Miller Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Miller Surname Meaning

The surname comes from the occupation of a miller, who was usually one of the most important men in the village.  The root of the name is the Old English milne, from the Latin molere meaning “to grind.”

Miller, for various reasons, only ranks as the 53rd most common surname in England – although its counterpart in Germany, Mueller, is up there as number one in that country.

Miller is the third most common Jewish surname in America, after Cohen and Levy.  Miller was in fact sometimes the preferred anglicization of a Jewish name that did not even resemble Miller.

Miller Surname Resources on The Internet

Miller Surname Ancestry

  • from England, Scotland, Switzerland and Germany (Mueller), and from Jewish emigrants
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

England.  The first recording of the surname was Ralph Muller in the 1296 Sussex tax rolls.  Millers were to be found in London, Hertfordshire and Frome, Dorset in the 16th century.  Henry Miller started a Miller family fishing dynasty in 1678 near Lulworth Cove in Dorset which has continued until the present day.

Another Miller line began with the birth of John Miller, originally Meller, in Long Melford, Suffolk in 1734. The Miller family of booksellers and book publishers came from Norwich in Norfolk.

However, Miller as a surname has tended to be found more in the north of England, particularly in Lancashire.

The prominent Miller family in Liverpool during the 19th century had come originally from Kendal in the Lake District.  Meanwhile Thomas Miller, born in Bolton, ran the principal cotton works in Preston in the early 1800’s.  He was the town’s mayor three times between 1820 and 1836.  His son Thomas developed the Singleton estate near Blackpool. Another Miller family were coal miners in the Wigan area whose descendants emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870’s.

Other names for the miller – such as Milner and Millward – emerged elsewhere in England; while surnames such as Mill and Mills also developed.  

Scotland.  Both Miller and Millar are Scottish surnames.

Miller has been very much a Border name, to be found around Dumfries.  When the Border region was pacified, many of these Millers moved to Scottish plantations across the Irish Sea in Ulster.  Patrick Miller, a successful businessman from Edinburgh, bought the Dalswinton estate near Dumfries in 1785.  However, his son squandered his fortune and the estate soon left family hands.

There was said to have been a small Millar clan from Morayshire that had settled in the Glasgow area by the 15th century.  One Glasgow Millar history began with the Millars of Hamilton near Glasgow around 1700.  John Millar was an 18th century Scottish philosopher and professor at the University of Glasgow. William Miller, born in Glasgow in 1810, was best known as the poet who wrote the nursery rhyme Wee Willie Winkie.

Robert Millar from Perth was a successful 19th century timber merchant at Montrose on Scotland’s East Coast.  His family acquired Rossie castle there.

Ireland.  Scottish Millers were recorded in the city of Londonderry as early as 1630 when Robert Miller was said to possess “musket and bandoleers” in its defense.  Millers were in fact prominent in its defense at the siege of Londonderry in 1689.

Later Millers were Mayors of Londonderry on various occasions and made their home at Braehead House outside the city.  Henry Miller departed Londonderry for Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in 1745. Another Henry Miller, a veteran of Waterloo, brought his family to Australia in 1823.  His son Henry, known as “Money Miller,” prospered there as an industry financier.

The largest number of Millers in Ireland, just over 50% according to the 1890 birth index, were recorded in nearby county Antrim.  

America.  There were early Millers in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania accounted for 25% of all Millers in America in the 1840 census.

Many of them were Mennonite Muellers from Switzerland escaping persecution.  Jacob Mueller was in Lancaster county as early as 1710.  Around 1740 a number of Amish Muellers arrived; as did Muellers from Alsace. Abraham Mueller was a preacher in Conestoga township in 1793.  Mueller had generally become Miller by the time of the Revolutionary War.  Afterwards, many Millers migrated west to Ohio. Today Miller is the most common family name in the Mennonite church.

Other Millers in Pennsylvania were Scots Irish.  Henry Miller from Londonderry had come to Lancaster county by 1745.  Oliver Miller from county Antrim was in western Pennsylvania by 1772, having crossed the Alleghany mountains from Maryland on a packhorse. His descendants remained at Mansfield, Pennsylvania until 1927 when their stone manse, built in 1808, was made into a museum.

