Martin Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Martin Surname Meaning

There was a famous fourth century saint, St. Martin of Tours, and, because of him, the name became extremely popular throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, especially in Mediterranean countries and in Normandy in France.

Martin as a surname can be English, French or Spanish.  Martin in America may also have been Huguenot or Mennonite.

Martin Surname Resources on The Internet

Martin Surname Ancestry

  • from France (Normandy), Southern England, Ireland (Galway) and Scotland
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Martin remains a common surname in Spain and France, as well as in England. Martins today run about:

  • 600,000 in Spain
  • 220,000 in France
  • versus 153,000 in the UK.

Martins from France in particular have added to the Martin numbers in America and Canada. In France they have been mainly concentrated in the Normandy region of northern France (where Martin is the second most common surname today). Blessed Louis Martin, the father of Saint Therese, came from Normandy.  

England. The Normans brought the name to England, in particular to SW England.

SW England.  William Martyn de Tours joined up with William the Conqueror and was granted Combe Martin in Devon. His family became the FitzMartins. Another FitzMartin family owned Blagdon Manor in Somerset.  However, both of these lines apparently died out about 1350. 

The name Martin has remained strong in the southwest counties.  The Martin gentry family at Athelhampton in Dorset dates from the early 1300’s.  Later Martins were merchants in Exeter in Elizabethan times and there were also branches in Kent and Suffolk.

One Cornish family line began at Stithians with the marriage of Edmund and Elizabeth Martin in 1775.  James and Catherine Martin were married at the Methodist church in Redruth in 1792.  The variant Martyn spelling was also evident in Cornwall.  Thomas Martyn, born in 1668, was a yeoman farmer in St. Columb Minor.  Many records of these Martyns can be found at the local parish church.

SE England.  Clusters of Martins were to be found at an early date in Sussex, near where the Normans had landed.

Mary Martin married Thomas Newnham in Fletching in 1435.  A family line in Sussex began with the birth of John Martin in Ringmer in 1645.  He was a shoemaker by trade.  William Martin was born at Yalding in Kent around 1565.  His descendants moved progressively downstream on the Medway river to Snodling, Halling and Cuxton over the next four hundred years.

Fleeing Huguenots from France brought the Martin name with them. Jean Martin was a Huguenot exile in Sandwich, Kent in 1622.  There were 14 Martin exiles recorded as being naturalized in England between 1682 and 1702.

Elsewhere.  A Martin family was established at Anstey village in Leicestershire from the 14th century. A branch of this family built Leeds castle in Kent. They had s strong seafaring side to them, as their numbers included Admiral Thomas Martin, Captain Matthew Martin, and John Martin who circumvented the world with Sir Francis Drake.

Another Martin family, said to have originated from Dorset, was settled at Melford Place in Suffolk from the early 1400’s. Roger Martin was a Catholic recusant during Elizabethan times; but these Martins, having supported the Royalist cause, became baronets in the next century. They departed Melford Place in 1762. The last of the Martins died in India in 1854 with his mistress, leaving no heir.

Ireland. The name Martin came with the Normans to Ireland, Thomas Martyn arriving in Galway around the year 1365. These Martyns were one of the fourteen tribes of Galway at the time of Cromwell, by which time they had become Catholic in their sympathies.  

Richard Martin of this family was the founder of the RSPCA (Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals) in London in 1824. He married twice and had various literary sons and daughters, but none so noteworthy as his son Thomas:  

“Following the revelation of his wife’s affair, he sued her for ‘criminal conversation’ and was awarded 10,000 pounds. He had this distributed to the poor by throwing it out of the windows of his coach on the long journey back from London to Galway.”

Coming also from this family was Edward Martyn of Tullira castle, a playwright and early republican political activist.  He was the first President of Sinn Fein from 1905 to 1908. 

Martins came to Ireland as well during the Protestant plantations.  Many of them settled in Tyrone where they became MacMartin or Gilmartin.  There were also some early Gaelic Martin-like names  Fearghal O’Martain, for instance, had been Bishop of Killala from 1425 to 1432 – that became Martin during the English occupation.

Scotland.  Early Martins or MacMartins in Highland Scotland were the MacMartins of Letterfinlay, associated with clan Cameron, and the Martins of Skye, associated with clan Donald. Martin Martin of Skye (Martainn Martainn in Gaelic) was a travel writer of the Western Isles in the late 17th century.

America.  Christopher Martin and his family from Essex arrived on the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock in 1620. However, they all perished there that first winter.

Virginia.  Jean Martin, a Huguenot refugee, arrived in Virginia on the Peter and Anthony in 1700.  He and his wife Margaret made their home at Manakin in Goochland county.

