Irving Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Irving Meaning
surname Irving is Scottish. Its root is
uncertain. One explanation is that the name came from a
Celtic word irfon, meaning
“green water;” another is that it originated with the word erinviene, meaning “from the west,”
and described men from Ireland who had settled on the west coast of
Scotland around Dumfries.
Its first recorded use was in the 12th century when Gilchrist, son of Eruini, witnessed a charter in Galloway.  There followed the place-names of Irving in Dumfriesshire and Irvine in north Ayrshire; the Irving clan of Bonshaw in Dumfriesshire;  and the Irvine clan of Drum in Aberdeenshire.  These Irvings and Irvines may have been related through a connection at the time of Robert the Bruce. But the relationship is not proven.  Irving exists as a surname today, as does Irvine, Ervine, Erwin and Irwin.

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Irving Ancestry

Scotland. The Irvings
were one of the Border reivers, a family clan who, through raiding and
clan feuding, rose to prominence during the lawless times on the
English/Scottish border in the 16th century. Their fortress and
base was Bonshaw
in Annandale.

The principal allies of the Irvings were the Johnstons, their
principal foes the Maxwells and the English Wardens who sought to
police the border. Clan chief Christopher Irving pf Bonshaw was
fighting the English at Flodden in 1513. His son Edward pursued
clan feuds, as did his son Christopher known as “Black
Christie.” The Irvings and the Johnstons combined to
inflict a
heavy defeat on the Maxwell forces at Dryfe Sands in 1593, which was in
fact the last clan battle to be fought in Scotland.

By this time there were the Whitehill Irvings (first known as the dukes
of Hoddom) and the Gribton and Kirkconnel Irvings as well. From
the Whitehill Irvings came Jock O’Milk, a well-known raider of his day
who is commemorated in the old Border ballad Duke of Milk. The overall
history is documented in Colonel J.B. Irving’s 1907
book The Book of the Irvings.

After the Border pacification of the early 1600’s, the Irving chiefs
less dangerous lives. Some became
involved in Dumfries municipal affairs, others – such as Paulus
Aemillius Irving – joined the army. Although many Irvings left
area, most within Scotland were and are still
to be found in the family stamping grounds of Dumfriesshire. Their
numbers included the
controversial early 19th century preacher the Rev. Edward Irving.
He was born in Annan and there is a statue of him in the old parish
church there.

Orkneys The Irving
name has also
appeared in the Orkney isles off
Scotland. William Irving was the first recorded there in
1425. He was said to have been
the son of William de Irvin, the secretary and armour-bearer of Robert
. His descendants, starting with Criste Irving, were
Irvings of Sabay, one of the chief landed families of the islands at
the time.

first appeared in parish records
in 1639. William
Irving, born on the isle of Shapinsay in 1740, served in the
Navy and moved to New York in 1763.

England. Irvings crossed
the border into England. By
the late 19th century there were more Irvings in England than
there were in

Cumbria The
largest numbers were and are in Cumbria. Irving is in
fact today the fourth most common surname in Cumbria. The first
stopping place was probably Kirklinton, just ten miles from the
Scottish border. Robert Irving, born there in 1723, was the
forebear of a family of surgeons. Another family traced itself
back to Joseph Irving,
there in 1771.

“The Kirklinton church records from the
early 1600’s show a complex network of families, originally Urwin then
becoming Irving and Irwin, sometimes switching names from one
generation to the next. Consequently it is difficult to be 100 percent
sure of the actual connections.”

The descendants of Matthew Irvin, born in Cleator in 1778, was shown by
DNA testing to
have Bonshaw Irving genes.

Irvings were later to be found in Wigton and Carlisle and along the
coast at
Workington and Maryport (where there were Irving shipowners and
mariners in the early 19th century). The huntsman Willie Irving,
the founder of the Lakeland terrier breed, was born in Ennerdale in

Ireland. The Scottish
plantations brought Irvines and Irvings to Ulster in the 17th
century. It was the Irvine name that predominated. The
Irwing name cropped up in Roscommon and the Irvings of Donoughmore in
county Donegal (of English border origin) date from 1796.

