Moore Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Moore Surname Meaning

If your name is Moore, you could have English, Scottish or Irish roots. And in each place the derivation of the name is different.

In England the main derivation is from the Middle English mere, meaning moor or marsh. Various places took this name, such as Moore in Cheshire and More in Shropshire. Moore and, to a lesser extent later, More became surnames.

Moore might also have developed as a nickname from Moor (as in Othello the Moor), denoting someone of a swarthy or dark-skinned complexion. In addition, the Normans brought the name More (from St. Maurus) with them to England. However, this particular saint did not seem to have appealed much to the English.

In Scotland the Gaelic mor signified “large” so that Moore, as this or similar names developed, would probably at one time have been a nickname for a heavily-built man. The spelling of the name varied around the country.  Muir was mostly to be found in Ayrshire and the southwest; Moore in the Highlands; Moir in Aberdeen; and Moar in the Orkneys and Shetlands.

In Ireland the derivation is different again, Moore being an anglicization of the Gaelic Mordha clan name. Mordha means “proud” in Gaelic. Ireland did also have some English Moores.

Moore Surname Resources on The Internet

Moore, More and Muir Surname Ancestry

  • to England (Lancashire and Yorkshire), Scotland and Ireland
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  More was the early spelling.  William de More appeared in Staffordshire rolls in the 1086 Domesday Book. Sir Thomas de la More of Northmoor was sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1370 and John More from London held More Hall in Hertfordshire in 1390.

The More name achieved a national importance during the reign of Henry VIII. Thomas More, the son of a London barrister, gained renown as the author of Utopia.  He became Henry VIII’s Chancellor but incurred the King’s disfavor and lost his head in 1535.

Sir Christopher More from Derbyshire fared better in London, making money from the dissolution of the monasteries. His son William was a trusted advisor of Queen Elizabeth and built his family mansion, Losely House, in Surrey (which still stands today).

Moore.  The Moores of Bank Hall in Liverpool were perhaps the first to make the transition from More to Moore.  Randle de la More in the first half of the 13th century may have been the first of this line and Sir William de la More fought with the Black Prince at Poitiers in 1356.  However, it was Thomas Moore so named who held the office of mayor of Liverpool several times between 1382 and 1407.

These Moores were the early principal landholders in Liverpool.  By the 17th century this family were strongly Protestant (John Moore was a staunch supporter of Oliver Cromwell), but had become heavily indebted.  They had to be bailed out through loans and property sales.  After that time it was the cadet Moore branch at Appleby Parva in Leicestershire that became more prominent.

The Moore name had been gradually supplanting More in England over time.  By the 19th century, the largest number of Moores were to be found in the north, in Lancashire and Yorkshire.

A Moores family had been bricklayers in Lancashire since the early 1800’s.  John Moores, born into this family in 1896, became famous in Liverpool for starting up Littlewoods pools and mail order business and owning the Everton football club.  His nephew David Moores was a major shareholder in Liverpool football club until 2007.

Two notable Moores from Yorkshire have been:

  • Henry Moore the sculptor who was born in Castleford in 1898 to an Irish coal pit manager
  • and Captain Tom Moore, born in Keighley in 1920, who won the nation’s hearts with his walk for charity during the pandemic as he approached his 100th birthday.

There have also been sizeable Moore pockets in London, the West Midlands, and in Devon.

Scotland. The name Moore and its variants spread around Scotland from the 1300’s, particularly in areas where Old Norse was still spoken. Robertus More, for instance, became a burgess of Aberdeen in 1317.

The most notable of these families was the Mures (later Muirs) of Ayrshire who held sway at Rowallan castle from 1300 to 1700 when the male line died out. One of these Mures was called the Rud of Rowallane, being large in stature, very strong and prone to pugilism (as befitting a mor).

One Muir line at Campbeltown in Argyll dated back to William Muir in 1701.  John Muir, a shoemaker, moved to Glasgow in the early 1800’s; while Robert Muir joined the British army, fought in the Crimea, and afterwards settled in England.

