Joyce Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Joyce 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.

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Joyce Ancestry

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.

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
came from Cockshutt in north Shropshire.
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
by sea from Ireland in 1847 and was
one of its early developers.

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
    of Loyalist families who had moved north after the Revolutionary
  • 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
  • William Joyce and his wife Mary were living by that time
    in Petersville, New Brunswick; and there were also Joyces then in Nova
  • 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.

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
    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
    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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.
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
opposite the present-day Civic Centre.

1849 the company, known as JB Joyce & Co, copied the Big Ben
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
In 1964 Norman Joyce, the last member of the
Joyce family, retired and sold the company to the Smith of Derby
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

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

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.


Select 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
  • William Joyce, known as Lord
    Haw-Haw, was a Nazi sympathizer and broadcaster executed after the war.

Select 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).


Select 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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