Holland Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Holland Surname Meaning

The origin of the surname Holland in England is from an early place-name (of which there were many in England) and has nothing really to do with the country of Holland. The root seems to have been the Old English hoh meaning “ridge” and land meaning “land.”

The place-name of Up Holland in west Lancashire, which appeared in the 1086 Domesday Book, gave rise to the famous Holland family of medieval times.

Holland Surname Resources on The Internet

Holland Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Lancashire) and from Ireland (Cork)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England. The Holland name has been primarily a Lancashire name. although it has spread to other parts of the country.

Lancashire.  The progenitor of the medieval Holland family appears to have been Matthew de Holande, recorded as having acquired the Holland manor in Up Holland, near present-day Wigan, in 1202. Holande or Holand was the spelling used by this family until the 14th century. The township of Up Holland was at that time numbered among the market towns of Lancashire. A castle and a priory adorned the place when the de Holandes were its masters.

These Holands rose to local and national importance in the 14th century, first through their association with Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and second through their exploits in the wars against the French. Thomas and John Holland were half-brothers to King Richard II, although here it was said “he had companions of the worst sort – violent, dissipated, and cruel.” Both Hollands perished after Richard II was overthrown in 1399.

The Hollands survived these catastrophes and remained a force during the Wars of the Roses. But Henry Tudor’s victory at Bosworth Field in 1485 ended their time of prominence. The family history was recounted in Bernard Holland’s 1917 book The Lancashire Hollands.

Elsewhere.  There were subsidiary Holland lines – at Denton and Sutton in Lancashire, at Mobberley in Cheshire, and in north Wales. Thomas Holland of Sutton was a Jesuit priest who was martyred for his beliefs in 1642. From the Mobberley Hollands came:

  • the 18th century surgeon and doctor Peter Holland of Knutsford in Cheshire
  • his son Sir Henry Holland, a royal physician and later a travel writer
  • and his son Henry Holland, known as Lord Knutsford, a British Colonial Secretary in the 1890’s.

The Norfolk Hollands claimed descent from the Lancashire Hollands, but this connection is questionable. They held Wortwell House in Redenhall in the early 1500’s and later established themselves at Quiddenham. Philemon Holland, the noted classicist, was a prominent member of this family.

Cornelius Holland from an Essex family allegedly drew up the death warrant for Charles I in 1649. With the restoration of the monarchy and facing death by hanging, drawing and quartering, he escaped the country and lived in exile in Switzerland as John Ralfeson for the remainder of his life.

Baron Holland was the title given in 1763 to Henry Fox, an influential English politician of his time. Holland House and Holland Park in Kensington, London take their name from him. Meanwhile Jools Holland’s ancestry has been traced back to delivery men and hawkers in the Marylebone area of London in the mid-19th century.

Ireland. Holland is also an Irish name.  Its principal Irish origin is one of the anglicizations of the Gaelic O’hOileian name. This was a sept first found in Connacht but which later dispersed.

The 1890 census showed some Hollands in Galway. Larger numbers were in the Beara peninsula in county Cork. A number of the Hollands from Bantry in Cork emigrated to America and Canada in the mid-19th century. John Holland, considered the inventor of the modern submarine, departed for America with his parents from Liscannor in county Clare in 1872. There are plaques honoring him in the town today. His father John was originally from Cork.

America. There were early Hollands recorded in Virginia in the 1620’s, but none of them seem to have survived.

Captain John Holland came to Massachusetts around the year 1630.  As a ship captain he travelled frequently to Virginia and died at sea near there in 1652. John Holland, possibly his son (but probably not), established himself in Nansemond county in the 1660’s and his family name became the name of the town where he lived. In 1860 the Holland city commission was made up of 12 members, 10 of whom were named Holland.

A line from here is thought to have run to Edgecombe county, North Carolina and thence to Georgia where Wiley Holland was born in 1804. He was a plantation owner and civic leader for many years in Wilkinson county, surviving the Civil War and Sherman’s march through Georgia.

Two Holland notables in Texas were:

  • Spearman Holland who, according to the family Bible, was born in Virginia in 1801 and died in Texas in 1872. He had moved to the Piney Woods section of east Texas in 1842 where he established his plantation. He was a Confederate Major during the Civil War. Afterwards he gave over his plantation to his former slaves and it became known as Holland quarters.
  • and Rube Holland from Tennessee who came to Bell county, Texas in 1874 with “a wagon and horses, his wife and four children, and six dollars in cash.” Five years later, the town of Holland was named after him, apparently without his knowledge.

Canada.  An early Holland in Canada was from Holland. Samuel Holland had joined the British army in 1756 and eight years later was appointed Surveyor General of North America. He is remembered in Prince Edward Island as a founder of the colony. Holland College there was named after him and there is a Parc Samuel Holland in Quebec City.