A Muir family held the Huntershill estate at Kirkintilloch north of Glasgow in the late 1700’s.  From this family came William Muir, the so-called Campsie poet, and Thomas Muir, a campaigner for democratic change.  In 1793 Thomas was arrested for sedition and banished to Australia.  He escaped in 1796, made his way to France, was hailed as a hero there and made a citizen of France.

Ireland. The Ua Mordha (O’Mores) were the leading clan of the seven septs of Leix. They were for many centuries thorns to the English invaders. In 1609 the English transplanted the remnants of the clan to county Kerry in the hopes that the clan would die out. Rory O’More led the last hurrah, being one of the key figures in a plot to capture Dublin in the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

His name is commemorated today in the Rory O’More bridge which spans the Liffey in Dublin. His name also appears in a popular Irish folk song which begins as follows:

  • “Young Rory O’More courted Kathleen Bawn
  • He was bold as a hawk and she soft as the dawn
  • He wished in his heart pretty Kathleen to please
  • And he thought the best way to do that to tease.”

Another O’More song, Kathleen O’More, is a ballad narrated by an unidentified man lamenting the death of his sweetheart.

English Moores.  There were English Moores in Ireland as well:

  • the Moores of Barmeath arrived in the 14th century
  • the Moores of Barne in Tipperary in the 1600’s.

But the most well-known of these Moores were the Moores of Moore Hall in county Mayo. Their wealth came from a trading business out of Alicante in Spain. Later generations were prominent as historians and writers.

Today the largest clusters of Moores in Ireland are in the Ulster counties of Antrim and Down.

America. Thomas Moore from Suffolk was one of the first arrivals in New England, reaching Salem in 1630.  Francis Moore, also from Suffolk, came to Massachusetts in the 1630’s, with his son Samuel being an early settler in New Jersey.

Southern Moores.  Moores arrived as well into Virginia and later spread south.

From Richard Moore, a ship’s carpenter who had been appointed British Governor of Bermuda in 1612, came Edmund Moore who immigrated to Virginia in 1652 and Samuel Moore, an early Pitt county settler.  This line was covered in Churchill Moore’s 1964 book Samuel Moore and Descendants of Pitt County, North Carolina.

James Moore was the colonial Governor of South Carolina in 1700 (there is a belief among historians that he was the son of the Irish rebellion leader Rory O’More). His grandson Robert Moore was an American general in the Revolutionary War; while Alfred Moore of this family served on the US Supreme Court from 1799 to 1804.

Augustine Moore was a highly successful tobacco entrepreneur in Virginia in the early 1700’s who built his Chelsea plantation near Yorktown. The attempt to link him to the English statesman Sir Thomas More was based on forged documents.

John Moore from North Carolina had fought in the Revolutionary War and then migrated to the Wiregrass district of SW Georgia around the year 1805.  Some later Moores settled in Florida.  Their forebears had been Irish O’Mores from county Antrim who had come to Pennsylvania in the 1720’s.

Another John Moore, born in Virginia, was the father of Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Tilghman Moore who fought during the Civil War on the Confederate side.  He offered his home in Winchester, Virginia to General Stonewall Jackson to serve as a wartime HQ.  One of his descendants, the actress Mary Tyler Moore, helped to pay for the restoration of this home.

Meanwhile Robert Moore moved from Georgia to Blount county, Alabama in 1865 and the town of Susan Moore there was named after his family.

Muirs.  Two later Scottish Muir immigrants later made lasting contributions to their new countries:

  • John Muir came to Wisconsin with his parents in the 1850’s. He spent his life in the unspoilt terrain of the West and became an advocate for forest conservation. He was responsible for the establishment of the Yosemite National Park and was the first president of the Sierra Club.
  • and Alexander Muir who immigrated to Canada as a child in the 1840’s wrote the song The Maple Leaf Forever.

Canada. Early Moore settlers in Canada were Empire Loyalists:

  • James Moore from Scotland was among the Loyalists that departed Long Island for New Brunswick in 1783.  He settled with his family in the King’s county area where he died in 1820.
  • Samuel Moore of New Jersey – a descendant of early immigrant Francis Moore – was deemed a Loyalist and had his property confiscated.  He moved to Nova Scotia in 1783 and then crossed with his family to Ontario in the early 1800’s.
  • while the Quaker Jeremiah Moore had been “a great sufferer during the American War on account of his attachment to Great Britain,” according to his 1795 petition for land. He settled in Pelham township, Ontario.