Joseph Martin, the youngest son of a wealthy Bristol merchant back in England, was sent by his father to Virginia in 1730.  He married there and was one of the first settlers of Albemarle county.  He and his wife soon settled into a gentry farming life.

Their son Joseph, however, did not.  He left their home in the 1760’s and achieved fame as an Indian agent and Revolutionary War hero on the western frontier.  He never brought his Virginia family to his frontier home. His reluctance was perhaps explained by the fact that he had taken a Cherokee wife there.  He was later an early settler in what became Tennessee.

Pennsylvania.  Martin was also a Mennonite name and many Martins arrived in Philadelphia and settled in Pennsylvania in the years between 1722 and 1732. Christian Martin, who arrived on the Plaisance in 1732, is considered the patriarch of these Martin Mennonite families.  Darvin Martin’s 2000 book Martin: A Mennonite Family Tree covered the first five generations of his family.

Mennonite Martins spread in the 1800’s to Ontario in Canada and to Ohio and Indiana.  From 1907 to 1972 John W. Martin led an ultra-conservative (no automobiles) Mennonite group in Eckhart county, Indiana.

Elsewhere.  Claude Martin, driven out from Nova Scotia by the British, was one of the many Acadians who made their home in SW Louisiana, Claude settling in the 1760’s on the Bayou Teche near Lafayette.  His family became sugar planters there.  A descendant George Martin was mayor of Lafayette in 1910.

Canada.  Abraham Martin, a sailor from La Rochelle (some accounts have it that he was of Scottish origin), first came to Quebec in 1620 and was granted land there in 1635.  He is said to have given his name to the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City, famously scaled by the English in their capture of the city in 1759.  Abraham died in Quebec in 1664.

Jean Martin, a soldier, married Anne Banlier in Vercheres county, Quebec in 1709.  They were the forebears of a Quebec family which later came to be called St. Martin.

The earliest Martins recorded in Nova Scotia were Pierre and Barnabe Martin who appeared in the Port-Royal census of 1671.  Claude Martin, descended from Barnabe, was born in 1730 but had to make the long trek southward with other Acadians to Louisiana in the 1760’s. Some Martins – the Martins of Madawaska – managed to escape this deportation and remain.

The Martins who came to farm in Waterloo county, Ontario in 1820 were Mennonites from Lancaster county, Pennsylvania and their farmhouse built in 1856 had a typical Mennonite style.  The farm is now with its seventh generation and has become renowned for its apples.

Paul Martin, Canada’s Prime Minister from 2003 to 2006, has an Irish immigrant background, his great grandfather having arrived from county Mayo in the late 19th century.

Australia.  Four Cornish families, including the Martins, decided to leave for South Australia together in the late 1840’s, all of them managing to go as assisted emigrants.  Henry Martin, a miner, first went to the Victorian goldfields and then to the Moonta copper mine in South Australia where he prospered, buying the Moonta gas works in 1892.

James and Emma Martin from Devon also headed for the Victorian goldfields and later started a sheep farm near Stawell, Victoria.  They did very well from their investments in mining shares.

New Zealand.   Originally from the Martin family of Long Melford in Suffolk, William Martin was appointed the first Chief Justice of New Zealand, arriving there in 1841.  He resigned his position in 1857 and later returned to England.  But many of his descendants still live in the Dunedin area.

Henry and Sarah Martin from Warwickshire came to New Zealand on the Clondarf in 1859 and settled in North Canterbury where they bought a farm.  This farm has remained with their descendants through six generations.

However, these Martins had to survive a murderous attack in 1901 when three members of the family were found brutally bludgeoned to death in the house.  The house itself was burned down after the murders, with those responsible never identified.  But even after all this the Martins would not leave their home.

Martin Surname Miscellany

St. Martin of Tours.  Martin of Tours was the 4th century Bishop of Tours, whose shrine in France became a famous stopping-point for pilgrims in the Middle Ages.

The story most known about him ran as follows.   One day as he was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens, he met a scantily clad beggar. He impulsively cut his military cloak in half to share with the man. That night Martin dreamed of Jesus wearing the half-cloak he had given away.

He heard Jesus say to the angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.”  The part of the cloak kept by Martin became the famous relic that was preserved in the oratory of the Merovingian kings of the Franks at the Marmoutier Abbey near Tours.

St. Martin’s Feast or Martinmas was considered the first day of winter in the Christian calendar for practical purposes.  It occurred in the second week of November.  Alluding to the snows of that season, Germans would say: “St. Martin comes riding on a white horse.”   It was said too that one could predict what sort of winter one might have by the conditions of St. Martin’s Day.  The saying went: “If the geese at Martin’s Day stand on ice, they will walk in mud at Christmas.”

