Moran Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Moran Surname Meaning

Moran is the anglicized form of two distinct Irish Gaelic sept names – O’Morain and O’Moghrain – in Connacht.  The root here is the personal byname Morain or Morann, from mor meaning “great” or “large.” The first Morann appeared at a very early stage in Irish history.

Morán, based on a place-name, is also a Spanish surname (some 20,000 Morans in Spain today).  Andres Morán de Butron brought the name to Ecuador in the 16th century and it is now found in South America from Mexico to Argentina.  Morin is a French and Acadian name that became Moran in Mississippi.

Moran Surname Resources on The Internet

Moran Surname Ancestry

IrelandMost Morans in county Mayo are descended from the O’Morain sept whose ancient kingdom was in north Mayo, surrounding the modern town of Ballina.  It appears that Moran-Mor first established the O’Morains at Ardnaree on the Moy riverbank opposite Ballina in the early 800’s.   By the 12th century they were known as the O’Morains of Ardnaree.

The abandoned church cemetery at Cong on the Mayo/Galway border is reportedly full of O’Morain tombstones dating back to the 14th century.

Following the Norman invasion, their territory was usurped by the Barretts and Burkes and the sept lost its central organization.  The modern distribution of the surname within Mayo suggests that the Morans spread southwards and today are chiefly found in the central area of the county, particularly in the barony of Carra.

Moran is a Connacht name and was found elsewhere in Connacht, notably around Elphin in north Roscommon where they were first known as O’Moghrain.  Today the main Moran presence is to be found in Mayo, Roscommon and Leitrim.

Morans were among the “wild geese” that fled Ireland after the old Gaelic order crashed.  William Moran had arrived in France as early as 1641; while Captain Patrick Moran was recorded with Count Mahoney’s Regiment of the Irish Brigade in 1712.  But the most famous example was that of James O’Moran from Roscommon who had joined the Irish Brigade in the 1760’s.

“In the famous defense of Dunkirk in 1793, when 3,000 French army troops successfully resisted the 35,000 English and allies under the Duke of York, General O’Moran played a conspicuous role.”

Sadly he fell out with the French revolutionaries of the time and was guillotined a year later. Many more Morans departed Ireland in the 19th century, particularly at the time of the potato famine.  Barney Moran and his family, for instance, left Mayo for Boston in 1847.  They moved to Marilla in upstate New York nine years later.

Morans later were conspicuous in the struggle for Irish independence:

  • D.P. Moran from Waterford founded The Leader, a newspaper which he published from 1900 until 1910 and had a strong influence on the Irish nationalist cause. 
  • Paddy Moran from Roscommon joined the IRA’s Dublin Brigade and was imprisoned after the 1916 Easter Uprising.  Four years later he was caught up in the sweeps following Bloody Sunday and was executed for the killing of a British agent he probably did not do (his story was told in May Moran’s 2011 book Executed for Ireland). There is a park in the Dublin area at Dun Laoghaire named Moran Park in his honor.
  • while Jim Moran from Mayo joined the IRA locally around 1917 when he was just eighteen. Five years later he was shot dead during the Irish Civil War.  

Micheal O’Morain, born in 1912, came from a strong Republican family in Mayo that had fought in the Irish War of Independence and in the Irish Civil War on the pro-treaty side.  He became a Fianna Fail politician who served in several Irish Cabinet positions between 1957 and 1970.

England.  Many Morans sought refuge in England and in particular in Lancashire which accounted for almost half of the Morans in England in the 1881 census.

However, two early Moran families were more noteworthy for having left Lancashire.

James Moran was a Frankist Jewish rabbi who had come to Liverpool in the 1790’s.  Both his sons left – Simon Moran to Wicklow in Ireland in the 1830’s and John Moran to Australia in 1841.  His grandson Patrick Moran in Wicklow became a Catholic bishop in South Africa and New Zealand. 

