Jordan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Jordan Surname Meaning

The Jordan name was popularized at the time of the Crusades when soldiers and pilgrims to the Holy Land would often return with flasks of water taken from the Jordan river to use for christening purposes.  They also told stories, sometimes exaggerated, about their exploits. Jordan itself derives from the Aramaic yarden, meaning “to descend” (in the case of the Jordan river to the Dead Sea).

Jordan emerged as a given name for nobility in Italy and later in France.  It also began appearing in various guises in the Spanish,
German, Polish and Hungarian languages, as well as in English. Among the first surname recordings in England were those of John Jorden of Cambridge in 1202 and Walter Jurdan of Sussex in 1327.

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Jordan Surname Ancestry

Ireland. The Jordan name in Ireland began with Jordan De Courcy, a younger brother of Sir John De Courcy, who came with the Anglo-Norman invaders in 1170 and was so named because of his reported exploits in the Holy Land. 

His line was first known as de Exeter as they were from Exeter in England. Jordan de Exeter, sheriff of Connacht in the mid-13th century, was the forebear of the family in county Mayo that came to be known as MacJordan or MacSiurtain and later as de Exeter Jordan. Jordan when anglicized sometimes came out confused as Sheridan. 

The principal stronghold of the Jordans was Athleathan castle in Gallen barony, built around 1180. The castle remained with the family until the 1650’s when Cromwell confiscated their possessions.

Father Fulgenius Jordan of the Jordan Duff line was martyred for his faith at Ballyhaunis in 1682. Jourdan, one of Napoleon’s most successful generals, was said to have been descended from the family through a Jordan officer who left for France in 1691. The Jordan family in Mayo remained Catholic during the time of the Penal Laws.

Jordans are most common in Mayo and Galway, but are to be found as well in Down, Waterford and elsewhere in Ireland (possibly from different lineages). Jordan’s Castle was built in Ardglass, county Down in the md-15th century and was held by Jordans during the 16th century.

Among present-day Jordans:

  • Eddie Jordan, the former F1 racing driver, grew up in county Wicklow
  • while Neil Jordan, the filmmaker and novelist, was born in Sligo (Connacht).

England. Another legend from the Holy Land gives the Jordan name to Sir William Deardon who fought in the Crusades with Richard the Lionhearted and lived in Devon. A Jordan manor near Widecombe on Dartmoor is said to have been there from those times. The present Jordan manor house dates from the early 1600’s.

Early Jordans, sometimes spelt Jourdaine, were to be found in Exeter and along the coast in Dorset at Melcombe (Weymouth) and Lyme Regis, as well as in Somerset (from Jordaine near Ilminster).

The Jordan name is still present in Devon. But there are more in London, Kent and the southeast. Jordans of Gatwick, landed gentry in Surrey, date from the 15th century and contributed an early emigrant to America, Arthur Jordan. There was another gentry family of Jordans at Cranbrook in Kent by the 16th century.

Wales. From the Jordans in Exeter came Jordan de Cantington, an early Norman invader into Wales. These Jordans were once prevalent in Pembrokeshire. But the male line there seems to have ended in 1802 when Barrett Bowen Jordan of Neeston died.

America. Jordans in America were at first English, later Irish. There were four main Jordan lines in America in the 1600’s, one in New England and three in Virginia.

The New England representative was the Rev. Robert Jordan who arrived in 1638 and, being Episcopal rather than Puritan, settled in southern Maine. There he married Sarah Winter, the governor’s daughter, and became a substantial landowner in the region. His family line was covered in Tristram Jordan’s 1882 book The Jordan Memorial.

The first in Virginia was Samuel Jordan from Lyme Regis in Dorset, called “an ancient planter” due to his arrival in Virginia as early as 1610. He established himself near Charles City on a plantation known as Beggars Bush at Jordan’s Journey (later Jordan Point). There he survived the Indian raids of 1622 but died a year later. His son Thomas, who had arrived in Virginia in 1618, remained, as did his young second wife. Other early Jordans in Virginia were Arthur Jordan and Richard Jordan (unrelated), who were to be found in Surry county in the 1630’s.

Later came Jordan migrations to the South, including:

  • Richard Jordan’s descendants who headed to North Carolina and then onto Georgia.
  • William Enoch Jordan’s forebears had left Virginia for South Carolina and he and his family then moved onto Georgia and Alabama in the 1830’s and 40’s.
  • while Levi Jordan and John Jordan were early settlers in Texas.  Levi Jordan stayed and became a successful plantation owner. John Jordan moved onto California.

The first Irish presence in America – probably in the late 18th century – came from county Down in Northern Ireland. Subsequent Jordan arrivals came from different points in Ireland.

