Hayes Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Hayes Surname Meaning

Hayes in England arose as a locational surname, associated with the place-name Hayes in Kent, Middlesex, Devon, Dorset, or Worcestershire. Hayes here could be the plural of hay meaning “enclosure;” or it could come from hege, “hedge;” or from haes, “brushwood” or “underwood.” But the English Hayes numbers seem to be less overall than those that have come from Scotland and Ireland.

The Hayes name had different origins there. In Scotland the name came from the Normans and is Hay there but often Hayes on its travels. In Ireland Hayes was generally an anglicization of the Gaelic O’hAodha. Hayes may also be Jewish, from the Yiddish khaye meaning “life.”

Hayes Surname Resources on The Internet

Hayes and Hay Surname Ancestry

  • from Northern England, Scotland (Aberdeenshire), and Ireland (Munster)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  Hayes in various spellings – Hayes, Heyes, Heys, Hays and Hay – are to be found in England.

These are names primarily of northern England. One Lancashire family history of Hayes traces itself back to a William Hey, born in Leigh in 1634. The name became Heyes and then Hayes in the early 1700’s.

The Hayes name has in fact been strongest in Lancashire, although this may reflect Irish immigration. Hay by contrast has been stronger in the border counties, reflecting probably a spillover from Scotland.

Scotland. In Scotland the name Hay has Norman roots, being a direct translation of the Norman de la Haye – la Haye (“the hedge”) being the name of several towns in Normandy. The legendary origin of the Hays dates back to the Viking invasions of the 10th century, but has little basis in fact.

The first Hay in Scotland was in fact the Norman William II de la Haye in the 12th century. Clan Hay descends from him. Gilbert de Haye joined Robert the Bruce in the Scottish War of Independence and he was rewarded with the lands of Slain in Aberdeenshire. 

The northeast of Scotland, around Aberdeenshire, has remained Hay territory. Hays were also to be found in Perthshire, East Lothian, and along the Scottish borders. The Hays of Yester in East Lothian date from the 1350’s.

John Hay, born in Peeblesshire around 1450, was the forebear of the Hays who became Lord Tweeddale. John Hay, the first of Tweeddale, was Lord Chancellor of Scotland from 1692 to 1696. Later Hays of this line commanded troops in the British army from the Penninsular War to the Crimean War.

Ireland. Hayes is an anglicization of a common Gaelic surname O’hAodha, meaning descendant of Aodh (“fire”), although in SW Cork O’hAodha became O’Hea and in Ulster Hughes. The Hayes name has been mainly associated with the Dalcassian sept of Thomond to be found in Limerick and Tipperary. From this area in the 19th century came the opera singer Catherine Hayes and the painters Edward Hayes and Michael Angelo Hayes.

Hayes was noted on a public record in county Wexford as early as 1182. Here the surname was of Norman origin (de la Haye), having been taken to Ireland by the Anglo-Normans. Hay was a principal name in Wexford at the time of the 1659 census.

America. The ancestry of American President Rutherford B. Hayes began with his Scottish ancestor George Hayes who came to Windsor, Connecticut in 1680.

Hayes’s grandfather Rutherford left his New Haven home during the Revolutionary War for the relative peace of Vermont. His son, another Rutherford, was a Vermont storekeeper who took his family to Ohio in 1817. But he died there ten weeks before the birth of his son Rutherford Hayes the future President, in 1822. Another branch of this family ended up later in Wisconsin.

Two other Hayes arrived in New England during the 17th century – Thomas who came to Connecticut in 1645 and whose descendants are to be found in New Jersey and John who came to New Hampshire in 1680 and was the forebear of a large New England family.

The English Quaker Henry Hayes came to Pennsylvania in 1705 and accepted a land grant from William Penn in Chester county. Mordecai Hayes’ home at Embreeville, built in 1774, remains with the Hayes family. Captain Joseph Hayes led a branch of this family to Indiana in the early 1800’s (he was one of the first to purchase land and settle there). Henry’s descendants celebrated the bicentennial of his arrival in 1905 and the tricentennial in 2005.

Irish. The largest number of Hayes in America, however, have come from Ireland. Notable among these Hayes have been:

  • Tom Hayes from county Cork who arrived in San Francisco in 1849 and was one of its early civic developers. In 1861 Tom Hayes constructed the first outdoor recreational park, Hayes Park.  Hayes Valley and Hayes Street are named after him. He was the original franchisee of the Market Street Railway.
  • Daniel and Mary Hayes from Kerry who came to New York in 1864. Their son Patrick was Archbishop of New York from 1919 until his death in 1938. He was born in the Five Points section of Manhattan and, in his own words, “was born very humble and, I may say, of poor people.”
  • and another Hayes family, this time from Tipperary, who had come to New York in the 1880’s. Their son Johnny won the marathon race at the 1908 Olympics in London. His Olympic victory undoubtedly contributed to the early growth of long-distance running and marathoning in the United States.

