Joyce Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Joyce Surname Meaning

A Norman family named Jorse (or Joyes) is believed to be the origin of the mainly Irish surname Joyce. Their name may have had its origin in the Breton personal name Iodoc or in a Normandy place name.

Joyce Surname Resources on The Internet

Joyce Surname Ancestry

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

Ireland.  Joyce families in Ireland are said to descend from the Anglo-Norman Thomas de Jorse who came to Connacht in the late 13th century and settled there.

Galway. Thomas’s son Edmond was the progenitor of the Joyce sept in Galway.

“They were a race of men remarkable for their extraordinary stature who for centuries inhabited the mountainous district in far Connacht called, from them, Duthaidh Sheodhoigh or Joyce county (which now forms the barony of Ross in county Galway).”

Archbishop Ussher in fact referred to them as giants.

The sept stood firm against the English (winning one notable skirmish on Lough Mask in 1587) and became powerful in Galway and Mayo.  They were one of the so-called fourteen “Tribes of Galway” who held sway in that town.  Although their powers have since ebbed, there are still many Joyces around. Noteworthy among the Joyces of the region was the goldsmith Richard Joyce who devised the Claddagh ring. Over half of the Joyces in Ireland today are to be found in Galway and Mayo.

The Joyces of Mervue were a distinguished branch of the family. Marcus Joyce, a rich merchant who bought land in Mayo in the late 16th century, was probably its progenitor. About a century later, these Joyces emerged as a leading merchant family in Galway.  Matthew Joyce of the family was the first to make his home at Mervue House in 1784. The Joyces remained at Mervue House until 1953.

One noteworthy Joyce of the 1830’s was Big Jack Joyce, known as “King of the Joyces,” who was much written about by travel writers of that time.  He was an inn-keeper at Leenane in Galway.

Cork. There was a Joyce branch settled near Kileagh in east Cork from the 14th century onwards. The most famous Joyce in Ireland, James Joyce the writer – although married to a Galway woman – was of these Cork origins and was born in Dublin. And it was Dublin that he eulogized in Dubliners and Ulysses that were written while he was in exile in Paris.

Portugal. A line from Gil Joyce of Galway went from there to Coimbra in Portugal in the late 18th century. There are now said to be 2,000 descendants of Gil Joyce living in Portugal.

England. The Joyce name has been widely spread in England, appearing in Dorset and also in SE England and East Anglia.

Dorset  Joyce appeared from an early time in Dorset at Gillingham and Marnhull and, from the 16th century, at Shapwick (it was said that this family was descended from a giant of a man who had come to Dorset from Galway and married a miller’s daughter). The family ran a mill and farm in the village which were still around in the 1930’s when H.S. Joyce wrote about them. A branch of the family moved to the Isle of Wight in the 1850’s.

Elsewhere  The surname Joyes, possibly of different origins, has cropped up in Sussex and Lincolnshire from early times; the surname Joyce in Hampshire and Essex principally. One Joyce line from Cawston in Norfolk has been traced back to the late 1700’s. The Joyce clockmakers came from Cockshutt in north Shropshire. The large number of Joyces in Lancashire may represent Irish immigration.

America. Joyce or variants of that name appeared in Virginia and Maryland as early as the 1630’s and then spread south into North Carolina. One Joyce line, for instance, traces from Alexander Joyce and his brother Thomas who bought land along the Mayo river in Rockingham county, North Carolina in the mid 1700’s.

“The Joyce cemetery in Rockingham county is referred to as the Possum Joyce cemetery. One stone has the birth and death dated that correspond with family records of John Joyce, son of Alexander. From this we conclude that John Possum was the son of Alexander.”

Many of their descendants moved onto nearby Stokes county.

David Joyce, born in Danbury, Connecticut in 1765, was the forebear of David Joyce, the Iowa-based lumber baron of the late 19th century. However, the Joyce distribution today in America, focused around Massachusetts and New York, reflects more the 19th century immigrant influx. One Joyce moved further afield at that time. James Joyce arrived in San Francisco by sea from Ireland in 1847 and was one of its early developers.

Meanwhile Patrick Joyce, aged sixteen from county Mayo, escaped the Famine with his two younger brothers on the Bark Pacific and reached Boston in 1850.  Ten years later he had made it to Wisconsin and was farming in Erin Prairie with other Irish settlers there.

Canada. A number of Joyces came to Canada from Ireland in the early 19th century, and in particular to New Brunswick and the Maritime Provinces:

  • some like Samuel Joyce of St. Andrews, New Brunswick were the children of Loyalist families who had moved north after the Revolutionary War.
  • a Joyce family was in Freshwater, Newfoundland before 1800 and Thomas Joyce came to New Brunswick by sea in 1817. He settled in Botsford, Westmoreland county and his younger brother John joined him there many years later at the time of the Famine.
  • William Joyce and his wife Mary were living by that time in Petersville, New Brunswick; and there were also Joyces then in Nova Scotia.
  • and Ron Joyce from these parts made his money in the 20th century out of fast food franchising.