African American.  Jordan is a notable African American name. Whether its Biblical and baptismal associations appealed at the time surnames were chosen or whether there were other reasons, there have been a number of prominent African American Jordans around in recent times – Michael Jordan the basketball player, Barbara Jordan and Vernon Jordan the civil rights campaigners, June Jordan the poet and playwright, Louis Jordan the bandleader, and the Jordan New Orleans family of musicians.

Caribbean. The Jordan name featured in the Caribbean. Edward Jordan was an early settler in Barbados. His descendants ran the Black Rock plantation in St. James’s parish. Another Edward Jordan was a controversial figure in Jamaica, the first black Mayor in the 1850’s of Kingston. There is a statue of him in St. William Grant Park.

Australia. James Jordan was transported to Australia in 1791 on the first convict ship, the Queen, that departed directly from Ireland. He served out his seven year term on Norfolk Island and his descendants settled in Tasmania.

In different circumstances came Henry Jordan, a Methodist missionary from an old Devon family, who arrived in South Australia in the 1850’s with the intent of converting the local Aboriginals. But his health was poor and he ended up in politics in Queensland.

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Jordan Surname Miscellany

Jordan de Courcy in the Holy Land.  The name Jordan came about, it was said, because Jordan De Courcy, who originally had a different name, went as standard-bearer with the English Crusaders to the Holy Land.

In a great battle that took place between the Christians and the Saracens on the banks of the river Jordan, he was so vigorously attacked by the Saracen host that on three or four occasions his standard, which was the Banner of the Cross, almost disappeared from the view of the Christians.  They, feared for his
safety; but because of his extraordinary strength and the help he
received from his followers, De Courcy re-appeared with his standard, as if miraculously, and dealt destruction to the enemy.

Hence the adoption of the personal name Jordan in memory of his remarkable prowess on that day.

Jordan Manor on Dartmoor.  Hutholes was a medieval village near Widecombe on Dartmoor. There were apparently turf buildings on the site before stone ones were built.  One building was a manor farm mentioned in the Domesday Book as being held in 1066 by a wealthy Englishman named Alric.  Ownership had passed to William de la Falaise by 1086.  It is believed that this was the original Deardon or Jordan manor house before it was re-sited in the early 1600’s one kilometer away along the West Webburn river.

Jordans in Devon and Dorset.  Ignatius Jordan, sometimes spelt Jourdain, came from a Lyme Regis family in Dorset.  Known as the “Arch Puritan,” he was an uncompromising figure in Elizabethan and early Stuart Exeter.

Jordan dated his conversion to Puritanism to his visit to the Channel Islands in 1576. By the turn of the century he was taking a leading part in Exeter’s municipal affairs, as Bailiff in 1599, Sheriff in 1601, Mayor in 1617, and MP in 1625.  His final political demonstration took place in 1638 when he refused to proclaim the King’s message denouncing the religious revolt in Scotland.  Meanwhile Ignatius’s brother Silvester became a prosperous merchant in Exeter and also served as Mayor of the town.

There followed in the next generation Captain John Jourdain of the East India Company, Chief Factor in Bataam.  This captain was buried in Lyme Regis in 1620, almost a year after he was reported to have been killed in battle in India against the Dutch.  Could it have taken a year to bring his body home pickled in brine?

There are likely tie-ins with Samuel Jordan, the “ancient planter” in Virginia who died in 1623, and Vice Admiral Sir Joseph Jordan, who died in 1685, but none have been proven.

Jordan’s Castle in County Down.  The Jordan line in County Down may have begun in the late 12th century when Sir Jordan de Sackville arrived with John de Courcy and was given land in Ardglass near Downpatrick. In the mid-15th century, an unknown merchant built Jordan’s Castle, one of the tower houses used for the defense of Ardglass.  Thomas Jordan was using it as a warehouse in 1528.  During Tyrone’s Rebellion in 1598 Simon Jordan held out for three years against a siege on the castle by O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone.

The castle had many owners over the centuries, but by the mid-1850s it had deteriorated and was no longer inhabited.  It was later restored by a private owner who bequeathed it to the state in 1926.

Reader Feedback – Jordans and Sheridans in Ireland.  In browsing Jordan genealogies I have found considerable confusion arising from the Anglicisation of Irish Gaelic names at the end of the 17th century.  As the Jordan d’Exeters of Gallen (Athleathan) in the west of Ireland became Gallicized they adopted the names MacJordan and MacSiurtain.

In the British drive to anglicize all Gaelic names in the 18th century the latter name was mistranslated into Sheridan.  Hence west of Ireland Sheridans are virtually all Jordans and have no connection with the O’Sheridans of Ulster, to which family belonged Richard Brinsley Sheridan and General Philip Sheridan.  My family belongs to the MacSiurtains of Gallen but – like all of the name in the west of Ireland – have been erroneously called Sheridan for over 200 years.

