’s. They
    settled in Brecknock township.
  • The Rev. Thomas Griffith from Carmarthenshire in 1701. He
    was to be the first Baptist minister for the Welsh tract at Pennepek.
  • Benjamin Griffith from
    Carmarthenshire with his father in 1710. He became a member of
    the Baptist church at Pennepek and later was a chronicler of the
    Baptist churches in the region.
  • Three Griffith brothers,
    William, John and Griffith, from Cardiganshire in 1717 (a book on their
    pedigree was written by T.A. Glenn in 1905). They settled in
    Chester county.
  • Walter Griffith, who married Martha Cox in Philadelphia in 1720.

Virginia furnished a number of Griffith officers in the Revolutionary
War. Captain David Griffith who fought against the British in
1812 was the forbear, via a Confederate war veteran, of the film maker
D.W. Griffith
of The
of a Nation

Griffith Griffiths joined the fledgling Welsh
community in Patagonia in 1881, arriving there late in the year on the Monte Leon. His bardic name
was Gutyn Ebrill and he established a Welsh Gorsedd of the bards in the
region. The Griffiths name has lived on in Patagonia after his
death in 1909.

Rene Griffiths, born in Patagonia, was an
Argentine pop star of the 1970’s who sang in both Spanish and
Welsh. And local resident Orwig Griiffiths met the Princess of Wales
when she made an unexpected visit to Gaiman in 1995.

Australia. Many Welsh
Griffiths migrated to Australia, but two of the most entrepreneurial
were English, both from Gloucestershire.

Jonathan Griffiths was transported there as a convict in 1790. He
became a successful shipowner and builder in New South Wales and
Tasmania, marrying twice and fathering at least nine children.
Then there was George Griffiths. He had come to Queensland in
1870 and, by the turn of the century, had built up his small ironmonger
business into a large foundry company at Toowoomba making metal
windmills and railway rolling stock.

The city of Griffith in New South Wales was named after Sir Arthur
Griffith, its first Minister of Public Works. He had been an immigrant
from Ireland in the 1870’s. Sir Samuel Griffith, the drafter of
the Australian constitution, had been born in Wales; but his family was


Griffiths Miscellany

The Griffiths of Penrhyn – from William to Piers.  In 1485 the Penrhyn Griffiths were at the height of their powers.
Sir William Griffith was Chamberlain of North Wales and he had fought
for his cousin Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth Field.

Just over a century later, Piers Griffith was in the process of
bringing the family to ruin.  He was an adventurer.  He may
or may not have fought with Drake against the Spanish Armada in
1588.  But he was involved in various other escapades against the
Spanish in the early 1600’s.  These activities saw him borrow
heavily against his estate, threatening him at one time with debtor’s
prison, and in the end he was forced to sell Penrhyn.

Both Piers and his wife
Margaret were buried in Westminster Abbey.  But they had no
successors.  All eleven of their children died

The Griffiths of Penybenglog.  The mansion of Penybenglog near Nevern in Pembrokeshire stood on a
bluff above Afon
Nantyfer, between the ancient fortifications of Castell Penybenglog and
Castell Clwyd.   It functioned as a gentry seat from the Middle
Ages until the end of the 18th century.

The commentator Fenton wrote in 1811:

“Penybenglog ranked with the first in its day – which, though it has long ceased to be inhabited by any of
the descendants of its ancient possessors and has often changed
masters, yet by having had the good fortune to find a succession of
respectable tenants, it has been kept in a state of decent repair.”

Rhys of Penybenglog had died in 1520 and his grandson Griffith
inherited Penybenglog.  The house still contained a wooden lintel
marked “WG and RS, dated 1523,” which must have been his marriage
stone.  When Griffith died in 1569, he was followed by five
generations of his descendants who all bore the permanent
surname of Griffith.

Of these the best known was George William Griffith, JP (born in 1584),
noted scholar, historian, antiquary and genealogist.  During his
time he did much
to improve the property:

After the death of his father, he
repaired the ruins of the decayed buildings, erected and bestowed
charge upon fences, hedges, and mounds upon the demesne thereof, and
for enlarging the same demesne purchased certain tenements and lands in
Meliney and Nevarne, amounting to the value of £300 and upwards.”