One Joyce family – from Norfolk in England – made it to the Canadian West Coast by the 1880’s. Alfred and Anna Joyce were pioneer homesteaders on Quadra Island in British Columbia.

Australia. Henry Joyce and his wife Mary Ann arrived in Tasmania from Dublin in the early 1830’s. Branches of this family later settled in Western Australia. Victoria arrivals included:

  • two Joyce brothers from Essex who were among the earliest settlers of Plaistow in central Victoria in the 1840’s (Alfred Joyce’s reminiscences of the time were later published).
  • Samuel Joyce and his family, also from Essex, who came to Melbourne in 1854.
  • another Joyce family in Victoria which traced its origin back to the arrival of the widowed Catherine Joyce and her family in Melbourne in 1853 (her husband Edmund had died in Galway seven years earlier at the time of the Great Plague).

New Zealand. From Dorset at around the same time came James Joyce, lured to Victoria by gold fever. He moved onto New Zealand in 1856 and became the first watchmaker in Christchurch, South Island.

Another James Joyce was an English soldier who had arrived in New Zealand in 1861 and fought in the Maori wars. He then took his release, married and settled down to farm at Wiawera near Auckland. He and his wife Ann raised eleven children (their son Albert and wife Maria topped that with sixteen!).

Joyce Surname Miscellany

Thomas de Jorse and the Joyce Sept.  Thomas de Jorse (or Joyes) was one of three Norman brothers who had settled in Wales and allied himself with the Welsh cause.   Some have him coming originally from a Norman de Jorz family in Nottinghamshire.

The village of Burton Joyce (formerly Burtine Jorz) was home to this de Jorz family from 1160 for about two hundred years. Geoffrey de Jorz was the keeper of Sherwood Forest around the year 1200.

When Edward I invaded Wales, Thomas was forced to flee the country.  He came to Ireland with his ships in 1283 and landed at Thurmond in Munster.  There he married Turlough O’Brien, the daughter of the local chief.  While on their voyage around Ireland, his wife gave birth to a son which he named MacMara, son of the sea.

The family eventually landed in the western part of Connacht where Thomas acquired considerable tracts of land. Their son, later known as Edmond Joyes, who also married the daughter of a local chief, extended his father’s acquisitions and, as the family numbers grew, led the basis for the Joyce sept in the region.

The sept, known in Gaelic as Seoighe and sounding like “Joyce,” followed Irish practices, with their chieftain being selected from among the derbfine (the direct male descendants in the sept).

The Escapades of William Joyes.  The story goes that William Joyes, a descendant of Edmond Joyes, married Agnes Morris and then set off on his travels to Italy and Greece.  However, he was taken prisoner by the Saracens and brought to Africa, from whence, after a variety of adventures and after undergoing a captivity of seven years, he escaped to Spain.

While in Spain, his exalted virtues were rewarded by heaven according to the pedigree of the family in an extraordinary manner.  As the story is told, an eagle flying over his head pointed out to him a place where he discovered vast treasures.

When he returned to Galway, he contributed large sums towards building the walls and to the church and to other public edifices in the town.  He died leaving three sons, James, Henry and Robert, and was interred in the Franciscan friary.

The Claddagh Ring.  The earliest examples of Claddagh rings that can be dated are stamped with RI, the mark of Richard Joyce, a goldsmith who worked in the small fishing village of Claddagh in Galway from 1690 to the 1730’s.  The ring worn on the right hand, crown turned inward tells that your heart is yet unoccupied; worn with the crown turned outwards reveals that love is being considered.  Worn on the left hand the crown turned outward shows all, your heart is truly spoken for.

After Joyce stopped producing the rings, interest lay dormant for a while until their production was revived by a later generation of Galway goldsmiths and jewellers.  The early versions, until around 1840, was by cuttle-bone mould casting and then by the cire perdue or “lost wax” process.

There are two stories about the origin of the Claddagh ring.

The first story says that a Margaret Joyce married Domingo de Rona, a wealthy Spanish merchant who traded with Galway.  They proceeded to Spain where he died, leaving her a considerable fortune.  Returning to Galway she used her fortune to build bridges from Galway to Sligo.  She remarried Oliver Og French, the mayor of Galway.  She was rewarded for her good works and charity by an eagle who dropped the original Claddagh ring into her lap.

The second story is that a Richard Joyce of Galway was captured by Algerian corsairs, sold to a Moorish goldsmith who trained him in the craft.  In 1689 he was released from slavery.  The Moor offered him his only daughter in marriage and half his wealth if he would remain in Algiers.  But Joyce declined and returned home.   He brought with him the idea of the Claddagh ring.

Early Joyces in Dorset.  In Volume IV of The County Historian for Dorset by Hutchins, early Joyces in Dorset are recorded as follows:

“The Joyces though possessed of no considerable estate were one of the most ancient families in the county.  They were foresters in the forest of Gillingham as early as the reign of Henry III and seem afterwards to have been seated at Marnhull.  They occur there at about the time of the Dissolution.”