Australia.  Many early arrivals were convicts, such as Richard Holland from Liverpool, convicted in 1806 for theft. After serving out his sentence he farmed at Windsor, NSW until his death there at 84 in 1867. His son Thomas farmed there for a further fifty years before his death at 88 in 1913.

The Hollands were a pioneering family in Australia’s Northern Territories. Cyril Holland took over the Lockerbie homestead in Cape York, Australia’s northernmost cattle station, in 1913. He and his family were to spend thirty years there. Their story was recounted in Ann Hall’s 1990 book The Holland Family.

New ZealandHenry Holland came to New Zealand with his parents from a small farming village in the East Riding of Yorkshire in 1863. He settled in Christchurch SI and served as its mayor and MP in the 1920’s and 1930’s. His son Sidney followed him into politics. He became leader of the National Party in 1940 and Prime Minister ten years later.

Holland Surname Miscellany

Origin of the Holland Surname and Family.  The Holland surname is generally thought to have come from Holland as a place-name.  There were numerous instances of this Holland name – from the Orkney islands off Scotland to Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Lincolnshire and Essex. Their northern and eastern placement suggests that the name might have originally come from Norse settlers there.

There is the region of Holland in Lincolnshire and the town of Holland-on-Sea in Essex.

However, the main concentration of Holland as a surname in England has been in West Lancashire.  There Matthew de Hollande assumed the name of Holland from the manor of the same name near the town of Up Holland.  This Matthew was first recorded in a 1202 lease deed.

“In this deed Uhctred de Chyrche released his right in fourteen oxgangs of land in Upholland to Matthew de Holland. This would have meant about 210 acres of arable land together with rights of meadowing and pasturage, perhaps the manor as a whole, under this form.”

From Matthew came the very prominent Holland medieval family.  Holland or van Holland can also be a Dutch surname.  The name here is said to originate from a small county that was named Holland in the 11th century.  It has its roots in the Old Dutch holtlant meaning “woodland.”

Holland Machinations in the 14th Century.  Robert de Holand, born around 1283, became a favorite knight of Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, and was made Baron Holand. After fighting for Thomas in the Banastre Rebellion, a civil war started by rival barons, he acquired large plots of land and was even given the honor of becoming a member of the House of Lords.

However, Robert’s loyalties changed at the Battle of Boroughbridge, a campaign incited by Thomas of Lancaster to overthrow the weak and vacillating King Edward II. Robert secretly betrayed Thomas and defected to the King’s army, which Lancaster deemed treacherous. After the battle, Thomas was beheaded by Edward’s forces.  In 1328, however, Lancaster’s partisans declared Robert a traitor, took him prisoner, and beheaded him.

Robert’s sons, Thomas and Otho, fought against the French in the 1340’s. They were daring commanders of the English army and both saw intense action at the Battle of Caen and the Battle of Crecy.  When they returned home to England they were two of the founding knights of the Order of the Garter.  Thomas and his son Thomas assumed the title of Earl of Kent.

Through the marriages of his children, the second Thomas became a progenitor of many of the key figures in the War of the Roses. Thomas himself was executed in 1400 after the revolt by him and his brother John against the new king Henry IV failed.  His headless body was entombed in Cirencester Abbey until 1412.

The Holland Surname in Ireland.  In Ireland it is believed that in many cases Holland is an anglicization of the Irish surname Mulholland, Holohan, Houlihan, Holian or one of the many other variations of that surname.  The Irish Gaelic surname O’Maolchalláin, meaning descendent of Callan or Calends, is the root source of the surname Mulholland.

The Irish Gaelic surname Ó hUallacháin, meaning descendant of Uallachán (a personal name from a diminutive of úallach that translates as proud or arrogant), appears to be the root source of all the Holohan related surnames.

The Holland surname is most common in county Cork.

Spearman and Bird Holland.  Bird Holland was a contradiction in antebellum Texas.

He fathered seven children by a slave named Matilda, who belonged to his half-brother Spearman. And from the record, we can infer that Bird loved his slave-born children.  In 1852, he moved three of his sons – William, James and Milton – to Ohio, set them free and paid abolitionists to raise them. A fourth son was too young, but Bird kept him at his side in Austin after he turned 12, the age at which Spearman was likely to sell him as a field hand.

But as a politician, Bird Holland supported continuing the institution of slavery in Texas and signed onto a resolution that described African-Americans as inferior.  As Texas secretary of state, it was Bird Holland’s signature that official bound Texas to the Confederate States of America.

Bird died in 1864 during the Civil War leading the 22nd Texas Volunteer Infantry in the Confederate cause. Ironically his son Milton, the freed slave, fought on the Union side and became the first Texan soldier to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

A secret covenant of Bird Holland’s will gave the cash in his estate and debts he was owed to his son John and a slave-born daughter named Eliza. While the money did not make them rich, it was enough for them to buy a home and bring their mother to Austin from Spearman’s collapsed plantation near Carthage.

