McCormick Surname Meaning, History & Origin

McCormick Surname Meaning

The surname McCormick or McCormack is an anglicized form of the Old Gaelic patronymic MacCormaigor or “son of Cormac,” Cormac being a personal name from the Celtic corbmac meaning “charioteer.”

An early mention of the name occurred in 880 when the monks of the Abbey of Iona off Scotland recorded the demise of their abbot Fedorach MacCormaic.  The name was also popular in Ireland during medieval times – in part due to Saint Cormac, the first Bishop of Cashel in southern Ireland.

The main spelling variants today are McCormick and McCormack.  McCormack is more common in Ireland, McCormick elsewhere.

McCormick Surname Resources on The Internet

McCormick and McCormack Surname Ancestry

  • from Ireland (Ulster) and Scotland (West Coast)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Ireland. There was, according to the Annals of the Four Masters, a McCormack sept in the Fermanagh-Longford area during the 14th and 15th centuries.

By the late 1500’s the McCormacks were recorded as one of the leading gentry in county Cork, with those of Muskerry being powerful enough to raise a large force to assist Desmond in the Elizabethan wars. Donogh McCormack, however, was killed in an ambush in 1601. Tradition has him as the builder of Kanturk castle in NW Cork.

Another McCormick base in Ireland was county Antrim in Ulster where Scots McCormicks had come from the Isle of Mull. The best-known of these McCormicks was Captain James McCormick who fought on the Protestant side at the siege of Londonderry in 1689 and was granted a coat of arms featuring a mailed fist clutching a spear. His family subsequently emigrated to America.

The McCormick name was also to be found in Derry; while one McCormick family traces itself back to 1749 and John and Jane McCormick of Drumbane in Donegal near the border with Tyrone.

Scotland. Gilchrist mac Cormac, the first bishop of Dunkeld in the early 12th century, is thought to have been the progenitor of the MacMillan clan.

However, McCormicks were mainly to be found on the west coast of Scotland, close to Ireland, where they had been subsumed under the McLeans of Lochbuie. McCormicks continued on the Isle of Mull until the 19th century when the Clearances caused an exodus.  Meanwhile some Scots Irish McCormicks made the reverse journey back to Scotland during the famine years.  

America. The early McCormicks coming to America seem to have been Scots or Scots Irish.

One McCormick line came to Virginia from Ulster around 1700. The first recorded of this line was John McCormick of Winchester in Virginia, born in 1754, who fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War.  He and his family later moved west to Ohio and then to Indiana (where they were one of the first white settlers).  

Thomas McCormick, the son of the gallant Captain James McCormick, left Antrim for Pennsylvania in 1734. One line from Thomas, which later included Colonel Thomas McCormick of Harrisburg, stayed in Pennsylvania; another line through son Robert moved south in 1779 to the fertile Shenandoah valley in Virginia; while the line from Dr. John McCormick began in Frederick county, now West Virginia, and moved onto Tennessee in the early 1800’s.

John McCormick arrived in Pennsylvania from Scotland with his family as a three year old in 1759. He fought in the Revolutionary War and later settled in Ohio.  Meanwhile Duncan and Katherine McCormick left Argyllshire in Scotland and came with other Scottish settlers to Richmond county, North Carolina in 1791.

Cyrus McCormick developed his famous reaper at the family farm at Walnut Grove in the Shenandoah valley. He and his brother Leander moved to Chicago in 1847 and the McCormick family there became one of the most powerful in America in the mid-19th century. Colonel Robert McCormick of this family was the belligerent publisher of the Chicago Tribune for over thirty years.  

Canada.  The first McCormicks in Canada were probably Samuel and Mary McCormick from Derry in Ireland who came in 1769.  Family lore has it that their vessel had been bound for Virginia, but – as a result of a storm off Sable Island – ended up in Nova Scotia where they decided to stay.  Land grants for McCormicks in Cumberland county, Nova Scotia date from the 1820’s.

Other early arrivals were two McCormick brothers, Donald and Angus, who left their Hebridean home in Scotland on the Alexander in 1772. Donald eventually settled on Cape Breton Island off Nova Scotia. A number of McCormicks from the Isle of Mull came to Ontario in the 1850’s following the clearances and evictions on the island.

