Holmes Surname Meaning, History & Origin
holm. The main root of “Holm” is the Viking holm, meaning an island (in
particular a slightly raised land lying on flat land or partially
surrounded by streams). The explanation below gives one
explanation on the transference of Holm as a place name to Holme and
Holmes as surnames and why many Holmes have resulted.
were unable to support large communities and there was frequent
movement to new places where work was available. The
emigrants would have been known to their new neighbors as “the folk
from the holm,” which over time would have modified into Holme or
Supporting the Viking connection is that fact the names Holme and
Holmes are mainly to be found in northern and eastern England,
areas where the Danelaw held sway and where the Danish/Vking influence
An alternative origin of holm, again locational, is the Old English holegn becoming holm and holm oak or holly
tree. Holmfirth in the West Ridings of Yorkshire, for instance,
meant “the group of holly trees.” And Holme or Holmes was the man
who lived by the holly tree.
- Holmes Family History
Obadiah Holmes of Rhode Island and New Jersey.
- History of the Holmes Family
South Carolina and Texas.
The name Urkell de Holmes appeared in the Yorkshire assize court rolls
of 1219 and Holmes have been more numerous in that county than in any
other since that time.
manor of Paull Holme on Humberside was
owned by the Holme family, who took their name from the place, from
about 1295 (the remains of the Paull Holme tower bear
witness to the marriage of John Holme and Elizabeth Wasteneys in
Another Holme family were local gentry at Huntington Hall
near York from 1500 and maybe earlier. Wilfrid Holme of this family was
a Protestant poet, publishing his interestingly named tract The Fall and Evil Success of Rebellion
in 1537. And the Holmes name appears frequently among the early
farmer names in Nidderdale in north Yorkshire.
Cheshire The Holmes of
Tranmere, a landed family, were traceable back to the marriage of
and Matilda de Tranmere in the late 14th century. By the Tudor
the family had become impoverished and they were tradesmen in Chester.
But their fortunes took an upturn following Thomas Holme the
blacksmith. Randle Holme became Sheriff
of Chester in 1615 and its mayor in 1633.
He was the forebear of four generations of Randle Holmes who
painters and early genealogists. All four painted memorial boards
hatchments, some of which can still be found in Cheshire churches.
Holmes in Liverpool date from the late 1500’s (in Maghull).
Holme was a self-made builder in the town who, in the
1830’s and 1840’s, was one of its largest employers. He built
a large mansion called Holmestead (which still stands) and was a mayor
in the 1850’s.
A Holmes line further north began with Robert Holmes who moved in the
from Lancaster to county Cork in Ireland where he became the provost of
Mallow. His grandson was the colorful Sir Robert Holmes.
This family maintained estates in Ireland and the Isle of Wight until
the early 19th century when the eldest daughter Elizabeth married
William Ashe a Court and created the Holmes a Court line.
Scotland. The Viking holm also made its way into
Scotland. But the pronunciation here tended to be different than
in England. This resulted in different spellings of the name in Scotland.
The two main versions on the Scottish borders were Hume and Home.
There was an early pocket of Holmes in Ayrshire (from the land of
Holmes near Dundonald). Later this name spread elsewhere in
Ireland. English and
Scots settlers brought the Holmes name to Ireland in the 17th and early
18th century. A Holmes family
came to Tipperary in 1728 and established themselves at St. David’s along
Lough Derg. Another family account tracks a Holmes
family who were gamekeepers at Emo Park, Coolbanagher in county Laois.
The Holmes of Moycashel in county Westmeath included the
early 20th century writer and poet Edmond Holmes.
However, the largest number of Holmes were in Ulster and in county
Antrim. The Rev. William Holmes was first minister of the First
Antrim Presbyterian church in 1730. Many of these Holmes later
emigrated, such as Harry Holmes who departed for Canada in
the 1920’s (although he left behind a younger brother Joe who became
one of Antrim’s finest fiddlers). Eamonn Holmes, born
in Belfast, is currently a presenter on British TV.
America. Obadiah Holmes
and his family were among the Puritan wave of settlers in New England
in the 1630’s. They arrived in 1638 from Lancashire and
eventually settled in
Newport, Rhode Island where Obadiah was free to practice as a Baptist
Holmes arrivals included:
- John Holmes from Yorkshire in
the 1620’s. He was appointed the Messenger of the Plymouth court.
- William Holmes, the leader of a group from Plymouth colony who
established the first English settlement in Connecticut (Windsor) in
- David Holmes from Scotland in
the early 1630’s (his descendants settled in Connecticut and later in
Cambridge, Massachusetts and included Oliver Wendell
Holmes, senior and junior).