Bards from all over Wales were entertained at Penybenglog and he was
one of the last landowners in Wales to patronize bards on any
appreciable scale. 

Griffith and Griffiths as Surnames.  Griffith was the original English transcription.  Over time an “s”
got added.  The table below shows the estimated number of Griffith
and Griffiths
around the world today.

Numbers (000’s) Griffith Griffiths Total
UK 8    96   104
Ireland    1     –      1
America   25     5    30
Canada    2     4      6
Australia    3    15    18
New Zealand    –     3      3
Total   39   123   162

Griffith is still more popular in America, but elsewhere
Griffiths prevails.

Catherine Griffiths of Llangunnor Parish.  William Griffiths was a tenant farmer and he and his wife
Catherine would have found it hard to make a living on the damp and
marshy land that was their lot at their Penbontbren farm in the parish
of Llangunnor, Carmarthenshire.  According to the evidence,
Catherine could not sign her own name and used a cross on official
documents.  She and the rest of her family were Welsh speakers.

In the spring of 1809, her husband William died at the age of
thirty nine.  As was common in those days, Catherine was soon to
remarry.  Within eighteen months she had met a young widower nine
years her junior and they were married by license at Llangunnor
church.  She bore him one child when she was forty five.  But
tragedy struck again a few years later when her second husband died,
also at the age of thirty nine.

Catherine went on to farm at Penddaulwyn Isaf with her sons
William and John for another forty years.  She never hired help as
such, but always employed her own kith and kin.  She died in 1859
at the age of eighty eight.  She was buried at Llangunnor where
her gravestone still stands under the shade of the ancient yew tree
near the western wall.

William Griffiths and the Startup of Bus Services Around Swansea.  In 1924 the little coal-mining village of
Craigcefnparc near Swansea knew no buses.  The country folk
peacefully went about their daily tasks, never dreaming about a bus
service for the village nor anything of the like.

It was then that
William Griffiths, a blacksmith in the Graigola Merthyr colliery,
bought a Ford car.  A little later, he had opened a shop and had
purchased a Ford lorry to take out the goods.  Seats were made to
fit into the lorry by David John Morgan, the village carpenter, and
when not in use for shop purposes, the lorry, which was able to carry
fourteen seated passengers, was used for making trips or running a
service now and again to Clydach.  Here, on a very small scale,
was the startup of a bus service.

The scheme proved successful and, at the beginning of 1925, Wiliam
Griffiths purchased a real bus which held twenty passengers.  It
was a Lancia saloon bus, painted red, and was called the Parc
Eclipse.  Every Saturday a bus left Craigcefnparc at 12 noon and
at 2.00 p.m. respectively “en route” for Swansea via Rhydypandy,
Pontlasse, Morriston.

By 1926 a real
time-table was set up, with buses running week-days as well as
Saturdays from the village to Swansea.  Soon Griffiths started to
run a bus up to Graig Cwm and also over to Salem every Friday evening
and Saturdays.  As new buses were added, an Eclipse service
commenced to run over to Glais and soon the Eclipse Saloon Service was
well known throughout the district.

Griffiths’ five sons
by now were all working on the buses.

The Griffiths Family in Coal House at War.  A former miner from Ammanford has been getting ready to go back
underground — and this time he will be watched by an audience of millions.

Howell Griffiths now works as a driver with Carmarthenshire
Council.  But the 56-year-old will not only be going back to his
former role, but he will be going back in time as well.  He had
worked in the old Ammanford colliery before being transferring to the
mine and had survived a tough year and a day during the miners’s
strike.  “Luckily the family rallied round and we got through it,”
he said.

This time Howell will be taking his wife, daughter-in-law and
grandchildren with him as well.

The Griffiths family will be one of three Welsh families taking part in
Coal House at War, a four-part
documentary that BBC Wales is screening.  These families will live
life as it was in a mining community at the end of 1944.  They
will spend four weeks in the tiny miners’ cottages in Stack Square,
Blaenavon, living under blackout regulations by night and managing
their rations and work by day.  Digging for Victory in the
vegetable plots will be as essential as digging at the coal face, as
the families become self-sufficient.