A later arrival from Vermont was David Moore in 1808.  He started a small sawmill in the Hull area of Quebec. His son David became a big lumber baron in the 1860’s.

William Moore, Scots Irish from Dublin, joined his sister Jane in Canada in the early 1820’s.  He married and he and his wife Margaret were among the first settlers in the Perreton area along the Ottawa river.

Australia. Edward Moore and his wife Elizabeth were convicted in Manchester for forgery and transported to Australia in 1818. On release they began farming at Camden near Sydney and prospered.

Their seven children raised large families and contributed to the rapid development of the Camden region. Descendants are scattered across Australia, the most prominent being the fourth generation Tom Inglis Moore, a Professor of English Literature and a pioneer in the study of Australian literature.

Moore Surname Miscellany

More Hall in Hertfordshire.  In 1390 John More of London held the manor and in 1500 it was held by Sir John More, the father of the famous Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor.  He is said to have written Utopia there.

After his trial and execution in 1535, the property was confiscated.  Queen Mary in the first year of her reign granted a reversion to the Mores after existing leases had expired, to Anne More, the widow of John More (Sir Thomas’s eldest son).

The Moores and Their Devon Wooden Ships.  In 1815 there were said to be seven shipbuilders along Sutton Pool in Plymouth.  The largest of these was Joseph Moore’s yard at the end of the Friary Street which led into the harbor from Exeter Street.  This business had been started up by Joseph’s father William in the 1750’s.

Ownership of the yard subsequently passed to William Moore and then, in 1850, to his son William Foster Moore.  He carried on the business for another twenty years.  However, by the mid-1870’s with iron ships becoming the norm, he decided that he would not be building iron ships and closed the yard down.  He himself was getting on in years and he did have an offer on his yard site.

Moirs in Aberdeen.  Moir (from the Gaelic mor) has been the most common spelling of the surname in Aberdeen – although it was pronounced More (and this and Moore and Moer were other local spellings of the name).  James Moir was the burgess of Aberdeen in 1495.  His grandson John became the first laird of Stoneywood.  Another Moir branch were lairds at Scotstown.

These Highland Moirs backed the Jacobite cause in 1715 and again in 1745, both times on the losing side. After the defeat at Culloden, James Moir of Stoneywood was a wanted man and he fled with his brother to Scandinavia.

However, the families showed some resilience later.  On his return to Scotland, James Moir was instrumental in starting up a paper mill on his Stoneywood land in 1770 (there is today a paper mill retail outlet at this location).

George Moir of Scotstown departed for Bahia in Brazil in the early 1800’s where he became a successful merchant.  On his return he had accumulated enough money to acquire a country estate, Denmore Park.  He lived there growing rhodedendrums in his garden until his death in 1885.

Rory O’More and The 1641 Rebellion.  The prime mover of the 1641 Rebellion was Rory O’More, a descendant of the princely house of Dunamase.

The plans for the rebellion, unfortunately, were betrayed and Rory only escaped with difficulty.  However, the rebellion did break out and soon spread across the whole country.  Rory succeeded in inducing the Catholic Anglo-Irish nobility to join forces with their fellow countrymen.

The following is a rendition of a contemporary poem of the time:

“Then a private gentleman, with no resources beyond his intellect and his courage, this Rory, when Ireland was weakened by defeat and confiscation and guarded with a jealous care constantly increasing in strictness and severity, conceived the vast design of rescuing the country from England; and even accomplished it.

For in three years England did not retain a city in Ireland but Dublin and Drogheda and for eight years the land was possessed and the supreme authority exercised by the confederation created by O’More.  History contains no stricter instance of the influence of an individual mind.”

But Dunamase fell into the hands of Cromwell’s General Hewson in 1650.  He blew the castle up (the hill from which he bombarded the old fortress is still known as Hewson’s hill).  Rory O’More fought on in defense of his country until his last stronghold fell.  He escaped to the mainland and died, an outlaw with a price on his head, on the shores of Lough Foyle in 1656.

