Lear Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Lear Meaning
origins of the Lear surname are unclear.
King Leir or
Lear, the legendary king who ruled Britain in the 8th century and was
dramatized by Shakespeare, is one possible starting point.
On his death he was buried in a chamber under
the river Soar in Leicestershire.  There
was a William de Leyre recorded in the county in 1272.
Others have Lear derived
from the French place-name Lire in Normandy; or from the Celtic word leyre,
meaning “sea.”  Whatever its meaning,
Lear does seem to have been a west country name in England.  In America there can be Lears of German or
Jewish ancestry

Lear Resources on

Lear Ancestry

is clearly a west country name.
The table below shows some early wills at a time when the
spelling was
still variable.

Humphrey Leare, Tisbury, Wiltshire

1647.  Thomas Leir.

1683. Thomas
Leare.  Marledon, Devon.

1684.  Humphrey Leer.  Motcombe,

1697.  George Leir.

1699.  George Leere.  Motcombe,

Devon has had the largest
number of Lears and may have been the origin for the name.
Peter Lear was a poor farmer from Ipplepen who
went out to Barbados as a servant in 1645, becoming a planter there and
returning fifteen years later as a spectacularly wealthy man.  He acquired the Lindridge estate in 1660 and
adopted the life of a country squire.
Meanwhile Hugh Lear and his brother Tobias departed Staverton in
for a new life in America.

Many Lear families came from the coal-mining
communities of Bitton, Hanham, Magnotsfield or Siston east of
Bristol in
Gloucestershire.  Bitton had the main
numbers.  The Rev. Samuel Lear, a
Methodist minister, was born there in 1785.
Some Lears with connections to the notorious Cock Road Gang in
ended up being transported to Australia.  J. Lear’s
2012 book Lear Family History covered Lear
families originating in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire,
and Somerset.

During the 19th century the Lear name had extended
northward into Staffordshire. 

Ireland.  Lear
can be
Irish.  The Mac Giolla Uidhir
sept was to be found in county Tyrone.  When
Gaelic names had to be anglicized, it
often came out as McAleer.  But sometimes
as Lear.

America.  Hugh Lear and his brother
Tobias came to New
England in 1665 from Staverton in Devon in 1665 and made their home in
Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  A later
Tobias Lear was cousin to John Langdon, twice Governor of New Hampshire.  Tobias is known today as the secretary of
George Washington – from 1784 until Washington’s death in 1799.  Through Lear’s journal in fact has come an
account of Washington’s last hours.  One
line from Tobias ended up in Pennsylvania.
Richard Langdon Lear left New Hampshire for
Northport, Maine in
1805.  Lears have been in Maine since that time.

Colonel John Lear had come to Nansemond county,
Virginia from London by the 1650’s.   His
line continued through various John Lears until the 19th century when
the line
extended to the Rev. Joseph Lear and the Rev. William Lear, both
ministers.  Another Lear line in
Virginia, possibly related, was the Lears of Culpepper county.

Lear in America
could have German origins, from the German Lohr or Lair names.  Hans Peter Lohr came to Bucks county,
Pennsylvania in the 1750’s.  His son was
Leer, his grandson Lear.  George Lear was
born in Warwick township, Bucks county in 1818.
German Lair/Lehrer family cropped up in Rockingham county, Virginia.  They later became Lear in Kentucky.  Perhaps the German influence may partially
why Lears are most numerous today in Pennsylvania, followed by Kentucky.

Canada.  There were Lear fishermen at Hibbs Hole in
Newfoundland since the 1760’s.  Some have
them coming from Jersey in the Channel Islands, others from Devon

Lear Names

  • King Lear was the legendary 8th century king of Britain. 
  • Edward Lear was a 19th century English writer and poet, known for his nonsense poetry and his limericks. 
  • Bill Lear was a great American inventor, notably of the car radio and the 8-track stereo cartridge.  But he is best remembered for founding the Lear Jet Corporation, a manufacturer of business jets. 
  • Norman Lear from Jewish immigrant stock is
    an American
    television writer and producer who made such 1970s sitcoms as All in the Family, The Jeffersons, and Maude.

Select Lear Numbers Today

  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Devon)
  • 3,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 1,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)



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