For some in Pennsylvania, such as Abraham Miller the innkeeper in Bloom township in the early 1800’s, it has not been possible to identify whether the roots were German, Scots Irish, or even possibly English.

Not all Millers came to Pennsylvania.  Friedrich Muller arrived in Milwaukee in 1855 from Germany as Frederick Miller.  He had learnt the brewing business at home and quickly embarked on beer brewing in America.  He acquired what became the Miller Brewing Company in 1856.  One of the leading beer brands in America today, it had stayed in family hands until 1966.

Many Millers in America have Jewish roots, from the Yiddish Miller.  One line originated with Avrolum Aba Miller in the 1750’s in what is now Slovakia.  Other Millers came from Lithuania and Ukraine.  Saul Miller from Dobromil in Ukraine emigrated to New York in 1909.  Another family from Dobromil was Mehler who became Miller in America. 

Notable among the Jewish Millers in America was the playwright Arthur Miller, born in New York City in 1915 to a father who ran a clothing company there. 

Canada.  There were early Millers in Newfoundland.  John Millar arrived in St. John’s from Scotland in 1705.  Samuel Miller came in 1766 from Dorset and founded the village of Trinity Bay.  His descendants were fishermen there.  Edwin Miller’s home there has been preserved as a heritage site.

Lewis Miller was a Scottish timber baron from Perthshire who came to Newfoundland in 1900 to start a sawmill there.  The new town where the sawmill was built was called Millertown.

Australia.  Thomas and Rebecca Miller from Berkshire arrived in South Australia on the Fairlie in 1840.  Thomas found work as a carter in Adelaide and later was an early settler in the Mintaro region where he farmed.

Keith Miller, the famous Australian cricket all-rounder, was of Scottish background.  His Miller grandfather had worked in the docks in Edinburgh and Dundee before coming to Melbourne in 1849.  He mad his home in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine which was where Keith was born and grew up.

Miller Surname Miscellany

The Miller Family of Liverpool.  This Miller family history began with the birth of John Miller in Kendal (then in Westmoreland) sometime around 1695.  He was an apothecary and alderman in the town.  His grandson William moved to Liverpool in the 1780’s where he was a mercer and a draper.  William of the next generation speculated in land and built his home at Miller’s Castle in Bootle.

Many of the later Millers of this family stayed in the Liverpool area.  A number were shipbrokers who travelled widely.   Joseph was a merchant who died abroad in Madeira in 1847.  Henry and George prospered in the tea plantations of India in the 1890’s.  Other Millers emigrated to Canada at that time.

Francis Spurstow Miller joined the Navy and had various naval commands during World War One. He was promoted to Admiral after the war.

The Miller Fishing Dynasty in Dorset.  Henry Miller started up a small fishing business in the village of Tyneham near Lulworth Cove in Dorset in 1678.  His business was handed down father to son through the generations, to John and a second John in the 18th century and then to Henry, Joseph and Edwin in the 19th.

Charles was the first Miller to go to sea in a motor-powered boat after he installed an old Ford car engine on it in the late 1920’s. Jim succeeded him.  He was a well-known figure in the local fishing community until his death in 2008.  His son Joe joined in the 1970’s and now fishes in Joe’s old boat, the Silver Foam.

When Henry Miller started out, he sold fish direct to local villagers from the beach.  But over the decades, as the business grew, the Millers started selling most of their catch to fish merchants.  In recent years the family has sold their fish from their own shop in Lulworth Cove.  On the wall is a family tree showing all the Millers who have worked for the business down the years. 

Mueller/Miller Mennonites.  There are a large number of Anabaptist/Mennonite Muellers from various parts of Switzerland and they were among the earliest Anabaptists in the 16th century.  Included in their number were Elsi Mueller of Basel, Hans Mueller of Medicon, and Heinrich Mueller of Meisterschwanden.  Jobst (Just) Mueller was a martyr at Jena in Germany in 1536.