- George and Deborah Holmes from
Essex in 1637. They settled in Roxbury, Massachusetts.
George Gray’s 1908 book Holmes
Genealogy 1594-1908 covered these various New England Holmes
Orsamus Holmes, a descendant of the Mayflower
passenger Henry Samsun, had an adventurous Revolutionary War and was a
pioneer settler first in upstate New York and then in Ohio.
thought by some to be the son of the John Holmes above, was a Boston
moved south to Charleston, South Carolina in the early 1700’s.
Later generations owned southern plantations at Washington and Willow
Grove. Emma Holmes of this family kept a diary during the Civil
War years which was later published as The Diary of Miss Emma Holmes.
The preface of the book read:
Holmes felt that people could be classed as betters or inferiors and
she often spoke of the mobocracy. She accepted slavery without
question. She was a woman of considerable intellect and
curiosity, she read widely, and her intellectual bent drew her to the
A Southern Holmes family, but from different Scots Irish roots,
was the one in Sampson county, North Carolina. Gabriel Holmes
Governor of North Carolina in 1821. His son Theophilus was a
Confederate general in the Civil War. Another Scots Irish Holmes
family traces itself back to James Holmes in Union county, North
the early 1800’s. He and his family later moved onto Georgia and
Canada. The Scottish
Highlanders who came to Nova Scotia in the early 1800’s included a
number of Holmes. John Holmes arrived with his parents in 1803
and later became active in local politics. His son Simon followed
in his footsteps and became Premier of the province in 1878.
The first Holmes in Ontario was probably Dr. William Holmes, an Empire
Loyalist who had been granted land in Altona Forest in the
1790’s. John Holme (later Holmes) from Lancashire came in the
1820’s and settled in Kent county.
William Holmes from Ireland
arrived in Brockville in the 1830’s. The census listed him as a
farmer, but he was known more as a land speculator and money lender
(hence his nickname of ‘20% Holmes’). The Cottonwood mansion in
Selkirk was his legacy. John Holmes, also from Ireland, was an
early settler in the Huntley township in the 1840’s.
William and John Holmes moved from Ontario to start a dairy and grain
farm along the Fraser river in British Columbia in the 1890’s.
Cuthbert Holmes Park in Victoria takes its name from an early settler
in the town.
Australia. Susannah Holmes
was onboard the First Fleet convict ship to Australia in 1787. A
year later she married Henry Cabell in the first European marriage to
be recorded in the new colony. The couple are commemorated today
as one of Australia’s founding families.
The Henry Holmes vineyard in the Barossa valley in South Australia has
been family owned since the 1860’s. However, the original Holmes were
the German immigrant Henscke family.
Holme as a Place Name in England. There are some 300 place names in England which bear the name
“Holme.” The table below shows their distribution.
|Cumberland||51||17||Oxenholme, Holme Cultram|
|Yorkshire||98||33||Holme, Holme upon Spalding Moor|
As can be seen, the place name Holme is mainly to be found in
northern and eastern England, in areas where the Danelaw held sway and
Danish/Viking influence was strong.
Holm as a place name is even more prevalent in the Scottish
islands of Orkney and Shetland where the Vikings were present for a
much longer time. The root is the same Old Norse holmr, meaning here “a small and
The Paulli Holme Tower. Built by Robert Holme in the 15th century, the Paull Holme
Tower on Humberside was originally part of an H-shaped group of
buildings forming a fortified manor house. The tower is a Grade 1
listed building and scheduled ancient monument. The site includes
the remains of a moat that used to surround the building, and it is
believed that the only entrance to the tower was via a heavily-defended
door and portcullis.
The Holme family continued to live at Paull Holme until the
early part of the 20th century. But the decline of the tower as
the family residence probably started in around 1640 during the English
Civil War when the building suffered damage at the hands of Cromwell’s
Parliamentary Army. By the 19th century the tower had ceased to
be habitable and in 1871 Colonel Bryan Holme converted it into a
lookout and gazebo.
Local legend has it that the building is haunted by the ghost
of a bullock which apparently climbed the tower steps in 1840 and fell
to its death from the top.
Sir Robert Holmes and his Escapades. Robert Holmes was a Royalist, born in Ireland of English
parents, who made his name in the navy in the Restoration period.
He took part in the second and third Anglo-Dutch wars, both of which he
is, by some, credited with having started. Holmes’s Bonfire is
what his raid in 1666 on the Dutch islands of Vlie and Schelling came
to be called.
He was always quarrelsome and controversial during his professional
- In 1660, he quarrelled with
Samuel Pepys on the appointment of a ship captain. Pepys recorded
in his diary that he feared Holmes’ temper might result in a duel and
then he would certainly die.