The grande dame of American theater, Helen Hayes, had Irish roots. Her maternal grandparents emigrated from Ireland at the time of the potato famine. Her mother was a great-niece of Irish singer Catherine Hayes.

Canada.  Thomas Hayes, a Protestant from county Armagh, came to Simcoe county in Ontario with his wife in 1830. Thomas started an Orange Lodge on his property in 1845. He went on to live to the grand age of a hundred, dying in 1882.

Four Hayes brothers and their Catholic families were said to have arrived in Quebec from Ireland at the time of the famine and settled in the Gatineau valley. Michael and Ellen Hayes were pioneers in Pontiac county. Some of these Hayes moved onto Saskatchewan in the early 1900’s.

Australia. Sir Henry Hayes, a native of Cork, had been made sheriff of the city and knighted in 1790. But ten years later he was a convicted felon transported to Australia. There his erratic personality would get him into trouble with authorities. One judge commented:

“The first person I tried was Sir Henry Browne Hayes for speaking insolently of Colonel Foveaux and endeavoring to raise a riot. I reprimanded and discharged him. Since which he has sent me two watermelons every week of uncommon size and goodness. He is a gentlemanly man in his manners, though odd in his dress and appearance. He has made a vow never to cut the hair on his upper lip, which, is very long and gives him a very formidable and grotesque appearance.”

He finally was able to receive a pardon and return back to Ireland for the last twenty years of his life.

Another Irish convict, Michael Hayes from Wexford, was transported for his participation in the 1798 rebellion. He later prospered as a trader in Sydney. His brother was a representative of the Irish Catholic Association in Rome and he championed the Catholic cause in Australia. However, he was found drowned off the Market Wharf in Sydney in 1825.

William Hayes was a child convict from England, transported to Tasmania in 1843 when just twelve. His son Edmund, who started out at an orphanage, became one of the pioneer settlers in the Upper Natone district of Tasmania.

Hayes Surname Miscellany

The Hay Legend.  The legendary origin of the Hays in Hector Boece’s fables harks back to the year 971 when Scotland was subjected to attack from Viking marauders. King Kenneth II attempted to repel them, but his army was routed in an engagement at Luncarty north of Perth.

A farmer and his two sons, ploughing in a nearby field, had watched the proceedings. These three men, all of huge physical stature, removed the yokes from their oxen and used them to bar the way of the fleeing Scots soldiery.  The peasant and his sons rallied the fleeing troops and led them back to victory, driving the Danes into the Firth of Tay.

The king was delighted and insisted that the hero and his sons accompany him to Perth to receive suitable reward.  From the top of Kinnoull Hill, the king released a falcon, having decreed that all the land encompassed by the falcon’s flight would become the property of the hero and his sons. The bird landed on a stone at St Madoes and the peasant became a rich man overnight.

The salient features of these events were commemorated in the Hay coat of arms, which included three bloodstained shields, the falcon which became their crest, the ox yoke adopted as the badge of the family, and two peasants who were the supporters.

It is a colorful and romantic tale.  However, it has little basis in fact.  The original Hays were in fact Normans, deriving their name from the barony of La Haye in Normandy.  The first of  these Hays was William II de la Haye who arrived in Scotland in the 12th century.  

Hay, Hayes and Other Names in England and Scotland.  Hay is Scottish, but does cross the border into northern England. Hayes, Heys, and Hays are English, with a basis in Lancashire.  The following table shows their numbers in England and Scotland in the 1891 census.

Nos. (000’s) Hayes Heyes Heys Hays Hay Total
Northumb.    0.1    0.4    0.5
Durham    0.3    0.1    0.4    0.8
Yorkshire    1.3    0.1    0.1    0.2    0.4    2.1
Lancashire    4.3    2.5    1.9    0.1    0.7    9.5
Cheshire    0.8    0.1    0.9
Notts.    0.8    0.8
London    3.2    0.1    0.7    4.0
Elsewhere    6.8    0.2    0.2    0.5    1.5    9.2
Total   18.6    2.8    2.2    1.0    4.2   28.8
Scotland    0.3    8.0    8.3

Catherine Hayes, International Diva.  Catherine Hayes was born in Limerick in 1825, the third daughter of Arthur and Mary Hayes.  Her father, a bandmaster of the Limerick city militia, deserted his family, causing great financial distress.

The young Catherine helped her cousin Mrs. Carroll who worked as a charwoman at Lord Limerick’s home. There she was heard singing as she worked by a Dr. Knox, a Church of Ireland Bishop who lived nearby. He described her as having “the most beautiful voice I have ever heard.”  He immediately set about helping her and arranged sponsorship for her to study under Antonio Sapio in Dublin.