There were Irvings in America from the Orkney isles. William Irving, who had arrived in New York
in 1763, was the father of the famous writer Washington Irving.
Another Orkney line led in the 20th century to
Burroughs Irving
, a Professor of English at the University
Pennsylvania and an expert on Beowulf

West Coast.
William Irving was a sea captain who left his
native Annan in Dumfriesshire for Boston in 1841 at the age of twenty
five. Eight years later he was on the Oregon Trail to the West
Coast where he started a coastal steamship business. He was one
of the first pioneers of steamer travel in the Pacific Northwest and is
remembered as one of the most successful and popular captains of his
era. His son Captain John Irving carried on
his father’s work up the coast in British Columbia.

Another Irving from Dumfriesshire to make his mark on the West Coast
was Andrew K. Irving. A shipwright by profession, he had moved to
San Francisco in 1868 and started the first shipbuilding yard on the
West Coast. The Irvings evacuated San Francisco at the time of
the 1906 earthquake and his son Samuel became mayor of neighboring

The Jules Irving who founded the San Francisco
Actor’s Workshop with
his wife in the 1950’s was in fact born Jules Israel in New York.
He was the father of director David Irving and actress Amy Irving.

There are twice
as many Irvings in Canada as there are in the United States, and many
of them in the maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New
Brunswick. New Brunswick had four Irving arrivals in the 1820’s:

  • George Irving and his wife Jane from Dumfriesshire
  • another George Irving from Dumfriesshire, married to Agnes
  • and another George Irving from Dumfriesshire, this time married to Elizabeth
  • plus two brothers, John and Henry Irving, from Ulster.

The first George had a son Kenneth Colin and, two generations later, a Kenneth Colin Irving was born in 1899 in Bouctouche, New Brunswick. Known as KC Irving, he went on to found the Irving industrial empire, one of Canada’s largest, which remains New Brunswick based, privately-owned, and run by the family (through his three sons – James, Arthur, and Jack – and their children).

Irvings in Canada generally came from Scotland and Ulster in
Ireland. The Irish Irvings might have come as Irvings or
subsequently changed their name from Irvine to Irving.

Australia and New Zealand.
John Irving, born in Parramatta in 1796, was the son of John Irving and
his common law convict wife Ann Marsh
. His father,
sadly, died four months before he was born. John was the forebear
of a growing Irving family, first in Australia and then in New Zealand.


Irving Miscellany

Irvings and Irvines.  The Irvings of Bonshaw are said to have been descended from Duncan of
Eskdale, a younger brother of Crinan the father of the King Duncan of
Scotland who was murdered by Macbeth in 1040.  Duncan of Eskdale’s
lands were extensive during the 11th century, stretching from Annandale
to Liddesdale.

Robert the Bruce was a guest in Annandale in 1298 when he fled the
court of Edward I.  There is a cave in the Kirtle cliffs at Cove
within which he is thought to have hid himself on more than one

A William de Irwyn, said to have been the second son of the chief at
Bonshaw, was taken into the service of Robert the
Bruce.  He held various offices in the Royal Household and was
rewarded with part of the Forest of Drum near Banchory in Aberdeenshire
in 1323.  James Irvine-Fortescue in his Memorandum on the Origins of the Family of
Irvine of Drum
in 2000 concluded that the first Irvine of Drum
did probably originate from the southwest of Scotland.

The first recording of an Irving name at Bonshaw was not in fact
until 1367.

Bonshaw Tower.  Bonshaw Tower and the house attached to it stand on level
ground bounded on the east by a cliff with the Kirtle river flowing
below, to the south by a steep ravine, and to the west by a farmyard
and the rough ground of Bonshaw Mains that stands over where ditches
and ramparts once stood.