Australia.  Peter McCormick arrived in Sydney from Scotland in 1855.  He worked with the Presbyterian church there as a musician and composer.  His Advance Australia Fair, written in 1878, became a popular patriotic song which was later adopted as the national anthem.

McCormick Surname Miscellany

McCormicks from the Isle of Mull to Ireland.  An appearance of the surname in the 1500’s involves the glens of County Antrim in Ireland and Moy Castle on the Scottish Isle of Mull, now a large uninhabited stone structure.  Sometime in the early 1600’s the McLean chieftain of Lochbuie was evicted from Moy Castle by his cousin the McLean of Duart.

He was said to have retreated to county Antrim across the sea in Ireland, before seeking to regain his castle.  The story goes that twelve men at arms – all named McCormick – furnished a boat and helped him regain Moy Castle.

To commemorate the help, the Scottish chieftain had the following carved into the stone lintel over the doorway entering Moy Castle in Gaelic: Biadh is deoch do MhacGormai, which loosely translates as “meat and drink for McCormick” – i.e. McCormick is welcome here.

It is uncertain how true this story is.  But many McCormicks did  migrate from the bleak windswept Isle of Mull then or later to Antrim and Derry in Ireland. 

The Later McCormick Emigration from Mull.  The crofter way of life on the Isle of Mull was fundamentally altered in the 1850’s when the principal landowner, the Duke of Argyll, imposed a 100% increase in rents where pasture was improved.

No compensation was given for houses vacated. When permission was given for new houses to be built, they only came with a “kailyard” of land. It was ruled that if a man died and his widow had a son less than 21 years of age, then they must vacate.

John McCormick, a schoolmaster on Mull, testified to the Napier Commission in 1883 as follows:

“By the year 1850, the old townships were reduced to large farms.  The harsh and cruel law of evictions formerly used has now given way to the more modern and refined mode of grinding away our subject by diminishing our means, which will eventually serve the purpose of bringing us into abject poverty.”

A large number emigrated.  The population of Mull was 5,200 in 1841, but had fallen to 2,460 by 1871.  Many departed in the 1850’s to Canada – such as Archibald and Mary McCormick who settled in Durham, Ontario.

McCormicks and McCormacks.  McCormack is more common in Ireland, McCormack elsewhere.  The following are the approximate numbers today.

Numbers (000’s) McCormick McCormack Total
Ireland    2    10    12
UK   13    12    25
America   20     6    26
Elsewhere   10    10    20
Total   45    38    83

Reader Feedback – McCormick to McCormack.  My Irish great grandfather, born in 1816, spelt his surname McCormick. His children’s surname from 1850 changed to McCormack.  I have always wondered why this happened.  I believe that the McCormick family may have come to Ireland from Scotland in the 18th century or earlier. Any help greatly appreciated.

Bruce Andrew (

Reader Feedback – Irish McCormicks to Scotland and England.  My family are Roman Catholic, originally from Ballycastle in county Antrim. My great great grandfather Daniel McCormick left Ireland for the West of Scotland in the late 1870’s. He eventually settled in Glasgow where some of the family still lives. My uncle moved to England in the late 1930’s (it was tough being a Catholic Irish family in the Govan district of Glasgow where they lived).  He opened a boxing gym in Luton.

Neil McCormick (

Reader Feedback – American Descendants of Captain James McCormick.  I was born a McCormick – I believe we came to the US after the seize of Derry in the late 1600’s and were active in the American Revolution and beyond.  I am descended from Hugh and Thomas McCormick.  I believe my ancestry traces from Captain James McCormick who was at the seize of Derry.  I was wondering if you have linked these names or other DNA information to the records.

Terri McCormick Dawson ( 

Reader Feedback – Captain Alexander McCormick from Scotland.  My great grandfather was Captain Douglas Alexander McCormick (I may have been mistaken with the name).  I believe his ship was the HMS Lion.  We as the McCormick family live and have lived in the west of Scotland for the last hundred years. Anyone else connected?