She gave her first public performance there in 1839 at the age of 19.  Seven years later Catherine Hayes was prima donna at La Scala in Milan and in 1849 she gave a Command Performance for Queen Victoria.  Sadly she died young, at the age of 36, in 1861.

Early Hays in Kentucky.  Family tradition has it that William Hays and his family came from Rockbridge county in Virginia to eastern Kentucky in 1791 and were one of the first families to settle in that part of Kentucky. William was the son of old John Hays of Virginia who had served in the Virginia Militia during the French and Indian Wars.

A few years later, about 1795, William moved with his family to the Snowden Branch area of Breathitt county near the mouth of Quicksand Creek.  The old Hays cemetery at the top of Snowden Branch Hill has hundreds of Hays graves. Most of them are only field stones for tombstones.  But it is almost certain that William and his family were buried beneath the ground here.  The tombstone of William’s grandson William, marked “Wm. CV Hase, died 1855,” can be seen there today.

Rutherford Hayes and Deaths in His Family.  President Rutherford Hayes lived in an age when death, particularly at a young age, was far more common than it is today.  He himself was the posthumous son of Ruddy Hayes who had left his native Vermont to settle in Delaware, Ohio, only to die there of a local fever. Of Sophia and Ruddy Hayes’ five offspring, only Rutherford and his older sister Fanny were to survive the vicissitudes of childhood.

Rutherford’s wife Lucy suffered all of her life from severe headaches. She died in 1889, just before her 58th birthday, from a massive apoplectic stroke – which was probably the result of undiagnosed high blood pressure.

Three of the Rutherford Hayes family of eight children died during the second summer of their lives.  Hayes sadly recorded in his diary the death of little Joseph from teething and dysentery in 1863, of George Crook from scarlet fever in 1866, and of Manning Force, eighth and last child, in 1874, from summer complaint.

The Troubled Times of William Hayes.  William Hayes had been shipped to Australia on the Asiatic in 1843 as a twelve year old boy, having been tried in London for “stealing eight pairs of shoes” and sentenced to transportation for ten years.  He arrived in Hobart on September 23, 1843 and was sent to the Point Puer prison for boys.

William’s record there was checkered.  In 1848 he was committed to trial for allegedly stabbing John Maddock with intent. In the end he was found guilty of assault only, but sentenced to prison for three years in Hobart and given hard labor.

William obtained his Ticket of Leave in 1852 and married Catherine Lyons that year.  They had three daughters.  But it seems that Catherine left him as the girls were placed in an orphanage. In 1861 William married Jane McClure in Hadspan, Tasmania and they had four children.

However, three years later, William was charged with indecently assaulting one of his daughters from his marriage to Catherine Lyons and was sentenced to two years in jail.  While in prison he was found guilty of threatening to stab a fellow inmate and was sentenced to an additional three months in jail. During that time his children by Jane McClure ended up in an orphanage.

His prisoner discharge document stated his age as 41 yrs, his height as 5′ 4″ and his hair as dark.  He had the following distinguishing marks – anchor, crucifix and mermaid on his right arm and a mermaid on his left arm.  Nothing further was known of William Hayes after his release.

Hayes Fishermen in Limerick.  The Abbey fishermen consisted primarily of three Catholic families – Hayes, Clancy and McNamara – who lived in the Abbey area of Limerick city.

They used a traditional fishing boat called the brecaun which was about twenty-four foot long and two and a half foot wide.  The boat was operated and used by two men, one at the fore and the other at aft.  It was steered over shallow water with the use of a pole.  A paddle was used on other occasions.  They caught the fish using a snap net.

The fishermen generally had nicknames.  The following were the nicknames of the Hayes fishermen in the 1930’s, together with their date of birth.

Fisherman Birth Nickname
Thomas Hayes 1868 Hackney
Robert Hayes 1872 Napoleon
Martin Hayes 1874 Rab
John Hayes Sr. 1880 Bone
Patrick Hayes 1887 Sunlight
Michael Hayes 1891 Lully
Patrick Hayes 1894 Randy
Thomas Hayes 1903 Bantrum
Christy Hayes 1907 Susi or Sonny
Michael Hayes 1912 Starry
John Hayes Jr. 1912 O.K.

Hayes Names

  • John Hay of Tweeddale was Lord Chancellor of Scotland from 1692 to 1696.
  • Catherine Hayes was a 19th century opera soprano, the first Irish-born to achieve international acclaim.
  • Rutherford Hayes was the 19th President of the United States, taking office in 1877.
  • Helen Hayes was an American actress whose long career garnered her the nickname of “first Lady of the American theater.”
  • Woody Hayes was a long-serving American college football coach, best known for his time with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
  • Gabby Hayes was an American screen actor, best known for his appearance in Westerns.

Hayes Numbers Today

  • 43,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 73,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 46,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


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Written by Colin Shelley

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