The Death of Wiley Holland.  The following obituary appeared in The Advance, a local Wilkinson county, Georgia newspaper in June 1884:

“Wiley Holland died in Wilkinson county at his home near Irwinton on June 3rd in the 80th year of his life. He was born in Hancock county and moved to Wilkinson county when he was six years of age.

Few men have lived a more honorable life than he did.  He was the genuine type of manhood, twice married, the father of eighteen children, sixteen boys and two girls, who reflect honor upon their parents, both in their business capacities of life and their hospitable nature, for whom he was so well known.

His was the stranger’s home and no one was under necessity to complain of ill treatment with whom he met, whether at home or abroad.  He served his county as Tax Collector for the long term of eight years in those good old antebellum days when there was honor connected with the office, when the man was sought and not the office. He joined the Missionary Baptist Church at Liberty on April 25th, 1845, was baptized by Reverend W.B. Steely; since which time he lived a most consistent Christian life, walking honorably, dealing justly, having mercy, modest and retiring, he quietly moved in his sphere of life.

None knew him but to do him honor and those who knew him best were constrained to love him.  Though dead, he yet speaketh, though we shall not again greet his cheerful face in our gatherings in the earthly courts. We rejoice in hope that beyond the river we shall grasp his hand again. We offer our condolence to the bereaved family circle, hoping that he who tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, will shield them from the storm and tempest of life -beyond the dark cloud there is a silver lining of joy beneath their blackness.” 

Holland from Holland in Canada.  Samuel Johannes Holland was baptized in 1729 in a small Lutheran church in the Dutch town of Deventer in the province of Overjissel.  As a youth he joined the Dutch army where his engineering and cartographic skills were much appreciated.  However, the pay was poor and in 1756 Holland saw an opportunity to improve his fortunes by joining the British army which was then preparing for a major campaign in North America.

During the French and Indian Wars, Samuel Holland drew up charts of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Saint Lawrence river in preparation for a British attack on Quebec.  He was promoted to captain in 1759 and participated actively in the siege of Quebec, narrowly escaping death on one occasion when his boats were nearly run down by a schooner.

After the war was over, Holland was appointed Surveyor-General of North America.  He moved to Quebec in 1762 and he and his French wife Marie-Joseph Rollet were to raise a family of ten there.

He was described as follows in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography:

“Samuel Johannes Holland holds an important place in the history of Canadian science and technology for his role in setting high standards of accuracy in land measurement and mapping.  In Prince Edward Island he is remembered as a founder of the colony and revered by some as an ancestor, his son John Frederick (and from about 1802 his widow, Marie-Joseph) having taken up residence there.  In Quebec as a politician he was a reliable, well-read defender of conservative values.”

A Chinese Holland Family.  The man who became William Holland was born in Guangdong province, China around the year 1827.   Being educated to read and write Chinese set him somewhat apart from the hundreds of thousands of Chinese laborers who began coming to the United States in the 1850’s.

By about 1860 he was living in New York where he had met and married Ellen Holland from Ireland. Since New York had never enacted the anti-miscegenation laws common to states in the American South and West, it was legal for Chinese men there to marry outside their race.  Probably for practical reasons, he adopted the name William Holland.

By the late 1870’s William Holland had prospered enough that they had a little money to invest.  The Hollands had by that time moved to frontier Arizona and purchased land in the new Phoenix townsite.  William signed the deed with his English name written phonetically in Chinese characters.  After William died around the year 1890, his son Joseph and wife Yit Sen (whom he had married in his Guangdong hometown) remained in Phoenix.

On a patriotic holiday these Hollands attended a parade in downtown Phoenix and were asked to ride on one of the floats.  A studio photograph taken that day showed Yit Sen and her youngest daughter Dora wearing Chinese attire, while the rest of the children were in school uniform.  Judging from the ages of the children, this image must date from about 1903.

Later the Holland family broke up.  Sometime between 1906 and 1910 Yit Sen and her four American-born daughters sailed for China.  Her husband Joseph and one son, also named Joseph, remained.  This son was electrocuted in an industrial accident in 1919. The father died eight years later in 1927.  

Two of his daughters, Cecilia and Dora, did return from China to America, coming first to Phoenix and later settling in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  They lived there until the 1970’s.

Holland Names

  • John Holland, created Duke of Exeter, was a half-brother to King Richard II and a power behind the throne. But he lost his position and his head after Richard was overthrown in 1399. 
  • Sir Henry Holland was physician to the young Queen Victoria and also a noted travel writer. 
  • John Holland is considered the father of the modern submarine, selling the first prototype to the US Navy in 1900. 
  • Sidney Holland was Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1950 to 1957.

Holland Numbers Today

  • 41,000 in the UK (most numerous in East Midlands)
  • 40,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 22,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia

Holland and Like Surnames

Many surnames have come from Lancashire.  These are some of the noteworthy surnames that you can check out.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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