- In 1668, he acted as second in the duel between the Duke of
Buckingham and the Earl of Shrewsbury. When the Earl died during the
duel, he himself was convicted of murder but was later reprieved.
- In 1671, he entertained the
King, Charles II, lavishly at his new estate on the Isle of Wight.
- In 1682, he angered the King by
presenting an address from Charles’s illegitimate son, the Duke of
From his later base in Yarmouth he would carry out almost piratical
operations against Dutch and French shipping, which added greatly to
his wealth. His statue in Yarmouth church was in fact originally
intended for the French King, Louis XIV. The sculptor had created
the body and was travelling to France to do the head “from life” when
his ship was wrecked. Robert captured the body and sculptor who
was forced to sculpt and place Robert’s own head on the statue.
A visitor, seeing the statue in the 1690’s, commented:
“Sir Robert Holmes is buried where his
statue is cut in length in white marble in the church and railed with
iron gates. He was raised from nothing and was an imperious
governor. What he scraped together he was forced to leave to his
nephew and base daughter, having no other, and they have set up this
stately monument which cost a great deal.”
Holmes and Surname Spelling Variants in Scotland
|In old parish records||In the 1891 census|
The old parish records reveal a number of different spellings around
Holmes. However, by the time of the 1891 census, there were only
two names significantly still in circulation – Hume and Holmes.
Home and Hume were old Scottish border names, with Hume gradually
over from Home. But the name Home survived in the family of Lord
Home of the Hirsel, the man who unexpectedly became British Prime
Minister in 1963. Holmes would appear to have absorbed earlier
spellings such as Holm and Holms.
Obadiah Holmes in Puritan New England. Obadiah Holmes, his wife Katherine and their family were among the many
English Puritans who sailed to New England during the “great migration”
of the 1630’s. They arrived in Boston in 1638, settled up the
coast in Salem, Massachusetts, and joined the local church.
However, Obadiah took a disliking to the church’s rigidity of teaching
and began expressing his own opinions in religious discussions.
His views in fact were veering towards those of the Baptist faith who
had begun settling in Rhode Island.
In 1651, he travelled with two fellow believers to Lynn,
Massachusetts at the invitation of a local Baptist there. The
three attended a local church service and, in a blatant act of
disrespect, put their hats back on their heads after being
seated. For their action, they were removed by the constable,
held overnight, and then sent to Boston for trial. They were
charged with disturbing the public meeting and, more seriously,
seducing others to their “erroneous judgment and practices.”
A week later, in a trial before the General Court, they
were swiftly convicted and fined. Obadiah, however, refused to
pay or to allow others to pay on his behalf, thereby forcing the court
to carry out its alternative punishment of a public whipping. The
whipping took place on September 5, 1651, thirty strokes with a
three-cord whip. Apparently Obadiah was silent throughout the
ordeal, but proclaimed to the witnessing magistrates: “You have hit me
as with roses.”
Obadiah Holmes became a Baptist minister in Newport,
Rhode Island and lived on for another thirty years. He and his
wife raised nine children and they presented him with forty one
Reader Feedback – Francis Holmes of Boston and Charleston. The Christopher Holmes Bracken website suggested that
Francis Holmes of Boston and Charleston was the son of John Holmes,
Plymouth Court messenger, originally from Yorkshire, who had evidently
emigrated in the 1620’s.
I understand that Mr. Bracken based his belief on a
supposed letter his great-aunt received in the 1960’s from a Mrs. Hamer
Scarborough Morse of Sumter, South Carolina, in which the writer
(probably now deceased) posited to Mrs. Caroline Holmes Bivens (now
deceased) that she had seen a book that said something to the effect
of: “John Holmes moved from Yorkshire, England to Bedford, NY and he
had one son Francis who further removed to Boston” or something along
those lines. Evidently that ended any further search efforts for
Caroline Holmes Bivens and her immediate relations.
However, in her own notes which she published and
circulated to various family members during the latter part of the 20th
century, she admitted that family members who still live in Charleston
do not agree with her unsourced conclusions. Most still
only know Francis Holmes as the first Holmes ancestor and have seen
nothing viable to indicate that his parent isthat John Holmes.
Ms. Bivens never actually produced the latter from Mrs. Morse and
certainly no citation to the book was ever presented to anyone.
If you review what is available, particularly the work of anyone
claiming a proven parentage for Francis Holmes of
Boston/Charleston, I am fairly certain that you will find that
connection lacking any substantial proof.