Blessed Louis Martin and Saint Therese.  Louis Martin became “blessed” because he was the father of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a French nun who died of TB in 1897 at the tender age of twenty four.  The impact of her autobiographical writings, The Story of a Soul published a year after her death, was so enormous that she has become, after Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular saints in the church.  She is known as “Petite Fleur.”

Louis Martin had died before his daughter’s fame.  He himself came from an old Normandy family which has been traced back to an earlier Louis Martin, born in Normandy around 1650.

The Martins in Anstey Village.  Anstey village was sandwiched between Leicester and Charnwood forests in the Middle Ages.  It was the home of the Martin family from 1341. These Martins may have been related to John Martyn, a merchant who was mayor of Leicester and its MP around this time.  But the linkage has been disputed.

Two members of the family held the position of Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire and the local high school was named after them.  The family leased Anstey Pastures within Leicester forest in 1585 and later acquired this 110 acre site.  Their home at Anstey Pastures was built in 1833 and they lived there until 1892 when they moved to a house in Bradgate known as the Brand.

The Martins of Melford Place.  The Martin family of Melford Place in Suffolk was a great supporter of the Holy Trinity church in the village.  Laurence Martin who died in 1460 led the rebuilding of the church during his lifetime. His monument is to be found on the south aisle of the church, along with the other family brasses.

Roger Martin became churchwarden in the reign of Mary and was very active in re-establishing Catholic worship there. Under Queen Elizabeth he was marked down as a recusant (one who refuses the Anglican rites) and was fined £200, an enormous sum in those days, and deprived of some of his income.  He was imprisoned more than once for sheltering Catholic priests and is said to have escaped pursuit on occasion by hiding in a hayrick.  He died in 1615 at the ripe old age of 89 and was buried (in spite of his known Catholicism) in his family’s chapel at Holy Trinity church.

Roger’s brother Laurence moved to London and his son, Sir Roger Martin, prospered there as a merchant and was Lord Mayor of London in 1567.

The Martins of Galway.  Thomas Martyn, a descendant of the Anglo-Norman FitzMartin family, had come to Galway around the year 1365.  His descendants became merchants there, one of the twelve so-called “Tribes of Galway.”

Wylliam Martyn was in 1519 the first Mayor of the Martyn family which would ultimately produce nineteen Mayors and close to thirty Bailiffs and Sheriffs of Galway.  He was also responsible for the erection during his term of what is known today as the Spanish Arch.  This was an extension of the town wall from Martin’s Tower to the bank of the Corrib as a measure to protect the town’s quays.

William Oge Martyn was Mayor of Galway in 1586 and participated in one notorious session that was reported in Annals of the Four Masters.

“A session was held at Galway in the month of December of this year, and many women and men were put to death at it; and Edmond Oge, the son of Edmond, son of Manus Mac Sheehy, and eight soldiers of the Geraldines along with him, were put to death, information having been given against them that they had been along with those Scots who were slain at Ardnarea.”

The Martin home from the early 1600’s was Dunguaire Castle, a tower house near Kinvarra on Galway Bay. Richard Oge Martin, a Catholic nationalist of the 1630’s and 1640’s, was resident there.  It remained with the family until 1922 when the last of this Martin line died. 

Christian Martin and His Mennonite Family.  Christian Martin is generally considered as the patriarch of the Mennonite Martin families in Pennsylvania.  He was born in the Swiss canton of Bern around the year 1669 and arrived in Philadelphia on the Pink Plaisance in 1732 at the age of 63 years.  He was accompanied by his wife Ells Marty and two of his children.

There were other younger Martins who had come earlier – Christian’s son Christian in 1724, David and Jacob Martin on the Molly in 1727 and Hans Heinrich Martin and his sister on the Britannia in 1731.  All of them settled in the Weaverland valley in what became Earl township in Lancaster county. There were more Martins than any other name in the township’s 1757 tax roll.

The early years were harsh.  The community was quite isolated (few consequently learnt much English) and they had to endure a number of hot summers and cold winters and Indian attacks.

Martin Names

  • Joseph Martin was an Indian trader and pioneer settler in what was to become Tennessee.
  • Lionel Martin founded the British car company Aston Martin.
  • Dean Martin, the Italian-American singer, was born Dino Crocetti.
  • George Martin was the record producer for the Beatles.
  • Paul Martin was Prime Minister of Canada between 2003 and 2006.
  • Steve Martin is an American comic actor.
  • Chris Martin from Devon has been the lead singer of the rock group Coldplay.

Martin Numbers Today

  • 153,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 262,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 120,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Martin and Like Surnames

These are French-originated names, French Canadian surnames that were brought by French settlers to what was then New France.  Many are found in Louisiana after the Acadian exodus from the Canadian maritime provinces in the 18th century.  Here are some of the French surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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