Moody Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Moody Surname Meaning

The Moody surname was originally a nickname.  But its meaning then was a little different from its meaning now. The root of the word is the Old English modig meaning “brave” and “proud.” But the word had the connotation of foolhardy as well, which might also have been a characteristic of someone with that nickname.

Moody is the English spelling. The alternatives Moodie and Mudie occur in Scotland.

Moody Surname Resources on The Internet

Moody, Moodie and Mudie Surname Ancestry

  • from England and Scotland (Orkneys and Angus)
  • to Ireland Ulster), America, Caribs (Jamaica) and South Africa

England. The earliest known example of Moody as a surname dated from the 12th century and an early English charter in Devon where the name Alwine Modig was mentioned.

SW England.  The early spelling in Wiltshire was Mody. Edmund Mody was recorded as gentry in Wiltshire at the time of Henry VII.

The Moodys of Malmesbury in north Wiltshire were originally from Worcestershire. They had settled in Malmesbury in the late 1400’s. Richard Moody acquired Garsdon Manor in 1544 at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries. Sir Henry Moody was an MP and baronet who died with large debts in 1629. His widow, Lady Deborah Moody, sought new pastures in New England and later in Dutch New York.

John Mody held land at Abbotts Ann near Andover in Hampshire in the early 1500’s. John Moody died at Upton Lovel in Wiltshire in 1658. Later Moodys of his family moved to Horningsham in the same county. Other Moodys were recorded at Steeple Langford and at Landford.

Elsewhere.  Another early Moody family was to be found at Harwich and Bury St. Edmond in Suffolk in the late 1400’s. Edmund Moody reportedly saved the life of King Henry VIII in 1524.

However, by the time of the 1881 census there were larger Moody numbers further north in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. William Moody was recorded at Partney in Lincolnshire in 1616. Moodys from Yorkshire have included:

  • Captain John Moody, born in York in 1801, who spent a lifetime involved in commissioning and captaining the new generation of steamships.
  • and James Moody from Scarborough who served as the Titanic’s sixth officer in 1912 and was the only junior officer to perish for staying behind to help evacuate the passengers after all the other officers had left.

Scotland.  There have been two alternative spellings in Scotland – Moodie and Mudie.  Both are found primarily on Scotland’s East Coast – Moodie in Fifeshire and Mudie in what was then Forfarshire and is now Angus.

The Moodies were traced first to the Orkney islands in the 1500’s. They made their home at Melsetter until 1819 when James Moodie, the ninth Laird of Melsetter, became too overloaded with debt.  Some Moodies moved to Cockslaw and Lassodie in Fifeshire. 

The Mudies of Forfarshire began with the Mudies of Bryanton around the year 1550. Notable among them were:

  • James Mudie, a prominent merchant of Montrose who died in 1638.
  • Robert Mudie, the son of a weaver from Forfarshire, who made his name as a newspaper editor and writer in London in the 1820’s and 1830’s.
  • and James Mudie, also from Forfarshire, who at this time was prospering as a local official and landowner in Australia. However, his authorship of the book The Felonry of New South Wales brought him no friends there and he headed back to Britain.

The Moodie Book. written by the Marquis of Ruvigny and Raineval in 1906, covered this genealogy.  

Ireland.  The Moody name was mainly to be found in Antrim and in Down.  It was probably of Scottish origin. That was the case with William Moody who baptized his children in the Millrow Presbyterian church in Antrim in the 1680’s. Robert Moody and James Mudie appeared in the Ballykelly Presbyterian church records in Derry in 1700.

Thomas Moody of Longtown in county Antrim was the father of a long line of Moodys that served in the British army. Richard Moody, born in Barbados, was the first Governor of the Falkland islands and in the 1850’s gave his name to Port Moody in British Columbia.

America. There were three early Moody lines in New England, but they were not related:

  • the William and John Moody lines of Newbury and Roxbury, Massachusetts
  • and the Clement Moody line of Exeter, New Hampshire.

New England.  William Moody from Suffolk who arrived in Newbury in 1635 was by family tradition a blacksmith and “the first person in New England to shoe oxen to enable them to walk on ice.”

  • his son Caleb, a deacon, built the Moody House in West Newbury which remained in the possession of his descendants until 1937.
  • his grandson Samuel, also a deacon, was a preacher in the backwoods of Maine.

N.C. Pramberg’s 1986 book Four Generations of the Descendants of William Moody covered this line. A later descendant, born in Moody House, was William H. Moody, the US Secretary of the Navy in 1902. 