H.S. Joyce and His Recollections.  Henry Stanley Joyce was a writer on fishing and the countryside in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  He grew up in Shapwick, Dorset where his family had lived for generations.  By that time the family mill had fallen into disuse but the bakery at the back of the mill was still being used.

He had this to say about his family history:

“The shamrock was shown to us as the emblem of Ireland, from which country we were said to have originated many ages earlier.

The family tradition was that we were directly descended from the ruling clan in west Ireland and that we had come to England with the ancestors of our own landlord and that we had assisted one of his ancestors in a historic siege against the Roundheads.

I have always preferred to let this remain as a pleasant family romance rather than make any attempt to verify it and probably destroy the illusion.”

The Joyce Clockmakers of Shropshire.  The Joyce clockmakers of Shropshire came from the village of Cockshutt near Wrexham and were originally farmers, landowners and proprietors of the local pub, The Golden Lion.  The family has been traced back in Cockshutt to John Joyce in late Elizabethan times.

William Joyce moved from Cockshutt to Wrexham and became the churchwarden there at St. Giles.  His duties entailed the winding and maintaining of the church clock.  The church records of 1718 showed him paid the princely sum of two pounds eight shillings for work on the clock. In 1723, when his uncle Arthur the owner of the Golden Lion died, William Joyce returned to Cockshutt.

It is thought that William Joyce began making grandfather clocks around the year 1690.  His business developed as a flourishing family concern, handed down through the generations from fathers to sons.  In 1780, William’s grandson James moved the firm from Cockshutt to new premises at 40 High Street, Whitchurch.  This building with its cast iron frontage stood opposite the present-day Civic Centre.

In 1849 the company, known as JB Joyce & Co, copied the Big Ben escapement designed by Lord Grimthorpe and made large clocks for many public buildings and for some of the principal railway companies.  Since 1945 the company has installed over 2,000 large public clocks, a high proportion of them being installed in churches. In 1964 Norman Joyce, the last member of the Joyce family, retired and sold the company to the Smith of Derby Group. J&B Joyce & Co. laid claim to be the oldest independent clockmaking company in the world.

James Joyce in San Francisco.  Apart from the Spanish-Mexicans, one of the first settlers at San Francisco was James Joyce, a man of much enterprise who as a contractor did much to develop certain sections of the early city.

As a young man he had moved with his family to county Mayo in Ireland where he met and married Mary Noland.  He was then just thirteen years of age.  A year later, in 1847, they sailed from Liverpool to San Francisco.  The voyage took more than nine months and their first child, James, was born en route.  Many times during the voyage those on board gave themselves up as lost.  The provisions had actually ran out before the ship eventually landed.

Joyce was a carpenter by trade.  From Liverpool he had brought with him two frame buildings which he set up at Monterey in California.  He soon afterward entered the sand grading business and he was the contractor who filled in what is now Kearney and Market streets in San Francisco.  His equipment consisted of a large number of the Missouri mules and the Union-forever wagons and he employed a large force of men (paying them in fifty-dollar gold slugs).

He and his family lived in a little wooden shack on the water front.  Joyce lived in San Francisco overall for about fifteen years.  When he died he left considerable stock and money and property on the water front to his widow.

The Joyce Homestead on Quadra Island.  The property at the south end of Quadra island, British Columbia was settled in 1889 by Alfred and Anna Joyce.  The Joyces set about clearing of much of the 140 acres of the claim.  They originally built a log home.  This was replaced in 1905 by the two storey frame house which still remains.

Maple Bank, as the Joyces called their place, was to prove a successful family farm by Quadra standards. They kept beef and dairy cattle, sheep and poultry, and grew vegetables, flowers and fruit.  Anna was an avid gardener who received letters asking for cuttings, seeds and advice about horticulture indicating that she ran a bit of a nursery.  The rose gardens were in fact her special pride.

After Alfred died in 1927, Anna (Granny Joyce) continued to run Maple Bank farm for another twenty five years until her death at the age of eighty seven in 1954.  She founded the Women’s Institute on the island and taught her own seven children before there was a school.

Joyce Names

  • Edmond Joyes was the progenitor of the Joyce sept in Galway.
  • George Joyce was a radical agitator art the time of the English Civil War who was a driving force behind the trial and execution of Charles I. According to some reports, he started out life as a tailor in London.
  • P.W. Joyce from county Limerick was a leading cultural figure in Ireland in the mid 19th century.
  • David Joyce was a 19th century American “lumber baron.” His inheritors established the Joyce Foundation in 1948.
  • James Joyce was the writer who immortalized Dublin through his Dubliners and Ulysses and was one of the giants of 20th century literature.
  • William Joyce, known as Lord Haw-Haw, was a Nazi sympathizer and broadcaster executed after the war.

Joyce Numbers Today

  • 19,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 15,000 in America (most numerous in Massachusetts).
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland).

Joyce and Like Surnames

These are the names of some literary giants.  If you are interested in the name behind the literary figure, please click on the surname below.






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Written by Colin Shelley

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