Regards, Vivian MacSiurtain (sheridan354@gmail.com)

Jordans in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
Ireland   1,011    44
England     861    38
Germany     350    16
Scotland      55     2
Total   2,277   100

Levi Jordan in Brazoria, Texas.  Levi Jordan was born in Georgia in 1793.  According to family stories, he was an orphan and ran away from a cruel guardian at an early age. When he was twelve years old he applied for a land grant in the 1805 Georgia lottery.  At nineteen he joined the army and served for six months.  He then worked as an overseer on Jesse Stone’s plantation and eloped with his daughter.

He later owned adjoining plantations on the Louisiana-Arkansas border with his son-in-law, James Campbell McNeill.  In 1848 both families decided to uproot themselves to Texas.  They traveled there in wagons with their slaves walking alongside. After killing a mountain lion at his first campsite, Jordan established his sugar and cotton plantation near the Four Forks area on the San Bernard river, not too far from Brazoria.

Jordan quickly became a rich man.  He lived frugally.  When he decided to build a house – often a flamboyant expression of a planter’s grandiosity – Jordan settled for a respectable structure that was functional and simple to the point of severity.  It was built in 1854 from oak timber, with some of the timber being brought down the San Bernard river by schooner.  In addition to the house, there was a smokehouse, a sugar house, stables, and brick slave quarters.  The sugar house was supposed to have the largest sugar-making machinery in the county. The house and slave quarters have recently been restored.  An account of life on the plantation can be found in Sallie McNeill’s diaries of 1858-67, recently published.

Levi was reputed, in family stories, to have owned 365 slaves at one point – one for every day of the year. But only 146 were on the tax rolls at one time.  After 1865 Jordan shifted to a farming system which employed many of his former slaves and their descendants in a system of sharecropping and tenancy.

Levi died aboard a steamer going to Galveston in 1873.  He was buried in the Cedar Lake cemetery near his plantation.

John Jordan’s Crossing of America.  John Jordan was born and grew up in Illinois.  In 1833 he and his wife Eliza Jane decided to migrate to Texas while it was still part of Mexico. John was a Texas Ranger during the war.  Texas gained independence in 1836 and, later in 1848, when Van Zandt county was created, John was elected its County Commissioner.

However, California came calling. In March 1850 the Jordans left on a wagon train of which John was the captain.  The train comprised sixty families and two hundred pioneers.  They took the southern route and arrived in San Diego five months later.

John and Eliza Jane eventually had twelve children. The first was born in Illinois, the next eight in Texas, and the remaining three in California.  After staying in San Diego for several months, they moved to San Juan Bautista where they built a hotel and store.  By 1857 they had moved to the Jordan homestead near Exeter in Tulare county. Here John raised hogs and took up mining.

James Jordan, An Irish Convict to Australia.  The Dublin court records have been lost.  So there is no account of the crime for which James Jordan was tried and convicted there in 1789. All that is known is that he was given the sentence of seven years transportation.

It was three years before he was to arrive at the place where he was to serve his sentence.  He was first dispatched to Newfoundland; but then brought back and put on the Queen in Cork in 1791, the first Irish transport to leave Ireland and embark directly for Australia.  He must have been very strong to survive the terrible hardships that he experienced on these voyages.  On the Queen it transpired that the second mate had deliberately reduced the convict meat rations by half during the voyage.  They arrived in Australia in a very enfeebled state.  Less than half the convicts who were on board the ship were alive a year later.

Fortunately Norfolk Island, where James ended up, was not then the hell-hole for convicts that it was later to become.  He met Mary Butler, a convict also from Dublin, and they co-habited, she in time coming to call herself Mrs. Jordan.  Their eldest son Richard was born in 1794 and four other children were to follow.  James received his conditional pardon in 1797.  He looked after Government boats and had a farm of his own and they lived a normal family life with apparent prosperity and happiness for about twenty years.

Sadly Mary Jordan died in 1813, shortly before the people of Norfolk Island were evacuated and resettled in a place called Norfolk Plains, later Longford, in Tasmania.  James lived on in Tasmania until 1840.  His descendants are still there.  They held a bicentennial celebration of his arrival in 1991.

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Jordan Names
  • Jordan de Exeter was a 13th century Anglo-Norman knight and forebear of the MacJordan clan in Mayo. 
  • Dorothea Jordan was an Anglo-Irish actress, courtesan, and companion of the future King William IV. 
  • Louis Jordan was a pioneering African-American musician, songwriter, and bandleader who enjoyed great popularity from the late 1930’s to the early 1950’s. 
  • Vernon Jordan was a leading figure in the civil rights movement and later a close advisor to President Clinton. 
  • Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls is considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was instrumental in popularizing the game around the world in the 1980’s and 90’s.
Jordan Numbers Today
  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 69,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 28,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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