John Moody, also from Suffolk, came to Roxbury, Massachusetts with his wife Sarah in 1633. They removed to Hartford, Connecticut around the year 1639. Later Moodys via his son Samuel, and these included the 19th century evangelist and revivalist preacher D.L. Moody, moved to Hadley and then to Northfield in eastern Massachusetts.

Another Moody family from this line departed Massachusetts by ship and across Panama to Oregon territory in 1851. Zenas Moody started a shipping company there. In 1882 we was elected Governor of Oregon.

Clement Moody, born in Wenham, Massachusetts in 1661, made his home in Exeter, New Hampshire. Many of his descendants settled in Maine and Vermont, and some back in Massachusetts. Captain Clement Moody served in the Maine militia during the Revolutionary War.

Elsewhere.  A Moody line in Virginia began with a John Moody who was first recorded in Essex county in 1692. Colonel William Lewis Moody, born there in 1826, fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War and later moved to Texas where he was to found the Moody dynasty in Galveston. His son W.L Moody consolidated and expanded the Moody businesses. When he died in 1954 Time magazine proclaimed him as one of the ten wealthiest men in the country.

Caribbean. The Moodie name has been quite common in Jamaica, suggesting possibly a Scottish heritage. James Moodie was recorded as a minor in Jamaica in 1754. He may have been the same Moodie who graduated from Edinburgh medical college in 1762 and then perhaps returned to Jamaica as a physician.

The Moodie name often became Moody.  Thomas Moodie, for instance, was a tailor in Kingston in the 1860’s. His son Charles Moody was the head of a large family which included Harold who sailed to London in 1904 to study medicine. With the support of the Quakers, Harold established the League of Colored Peoples in 1931 to campaign for racial equality and civil rights.

South Africa. Benjamin Moodie from the Melsetter family in the Orkney led a group of Scottish Highlanders on the Brilliant to the Cape Colony as early as 1817. He later made his home in the Western Cape.

A younger brother Donald lived in the Eastern Cape and subsequently Natal, where he became Colonial Secretary.  A third brother John wrote the book Ten Years in South Africa in 1835, but he then left for marriage and settling in Canada.

John Moody from Winchester was among the English 1820 settlers. He died in 1841 in the Eastern Cape but left no children.

Moody Surname Miscellany

Edmund Moody of Bury St. Edmonds.  All that is known of him is that he was a footman in the retinue of King Henry VIII and that he saved him from drowning:

“In 1524 King Henry VIII was hunting, with Edmund Moody as his attendant. The king had let loose a falcon and rushed after it with a stout pole.  A ditch crossed his path and he attempted to leap it by vaulting. The pole broke and the king fell into the mire and water face downward, where he would have drowned had not Moody lifted him out.”

For this good and faithful service Edmund was made a gentleman.  By the early 1600’s the Moodys were woollen drapers in Bury St. Edmonds and maintained the Stonehall estate at Moulton nearby.

Edmund was said to have had two great grandsons, John and William, who emigrated to New England in the 1630’s.

The Moodies of Orkney.  According to The Moodie Book of 1906, tradition has fixed upon Harald Mac Mudah, the last Norse Jarl of Orkney, as the forefather of the Moodies there.  Instead these Moodies are thought to have been descended from Gilbert Moodie of Caldwell in Ayr whose brother William was the Bishop of Caithness and who “for ages held a high station among the gentry of the Orkney islands.”

The Moodies were at Snelsetter castle and Breakness in the Orkneys from about 1550.   Sometime around 1590 Adam Moodie the younger was, according to family tradition, drowned in the Pentland Firth while on his way to be married to the daughter of Mackay of Far.

In 1630 they made their primary home at Melsetter.  From 1700 onwards the heads of the family bore the first names of James and Benjamin alternatively without a break.

Sir James Moodie, a prominent sea captain and later an MP for Orkney, was at the age of 80 murdered on the streets of Kirkwall by a political opponent in 1725.  His widow Lady Christina, who had a tempestuous relationship with all around her, held onto the Melsetter estate until 1742 when she was forced to cede it to her son Benjamin.   In 1745 Melsetter House was sacked by the Jacobites during the Uprising.

When Melsetter was eventually sold in 1819 because of the weight of large debts, the three sons of the last laird all emigrated – to Cape Colony in the case of Benjamin, to Natal in the case of Daniel, and to Ontario in the case of John. Benjamin had in fact hoped to save Melsetter by initiating a scheme of assisted emigration to the Cape. These hopes did not materialize.  However, his grandson Tom Moodie later led a trek to Rhodesia in the 1890’s where he founded the town of Melsetter.

The Energies of Lady Moody in the New World.  In 1629 Lady Deborah Moody’s husband died, leaving her at the age of 43 in charge of what remained of their Wiltshire property at Avebury Manor.   However, she soon grew tired of this rural life and sailed up the river Thames to London.  Her religious beliefs brought her enemies there and she then decided to leave England with a small group of followers for the New World.

She arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in April 1640, joining the Salem church and becoming a follower of Roger Williams.  However, she ran into religious problems again in 1642. Governor John Winthop wrote:

“The Lady Moody, a wise and anciently religious woman, being taken with the error of denying baptism to infants, was dealt with by many of the elders and others and was admonished by the church of Salem wherof she was a member.  But persisting still and to remove further trouble, she removed to the Dutch against the advice of all her friends.  Many others, infected by anabaptism, removed thither also.  She was afterwards excommunicated.”

Lady Moody, it was said, was bold, relentless, and obstinate.

For a short while she lived in the colony opposite Welfare Island which today would be Sixteenth Street and York Avenue in Manhattan.   She later moved with her followers to Gravesend in the southwest corner of Long Island. Her plans there were temporarily disrupted in 1643 by Indian attacks.  But life returned to normal two years later and the Dutch granted her a charter for the town.  She laid out the town plans herself.

What is believed to be her home, on 27 Gravesend Neck Road, still stands.  She died in 1659 and her house was sold by her son Sir Henry to Dutch settlers.  Sir Henry soon departed for Virginia.  But some believe her ghost still haunts the place.

The Early Moodys in New England.  There were three major lines of Moody’s in New England all around the same time, all naming their children the same names who were all born around the same times and then, on top of that, they all lived in the same states and towns, even marrying into some of the same families.

This has caused a considerable amount of confusion among Moody genealogists, not to mention the countless number of old genealogies which have reported links that are now being found out via DNA results not to have been correct.

The Clement Moody line of Exeter, New Hampshire has no links via bloodlines to the William or John Moody lines of Newbury, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut respectively.  Also William and John Moody were not blood cousins, at least as has been shown from the DNA testing results.

W.L. Moody and the Moody Mansion.  The Great Storm of 1900 brought devastation to the town of Galveston on the Gulf Coast.  The storm brought with it a water surge of over 15 feet which washed over the entire island. This surge knocked buildings off their foundations and the surf pounded them to pieces.  The residents were mainly unprepared and it was estimated that the death toll approached 8,000.

Over 3,600 homes were destroyed and the storm left behind a wall of debris.  The few buildings which survived were mostly the solidly built mansions and houses along the Strand District.

Among these buildings was an opulent 28,000 square foot, four-story limestone and brick structure that had been completed just five years previously for the Willis family.  W.L Moody bought the home from their heirs shortly after the storm, reportedly for ten cents on the dollar.  The Moodys and their four children were able to celebrate Christmas in their new home in December of that year.

The storm also proved beneficial to W.L Moody in another way. His business had been primarily in cotton factoring.  Changed circumstances encouraged him to diversify into insurance and banking which made the Moodys even wealthier.

The Moody Mansion remained home for Moody family members until 1986.  Today its rooms are still filled with the furnishings and personal effects of the family. 

The Moodys of Kingston.  Charles Ernest Moody (or Moodie) was in the early 1890’s the proprietor of the Union Drug Store at 29 West Parade in Kingston.  It seemed to be at that time a popular hangout place for talking Jamaican politics. The Daily Gleaner of June 4, 1897 reported that “one of the Inspectors of Nuisance sat in Moodie’s office on the Parade for two or three hours every day, reading newspapers and discussing politics.”

At the time of his death in 1920, the Gleaner report contained the following:

“From small beginnings, and on strictly Christian principles, Mr. Moody with the co-operation of a thoroughly capable and devoted wife, built up a thriving business as a druggist and dispensing chemist. These notes, however, would be most incomplete were no reference made in them to the truly noble and self-sacrificing efforts made by Mr. and Mrs. Moody in the upbringing and educating of their children.”

They raised four sons – Harold, Charles, Ludlow, and Ronald – and one daughter Elise.  Harold and Ronald were to achieve recognition in London, Harold as a physician and civil rights campaigner and Ronald as a sculptor.

Moody Names

  • Sir James Moodie of Melsetter was a Royal Naval Commodore and later MP for the Orkneys. 
  • Colonel W.L. Moody was the forebear of the Moody dynasty in Galveston, Texas. 
  • John Moody was the founder of Moody’s Investors Service and Moody’s Rating Agency.  
  • Helen Wills Moody was an American tennis player of the 1930’s who won 19 Grand Slam titles.
  • Clyde Moody, known as the Hillbilly Waltz King, was one of the pioneers of American Bluegrass music.

Moody Numbers Today

  • 17,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota)
  • 10,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Moody and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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