Just below the northern battlement of the tower was a
strange shaft, built into the wall of the tower and leading far below
the huge foundation stones.  Anyone who dropped a lighted torch in
this narrow stone shaft could watch it die out at an immeasurable
distance below.

The present tower is known to have been built in the
1560’s, but there had been a previous construction on the site between
1542 and 1548.  The English failed to burn down or indeed to blow
up the tower with their cannon.  It successfully withstood four
seiges by the Maxwells in the 16th century and was described by Lord
Scope, the English Warden of the West Marches, as “one of the strongest
houses of that border.”

Reader Feedback – Bonshaw Irvings in Cumberland.  My name is Richard Irwin. My father Henry believed our family to be of Irish descent,
but my researches appear to prove otherwise.

I can trace my line back to my great
great great grandfather Matthew who claimed to have been born at
Cleator in Cumberland
in 1778. Despite a long time researching, I have not been able to
confirm the
names of Matthew’s parents and ancestors.

However, according to James Irvine of
the Clan Irwin DNA study, I am a direct descendant of the House of
Bonshaw. I appear to be very close match to those Irvings.

In the 1841 census Matthew was
shown as being Irvin.  But we must
remember that all those names Irving, Irvin, Irvine and Irwin would
probably have been pronounced Irvin until the ‘plantation’ of Ireland.

One of my
theories concerning the gap between Bonshaw and west Cumberland has
been that
my forebears left Britain for Ireland or possibly the West Indies
returning to live in Cumberland in the early 18th century.
Perhaps someone
contributing to this site might have some information which would help
bridge the gap.

Richard Irwin (

Early Irving Baptisms in the Orkneys.  The first Irving record for the island of Shapinsay parish was in 1634.  The
following were some early reported baptisms.

Parent(s) Son/Daughter
1634 William Margaret
1637 William Marjorie
1639 William and Jean William
Thomas Isobel
John Jonat
1641 Thomas and Cathrein John
1644 James Cathrein

Irving records first appeared in Kirkwall parish in
1659.  The Irvine name also appears in Orkney records, as it does
in the Shetlands.

Irvings in Britain in 1891.  By the time of the 1891 census, the Irvings were being outnumbered by the Irvines in Scotland by almost three to one.  Irving in Scotland remained very much a Border name.  But there
were by that time more Irvings living south of the border, in
particular in

1891 Census – Irvings Numbers (000’s) Percent
Dumfriesshire   1.6   22
Elsewhere   0.7   10
Cumberland   1.9   26
Lancashire   1.0   14
Elsewhere   2.1   28
Total   7.3  100

Ann Marsh and John Irving.  Ann Marsh had come to Australia in 1790 as a convict on
the infamous brothel ship Lady
.   Ann’s partner on the ship was the kind and
thoughtful ship’s surgeon, Richard Alley.  She bore him a
child.  But he soon departed back to England.

Ann, as with all
single women in the colony, needed a protector and she found another
surgeon in John Irving.  John, a First Fleet convict, had been the
first convict in Australia to obtain an absolute pardon in 1790.
Tried in Lincoln in 1784 for stealing and sentenced to seven years’
transportation, he had come to the colony on the Lady Penrhyn as the
ship’s surgeon.

When Irving arrived
in Sydney in 1792, he was appointed the assistant surgeon at Parramatta
and had 30 acres of land granted to him, roughly in the area known as
Irving Street, Parramatta.   John and Ann had a son, John
Irving.  He was, however, born in January 1796, some four months
after John’s death in September 1795.   The title to John’s
land went to Ann, his common law wife, and she held it until 1798 when
she sold “Irving’s Farm.”

George Washington and Washington Irving.  Washington Irving was born in New York on April 3 1783, the same week
city residents learned of the British ceasefire that ended the American
Revolutionary War.  His mother named him after the hero of the
revolution, George Washington.

At the age of six, with the help of a nanny, Washington Irving met his
namesake who was then living in New York after his inauguration as
President in 1789.  The President blessed young Irving, an
encounter Irving commemorated in a small watercolor painting which
still hangs in his preserved home today. 