During the 17th and early 18th centuries many of them left Switzerland because of persecution. Some of them settled in Alsace; others departed for the Palatinate in Germany. By the 1720’s Mennonites with the name of Mueller from Switzerland and Alsace began emigrating to Pennsylvania.  Michael Mueller, later Miller, arrived in 1727 from a family which was originally from the canton of Bern in Switzerland.

Abraham Miller of Bloom Township, Pennsylvania.  Abraham Miller was born in 1758 in Berks county, Pennsylvania.  German parentage is most likely.  But it is not known for certain whether his parents were German, English, or Irish.

He married twice, having six children by his first wife Phebe and nine by his second wife Nancy.  He was an enterprising man. He was an innkeeper, shopkeeper, landlord, farmer, and President of the Susquehanna Bridge Company. He also owned and operated a mill and quarry.   In 1799 he started his Halfway House Inn, so named because it was halfway between Berwick and Bloom in Northumberland county.  His son Thomas took over the inn after he died in 1821.

Abraham was buried next to his two wives in Rosemont cemetery in Bloom township.  It was and is a picturesque spot on a hilltop overlooking the town and mountains to the distance.    Some of his children remained in the area.   Others moved to Michigan and Ohio.

Frederick Miller and the Miller Brewing Company.  Frederick Miller had come from a well-to-do family in Riedlingen in Germany and spent his early years travelling, mainly in France.  On his way back to Germany, he visited his uncle, a brewer, in Nancy.  He decided to stay and learn the business.

In 1854, with Germany in the throes of political unrest and growing restrictions, Frederick decided to emigrate with his young family to the United States.  He brought with him $9,000 in gold.  This was believed to have been partially gifts from Miller’s mother and his wife’s dowry and also possibly money that he had made from brewing in Germany.

Shortly after his arrival in Milwaukee, Frederick Miller paid $8,000 for the Plank-Road Brewery, a five-year-old brewery started by Frederick Charles Best and abandoned in 1854.  Miller became a brewery owner in an era when beer sold for about $5 per barrel in the Milwaukee area and for three to five cents a glass at the city’s taverns. The Plank-Road Brewery was several miles west of Milwaukee in the Menomonee valley.  It proved ideal for its nearness to a good water source and to raw materials grown on surrounding farms.

Tall and spare, Frederick Miller had a long face with a high forehead and a short Parisian beard.   He dressed and acted like a Frenchman too.   But his “confoundedly good glass of beer” won the respect of the German community of early Milwaukee. 

Saul Miller from a Jewish Shtetl.  Saul Miller wrote in later life: “In my seventeenth year I left Dobromil for Berlin in Germany and never set eyes on Dobromil again.”  He had been born there in 1890, grown up in the Jewish shtetl there, and had been apprenticed as a tailor there.

He in fact stayed about two years in Berlin and came to New York in 1909. There he was a garment worker all his life and an active union leader in the 1920’s and 30’s.

However, he did not forget where he had come from.  He published his reminiscences of his life there in Dobromil: Life in a Galician Shtetl, 1890-1907.  After World War II he was a one-man committee of correspondence, seeking out all the surviving refugees of the Dobromil area and helping them to find new homes.

Miller Names

  • John Millar was an 18th century Scottish philosopher.
  • William Miller was one of the leading English publishers of the early 19th century.
  • Frederick Miller was the founder of the Miller Brewing Company in 1856.
  • Charles Miller is considered the English father of Brazilian football.
  • Keith Miller was an exciting Australian cricketer of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
  • Arthur Miller was an acclaimed 20th century American playwright.

Miller Numbers Today

  • 109,000 in the UK (most numerous in Essex)
  • 450,000 in America (most numerous in Pennsylvania)
  • 100,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Miller is the #6 ranked surname in America.

Miller and Like Surnames   

The various medieval trades and occupations were a source of surnames as John the baker would over time would become known as John Baker.  Some skilled craftsmen – such as chandlers, fletchers and turners – were able to form guilds, protective organizations, and style themselves Worshipful Companies.  These are some of the occupational surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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