Howell’s wife Rose was looking forward to the experience.  She

“I’ve been brought up listening to the
wartime stories.  And where I work I’m always hearing about
it.  I remember sitting on my grandfather’s knee and listening to
his stories and about everything they had to go without.  But,
despite that, there was also a great sense of comradeship. Everyone I
speak to about it looks back with pride.”

Reader Feedback – Jerom Griffith of Virginia.  My 7th great grandfather was Jerom Griffith (1644-1727) of Northampton county, Virginia.   My cousin Ray Griffin has done extensive research on our family.  He published the book Along the Neuses; The Craven Bryan Griffin Family and then an addendum which is online.

Peggy Griffin Hunka (

DW Griffith on His Family Background.  When asked about his family background, the film director DW Griffith said the following:

“I have not bothered much about my ancestry.  It is
likely though that I was impressed in my childhood with certain family
traditions which had come down through the mist of former
generations.  One was that ap Griffith, a Welsh Prince of Wales,
was the founder on one side of the house and that a Lord Bravington who
revolted with Monmouth and later emigrated under duress to Virginia was
the founder of the other side of the American Griffiths.

I used to be told of a great grandfather in Virginia, a
stormy, fierce old man who refused to allow the word England to be
spoken in his presence and who, as far as he could, barred his door to
anything English.  My grandfather was a Captain David Griffith who
fought in 1812.”

He himself was born the sixth of seven children of a cantankerous
Confederate army war hero, “Roaring Jake” Griffith.  Having grown
up poor on a rural Kentucky farm, Griffith gave up an education in
order to help his family.  Even so, he read widely – immersing
himself in a romantic vision of the prewar South, aided in part by the
nostalgic stories of bitter relatives who were hampered by
Reconstruction-era policies.

When it came to the making of his film Birth of a Nation in 1915, these
feelings were never far away from him.

The Princess of Wales in Patagonia.  No one was quite sure why the Princess of Wales had come to Patagonia in 1995.  They preferred to play down her title and pretend that she was just another tourist.

“At least she is putting us on the map,” said 73 year old Orwig
Griffiths who joined Diana for tea and cakes in a typically Welsh tea house in Gaiman called Ty Te Caerdydd.  “Well, at least for half a cup of tea and no cake.”  The Princess was offered a selection of 25 fresh cakes.  But she declined the offer.

“She didn’t touch a thing,” said the waitress who served her.


Select Griffiths Names

  • William Griffith of Penrhyn was appointed Chamberlain for North Wales
    in 1483 and fought for his cousin Henry Tudor at the battle of Bosworth Field.
  • Elizabeth Griffith, born into an Irish family, was an 18th century actress, writer, and London playwright.
  • Griffith J. Griffith was a
    Welshman who made a fortune in silver mining in Mexico and became a benefactor to the new city of Los Angeles. Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory are named after him.
  • D.W Griffith was the American
    film director who gave us The Birth
    of a Nation
    in 1915.
  • Arthur Griffith was the Sinn
    Fein leader who led the Irish delegation
    that produced the Anglo-Irish treaty of 1921.
  • Frederick Griffith was the English medical researcher who discovered DNA in 1928.
  • J. Gwyn Griffiths was a Classics professor, poet and political activist for Wales.
  • Jim Griffiths was a Welsh
    Labour politician who rose to become the first Secretary of State for Wales in the 1960’s.

Select Griffiths Numbers Today

  • 104,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in West Midlands)
  • 36,000 in America (most numerous
    in Texas).
  • 56,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select Griffiths and Like Surnames  

Hereditary surnames in Wales were a post-16th century development.   Prior to that time the prototype for the Welsh name was the patronymic, such as “Madog ap Jevan ap Jerwerth” (Madoc, son of Evan, son of Yorwerth).  The system worked well in what was still mainly an oral culture.

However, English rule decreed English-style surnames and the English patronymic “-s” for “son of” began first in the English border counties and then in Wales. Welsh “P” surnames came from the “ap” roots, such as Price from “ap Rhys.”

These are some of the present-day Welsh surnames that you can check out.




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