Ally McCormick (

The McCormick Farm on Walnut Grove.  Robert and Martha McCormick moved to Walnut Grove in the Shenandoah valley in 1779.  Their son Robert was born a year later and their grandson Cyrus in 1809. Norris’s History of the Lower Shenandoah Valley recounted the following about the McCormicks:

“The early members of the McCormick family in Virginia were singularly unobtrusive people, content in the happiness derived from their own family relations, being extremely clannish.  Both the men and women of the family were without guile, strictly honorable, affectionate, domestic and courteous.  One of their marked characteristics was their great regard for the truth.”

The family farm at Walnut Grove was located on 530 acres near Steele’s Tavern in Virginia. It was there that Cyrus McCormick improved and patented the mechanical reaper which eventually led to the creation of the combine harvester.

The eight farm buildings include a grist mill, blacksmith shop, slave quarters, carriage house, manor house, smoke house, schoolroom, and housekeeper’s quarters.  Each of these different buildings played a specific role in the daily routine of the farm.

The grist mill, built prior to 1800, was used to grind wheat for flour; the blacksmith shop to build and repair all the farm implements and it was where Cyrus McCormick engineered his reaper; the slave quarters served as the home for the nine slaves of the farm; while the carriage house was used as a garage for the carriages and other wheeled vehicles.

The manor house was built of brick in 1822. Behind it was the smoke house where meat was dried and smoked to preserve it through the winter. Refrigeration was not introduced until the late 19th century. The McCormick family also maintained a school on their property for neighboring children.

The farm remained in the McCormick family up to 1954.  It is now a museum, having been declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Cyrus McCormick and the Mechanical Reaper.  The whole idea was silly. Some “new fangled” machine to cut wheat?  When folks around Carlisle, Pennsylvania learned that there was going to be demonstration of a mechanical reaper to harvest a field of wheat, they were astonished.  Surely nothing could replace a team of hard-working men with grain cradles!

And so on a warm, sunny summer day in 1840, a crowd of between 500 and 1,000 people gathered at his farm, saw that, indeed, the grain was ripe and they examined the machinery as they prepared to witness the spectacle.  A horse and rider drew the equipment into the field followed by a man who was to rake up the wheat as it was cut.

The contraption clattered and rattled as it began to cut the wheat and the rake man had some trouble keeping up, which began to cause difficulties with the machine. The people hooted, jeered, and laughed. They knew it wouldn’t work!

But then a man stepped forward from the group and showed everyone the proper way to work with the harvester.  He was Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the machine called “McCormick’s Reaper.”  The fool thing worked after all!  The dubious Scots-Irish farmers were suitably impressed. 

The McCormick Family

  • Robert Hall McCormick (1780-1846) of Walnut Grove, Virginia
  • – Cyrus McCormick (1809-1884), inventor and patenter of the reaper
  • — Cyrus McCormick II (1859-1936), the eldest son and heir
  • — Harold McCormick (1872-1941), whose later life was an inspiration for the film Citizen Kane (his second wife Ganna was an opera singer whose career he financed)
  • — Stanley McCormick (1874-1947), who suffered from schizophrenia
  • – William McCormick (1815-1865), the brother who stayed at Walnut Grove
  • — Robert McCormick (1849-1919), an American ambassador
  • — Joseph McCormick (1877-1925), Illinois Senator (his wife Ruth was active in women’s suffrage and later elected to Congress)
  • — Robert McCormick (1880-1955) the Colonel, publisher of the Chicago Tribune 
  • — William McCormick (b. 1851), Chicago businessman
  • — Chauncey McCormick (1884-1954), President of International Harvester
  • – Leander McCormick (1819-1900), the brother who came to Chicago with Cyrus
  • — R. Hall McCormick (1847-1917), head of the McCormick Estate in Chicago
  • — Elizabeth Day McCormick, known for her textile and costume collections
  • — Robert Hall McCormick III, head of the McCormick Estate
  • — Henrietta McCormick Goodhart (1857-1932), the American heiress who married an English aristocrat
  • =- L. Hamilton McCormick (1859-1934), art collector

Reader Feedback – MacCormacks in Maritime Canada.  My grandmother was a MacCormack. There was a good book on the MacCormacks of PEI and Cape Breton a number of years ago. Any chance you might know of it?  Paul MacDonald.

