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.

Both 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.

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Select Griffiths Ancestry

Wales. 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 Carnarvon
  • 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 England.

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 Carmarthenshire.

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 Llandeilo
  • 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.

England.  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 county).

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

  • 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.
  • and 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 Birth of a Nation fame.

Argentina.  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 English.

 


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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 young.

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 Bettws 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
said:

“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 (pghunka@gmail.com)

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.

BowenHopkinsMaddoxPritchard
DaviesHowellMeredithRees
EdwardsJenkinsOwenRowland
EvansJonesPowellVaughan
GriffithsLloydPriceWatkins

 

 

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