Reader Feedback – Edward Burroughs Irving.  My name is Robert Rea Irving, the son of Edward Burroughs Irving.  Our group comes from Orkney.

I would like to suggest that my
late brother, Edward Burroughs Irving Jr., be added to the list of
Irvings. Ted, as he was called, was Professor of English at the
University of
Pennsylvania.  He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Haverford
College. He
earned his doctorate in Old English at Yale.  He was a prominent
authority of

Robert Irving, aged 89 (

Reader Feedback – George Irving in New Brunswick. There was another George Irving there.  He was born in Annan, Dumfriesshire in 1805 and was the son of Captain Mathew Irving and Margaret Pool.  He married Elizabeth Lockerbie and was a river pilot at Richibucto in Kent, New Brunswick.

His gravestone read:  “In memory of George Irving who died May 6, 1891 aged 85 years; also of his wife Elizabeth Lockerby who died Oct. 18, 1886 aged 82 years. Natives of Annan, Scotland they settled in Richibucto in 1834.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Robert H Wilson (

The Sad Story of an Irish Irving in Canada.  John Irving came from Ireland and he married his
wife Margaret, who was English, around 1843.  Her family disowned
her for marrying an Irishman and they consequently emigrated to

They settled in St. John, New Brunswick and had four children (one boy
and three girls) there.  However, both John and Margaret died in a
plague in the late 1850’s and the three girls were sold as indentured

Captain John Irving’s Last Years.  Historian Norman R. Hacking came to know John Irving well in the captain’s later years, and wrote of him:

“The latter days of Captain Irving were
sad.  He gambled or gave his money away with gay abandon. In a few
years his fine mansion in Victoria, his horses and stables, the
accumulated wealth of a most successful business career; all were
gone.  The death of his only son Willie in the first Great War was
a great blow and the old man gallantly offered to enlist and take his
son’s place.”

When Irving had sold his Canadian Pacific Navigation Company to the
CPR, he had been presented with a lifetime pass to travel on the CPR’s
coastal steamships as a guest of the company.  Irving, who
apparently lacked a regular home ashore, came to use the pass
constantly.  So long as Irving’s old friend James Troup was
superintendent of CPR coastal operations, Irving was always welcome
aboard the company’s ships.

When Captain Troup retired, his successor, believing that Irving was
abusing the pass, warned his captains that while travel might be at the
company’s expense, Irving was to be required to pay for accommodations
and meals on board.  This directive was ignored by the CPR’s
captains, who continued to seat Irving at the captain’s table and make
sure a cabin was available for him.

Hacking described Irving’s last years.

“In his later years Captain Irving lived
in a small converted store on West Pender Street in Vancouver. With his
tall spruce figure and his white goatee beard he was a very handsome
gentleman.  His favorite remark when meeting an old friend on the
street was “How about a smile?”  He died in 1936, poor in
everything but friends.”



Select Irving Names

  • Edward Irving of Bonshaw was the
    Irving clan chief for fifty years during the lawless times on the Scottish borders in the
    16th century.
  • Washington Irving was an early 19th
    century American writer, the author of stories such as Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
  • Sir Henry Irving was the
    leading stage actor in England during Victorian times. He was born John Henry Brodribb.
  • KC Irving, from his base in New Brunswick, became one of Canada’s foremost industrialists of the 20th
  • John Irving is an American
    writer, the author of such novels as The
    World According to Garp
    . His surname came from his

Select Irving Numbers Today 

  • 13,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Cumbria)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous
    in California)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Irving and Like Surnames

The border between Scotland and England was a lawless area for well over three hundred years and the subject of many stories and hearsays.  Families on both sides of the border took part in the raids, attacking villages and stealing cattle on the way.  Eventually, following the unification of the Scottish and English crowns in 1603, the area was pacified.  There were mass executions and banishments, many to the new Protestant colony in Ulster.  These were some of the prominent Border family surnames at that time that you can check out.


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