Peter McCormick and Advance Australia Fair.  McCormick claimed he wrote the words and music for Advance Australia Fair after attending a concert which featured many national anthems, but none for Australia.  Its original opening line was: “Australia’s sons, let us rejoice.”

It was premiered at the St Andrew’s Day concert of the Highland Society in 1878. More significantly, it was sung at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia by a choir of ten thousand, with the words modified slightly to include “our youthful Commonwealth.”  In 1907 the Government awarded McCormick a hundred pounds for his patriotic composition.

It was not until 1974 that it was proclaimed the national anthem by the Whitlam government.  After the Fraser government’s decision to restore God Save the Queen as the anthem, the Governor-General finally proclaimed it as the national anthem in 1984.

The Colonel at the Chicago Tribune.  Robert McCormick had taken over the Chicago Tribune in the 1920’s and he ran it as his personal fiefdom until his death in 1955.  A conservative Republican, he was an opponent of President Roosevelt and compared the New Deal to Communism.  Later he opposed US entry into World War Two.

He ran crusades over the years against gangsters and racketeers, prohibition and prohibitionists, Wall Street, the East and Easterners, Democrats, the League of Nations and the United Nations, and British imperialism. Some of his personal crusades were seen as quixotic, such as his attempts to reform spelling of the English language, and were parodied by political commentators.

John Gunther’s take on the colonel in his 1947 book Inside U.S.A. ran as follows:

“Colonel McCormick’s Chicago Tribune reminds me of Soviet Russia, which it has such a brilliantly good time attacking. It is, like Russia, big, totalitarian, successful, dominated by one man as of the moment, suspicious of outsiders, cranky and with great natural resources not fully developed; it has a compelling zest to fight for its own. Colonel McCormick even goes in for paternalistic reforms. Every Tribune employee has his teeth cleaned free twice a year.”

The New York Times noted:

“He did consider himself an aristocrat.  His imposing stature (6 feet 4 inches tall, with a muscular body weighing over 200 pounds), his erect soldierly bearing, his reserved manner and his distinguished appearance all made it easy for him to play that role. But if he was one, he was according to his friends one in the best sense of the word – despising the idle rich and having no use for parasites, dilettantes or mere pleasure-seekers.

With an extraordinary capacity for hard work, he often put in seven long days a week at his job even when elderly, keeping fit through polo and later horseback riding. In his seventies, he could still get into the war uniform of his thirties.”

McCormick Names

  • Cyrus McCormick, born in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, invented and patented a mechanical harvesting machine in 1834.   
  • Peter McCormick was the Scottish-born composer of Australia’s national anthem, Advance Australia Fair. 
  • John McCormack was a famous Irish tenor of the early 20th century. 
  • Robert McCormick was the publisher of the Chicago Tribune from 1920 to 1955. 
  • Mark McCormack was the American lawyer and agent who founded IMG, the international management organization serving sports figures and celebrities.

McCormick Numbers Today

  • 25,000 in the UK (most numerous in Antrim)
  • 26,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 20,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)

McCormick and Like Surnames 

The Irish clan or sept names come through the mists of time until they were found in Irish records such as The Annals of the Four Masters.  The names were Gaelic and this Gaelic order was preserved until it was battered down by the English in the 1600’s.

Some made peace with the English.  “Wild geese” fled to fight abroad.  But most stayed and suffered, losing land and even the use of their language.  Irish names became anglicized, although sometimes in a mishmash of spellings.  Mass emigration happened after the potato famine of the 1840’s.

Some surnames – such as Kelly, Murphy and O’Connor – span all parts of Ireland.  But most will have a territorial focus in one of the four Irish provinces – Leinster, Munster, Ulster, and Connacht.

Ulster in NE Ireland covers the counties of Derry, Antrim, Down, Tyrone, Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Monaghan, and Donegal.  Here are some of the Ulster surnames (excluding the Scots Irish surnames) that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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