The Moore Family in Fairfax, Virginia.  This forebear of this family was the Rev. Jeremiah Moore, a veteran of the Revolutionary War and a Baptist preacher who was known for his advocacy of religious freedom.  He and his wife and eleven children lived on his Moorefield farm in present-day Vienna.

It was his grandson Thomas who moved to Fairfax where he purchased Moore House (which, as the Sweet Life Café, still stands). Thomas fought in the Mexican War and joined the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War.  After the war, he restarted his law practice and was active in local life and politics.

His son Walton followed him into this profession, practicing law in Fairfax for over fifty years.  He was elected to Congress in 1919 and served until 1931. He was known as an “independent Democrat,” as he refused to join the Byrd Organization which ran Virginia politics at that time.

In 1933, he joined the cabinet of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of State.  He served in that post until 1940 and died the following year.  While Assistant Secretary, he occasionally entertained President & Mrs. Roosevelt at his house.  He boasted that he was the only man in U.S. history to have shaken hands with Jefferson Davis and Franklin Roosevelt during his lifetime.

Susan Moore and the Moore Family in Alabama.  The book The Moore Family of Alabama by Marie Jackson and Max Pate was published in 2012. The family history starts with an overview of the Zachariah Moore family.   With roots in South Carolina, Zachariah Moore and his wife Mary Still married and resided in Walton County, Georgia where they reared 10 children. Some of the Zachariah Moore children migrated to Texas, while some remained in Georgia.  Four brothers fought together in the Civil War.

The eldest son, Robert M. Moore, came to Blount county, Alabama in the 1860’s.  The authors present the history of Robert M. Moore and his descendants and illustrate the impact of this pioneer family through story, historical photos, and genealogy.

A documentary of life on the Moore farm with its tenant homes and sharecroppers is one highlight of the book.  The story of Susan Moore, the person; Susan Moore, the school; and Susan Moore, the town weaves a thread throughout the book.

Moores, Pioneer Settlers Along the Ottawa River.  In 1836 the Moore family came up the Ottawa river by boat and landed at what is now Chaffey’s Corners.  They made camp in the bush with no neighbors for many miles, for they were the first settlers in the Perretton area.

William and Margaret‘s first home was a small log cabin and the family lived in it for ten years while he cleared the land and sowed the first crops, erected fences and all the usual work of a pioneer.  William’s small energetic wife used to ride to Ottawa on horseback to buy supplies for the winter which they could now grow themselves. She also spun yarn and wove cloth for she had a loom.

In 1846 they bought a new lot through the Crown Lands Office in Perth.  A new and better house was then built of stone and logs.  As more settlers arrived William was able to get business as a blacksmith. An old Indian trail crossed his land.

As the family grew, another log house, vacated by a hired man, was pulled up to the first log house and joined to it by a narrow wooden structure which probably served as a hall between the houses.  By this rather unusual arrangement, they doubled their living space.

Moore Names

  • Sir Thomas More was the English lawyer, author of Utopia, and the statesman beheaded by Henry VIII in 1535.
  • Francis Moore, the court astrologer, came from a poor family in Shropshire. He first produced Old Moore’s Almanack in 1697. It is still published today.
  • Thomas Moore is an Irish 19th century poet from Kerry best known today for his Irish Melodies.
  • John Muir, an early advocate of conservation in America, was the founder of the Sierra Club.
  • Marianne Moore was a 20th century American poet.
  • Henry Moore was the acclaimed English sculptor of the 20th century.
  • Bobby Moore was the English football captain who lifted the 1966 World Cup.
  • Dudley Moore, one of the performers in the comic stage review Beyond The Fringe, went on to star in movies in the 1970’s.  His Moore’s Law famously predicted the growth in computer chips.
  • Gordon Moore was a founder of Intel which introduced the microprocessor in 1971.  Moore’s Law famously predicted the subsequent rate of growth in computer chips.
  • Mary Tyler Moore was the popular star of the TV series The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
  • Demi Moore is a well-known American actress.

Moore Numbers Today

  • 144,000 in the UK (most numerous in Yorkshire)
  • 263,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 95,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

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Written by Colin Shelley

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