On the other hand, I would love to see anything tending
to prove such a connection or any clues as to who Francis’s parents
actually are. I’ve gone so far as to hire professional
genealogists in New England to conduct primary research for me and we
have never come up with anything. Ms. Bivens spent a good portion
of her life working on Holmes and other genealogy and maybe it was
easier for her to feel like she had finally solved the puzzle she had
spent decades working on before she died. Understandably her
close relations would continue to support her beliefs but, to my
knowledge, we are still pretty much in the dark as to Francis Holmes’s
Riley Holmes Jr (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Oliver Wendell Holmes on the Supreme Court. Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Boston in 1841, the son
of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr, a physician and author of novels, verse
and humorous essays. He thus grew up in a literary and prosperous
family. He entered Harvard Law School in 1864 and was admitted to
the Massachusetts bar three years later.
By 1902 he was appointed to the US Supreme Court and he
would serve there for thirty years, longer than anyone else. He
was called “the Great Dissenter” because he was often at odds with his
fellow justices and was capable of eloquently expressing his
dissents. Louis Brandeis often joined him in dissents and their
views often became the majority opinion in a few years’ time.
Holmes was widely considered a “liberal” because he
believed in free speech and the right of labor to organize. But
he was very conservative in his response to injury cases. And he
was a champion of “judicial restraint,” deferring to the judgment of
the legislature in most matters of policy.
He is considered one of the giants of American law, not
just because he wrote so well but also because he wrote so much and for
so long. A lawyer seeking a quote from Holmes is never found
wanting. Even the Internal Revenue Service building in Washington
DC bears his writing: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized
Traherne Holmes at St. David’s in Tipperary. St David’s was built for the Rev. Gilbert Holmes,
the Protestant dean of Ardfert and a member of the prominent local
Holmes family, who had arrived in 1728. His son, Captain William
Bassett Holmes, extended the house during the great famine and must
have done a good job. When it was completed, the local newspaper The Nenagh Guardian reported that
he had erected “a handsome edifice.”
After the death of
the captain, St David’s came into its own as the seat of his son,
Traherne Holmes, who earned a reputation as an eccentric bachelor and
wildly competitive sportsman. Traherne was a skilled fisherman,
horseman, swimmer and yachtsman. After a falling out with the
club captain over his yacht the
Knockrockery, he defiantly
formed a new yacht club at St David’s, known as the Lough Derg
Corinthian Yacht Club.
Holmes was also a
horse trainer and his best animal, Tipperary Boy, won the Irish Grand
National, the Dunboyne and Galway Plates, and came fourth in the
Aintree Grand National. When a Cork Stud offered the
then-colossal sum of £3,000 for the horse, Holmes refused. In
1894, Holmes famously challenged a local hero named Dalton to a
350-yard swimming match for a bet. Hundreds were said to have
turned out to watch Holmes humiliate his opponent, winning by a dozen
Reader Feedback – Holmes in County Wexford. My maternal grandad Holmes and paternal nanna Byrne nee Holmes were two cousins born in Wexford.
My grandad Philip Holmes was born at Cullenstown in Wexford in 1892 and died in 1982 aged 90. My nanna Catherine Byrne nee Holmes was born at Ballyoction in Wexford in 1899 and died in 1987 aged 88. They both could go back three generations of Holmes in the parish of Bannow in county Wexford. There are now four more new generations added to our clan.
Caroline Holmes Byrne (email@example.com)
The Transports, a Ballet Opera. This ballet opera relates the true story of Henry
Cabell and Susannah Holmes, convicts who were transported to Australia
on the First Fleet in 1787, and the trials and tribulations which
culminated in that historic voyage. The story follows the
historical research that had been undertaken by Eric Fowler.
The tale is presented as a cycle of new compositions in the idiom of
traditional English folk song, linked by narrative passages in the
style and to the melodies of broadsheet ballads of the time. The
orchestral passages and arrangements for the accompanied songs were
conceived in such a way as to underline the overall feeling of
“period.” The instruments used were those likely to have been
heard in the church bands or “quires” of East Anglian villages in those
days. The singers were chosen from the front rank of the English
folk song revival and the melodies were composed to suit their
The Transports was first
performed in 1977. There was a subsequent commemorative re-issue
of the recording in 2004.
Select Holmes Names
- Wilfrid Holme was a Protestant poet
from Yorkshire in the 1530’s.
- Sir Robert Holmes was a colorful Admiral during the Restoration period.
- Edwin Holmes is credited with the invention of the burglar alarm at his Boston factory.
- Sherlock Holmes is the famous fictional detective created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr served on the US Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932 and has been one of the
most cited of Supreme Court justices.
- Larry Holmes, born in Georgia, was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1978 to 1985.
- Kelly Holmes won the women’s 800 and 1,500 kilometer gold medals in the Athens Olympics in 2004.
Select Holmes Numbers Today
- 72,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 52,000 in America (most numerous
- 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).
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