Thomas and Mary Moran meanwhile were descendants of a long line of handloom weavers in Bolton.  Desperate times for weavers there forced the family to emigrate to Philadelphia in 1844.  Three of their sons excelled as painters.  One son Thomas Moran became famous as a painter of the American West. 

Some Morans from Ireland worked as farm laborers in Lancashire, such as William Moran and his family who came to Ormskirk around 1850.  But Liverpool was a major draw and many more settled there. Ronnie Moran, born in the Liverpool suburb of Crosby in 1934, became a fixture at Liverpool football club for fifty years – as a player, coach and twice as a stand-inmanager. 

America.  Gabriel Moran was an early Moran in America. His family line was covered in Patrick Moran’s 1995 book Moran Exodus from Offaly.  Gabriel came to Maryland, first appearing in Charles county records in 1714, and prospered there as a tobacco planter.   

His son William and James, possibly a cousin, had settled in North Carolina by the 1770’s, William in Halifax county and James in New Hanover county where he was a Justice of the Peace. Their descendants were to be found in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Another line through Robert Moran is thought to have migrated in the 1820’s to Taylor county in what would become West Virginia.  Robert died there of typhoid fever in 1846.  But Morans are still there today.   

Thomas Henry Moran from Irish Morans who had settled in France came to Virginia sometime in the 1770’s. He became a circuit-riding Baptist minister in North Carolina.  His son Marmaduke followed him in his ministry.  He was very active in Arkansas and was the progenitor of Moran families in Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas.

The 19th century saw two Morans who built business empires in America.

Michael Moran arrived in Brooklyn in 1863.  From the money he saved while working on the Erie Canal, he started out running two tugboats in New York harbor.  Moran Towing & Transportation Company is now the largest tugboat company in the world.  Michael’s descendants, mainly those through his son Eugene, held a family reunion in Brooklyn in 2010.

“Eugene Moran became known as the Dean of the Harbor during his long career running the company.  He was described as “the Elegant Tugman” by a New Yorker magazine writer.”  

Robert Moran was born in New York City in 1857, the grandson of Irish immigrants who had arrived in the 1820’s and worked as machinists.  He was just eighteen when he departed New York in 1875 almost penniless for Seattle, then a frontier outpost of the Pacific Northwest.  He started there a ship repair business which turned into a major shipbuilding operation as shipping demand grew after the Yukon gold rush.

Among other Morans who arrived around that time were:

  • James Moran who came to Grundy county, Illinois in the 1850’s.  He helped to build the Illinois and Michigan Canal and Rock Island Railroad and later farmed.  He died in Grundy county in 1914 at the age of a hundred and eleven, possibly the oldest man in America at that time. 
  • the brothers James and John Moran who came to Pennsylvania from county Mayo in the 1860’s to work in the coal mines.  James Moran departed to farm in western Kansas in 1879, although it proved a struggle.   
  • the brothers Anthony and James Moran who also arrived in Pennsylvania from Mayo in the 1860’s and also found work in the coal mines.  Both they and their wives were illiterate.  By 1880 they had moved to Iowa, apparently preferring the farming life.  
  • and Mike Moran who arrived in New York from Leitrim in 1903 and found work there as a bricklayer.  Around 1914 he heard about free land in Montana and moved to stake a claim.  There he met a beautiful Irish lass whom he married.  He worked as a house builder in Montana and later in Oklahoma City.

There was one Moran family not from Ireland.  They were French-Canadian Acadians who had been exiled by the British in 1755. A Morin family had ended up in the 1770’s at Biloxi in Mississippi where they became Moran.  Jean Baptiste Moran made his home on Cat Island, Joseph Moran on the back bay of Biloxi. 

Canada. Matthias Moran was the progenitor of the Moran shipbuilding family in New Brunswick.  He was a Loyalist soldier from New York state who in 1783 was one of the original settlers of St. Martin’s, New Brunswick.  He started building small ships there.  The business expanded under his son James Moran and his grandson James H. Moran.  

“The little village of St. Martin’s was to become the third largest producer of wooden sailing vessels on the eastern seaboard of North America. And the Morans had one of Atlantic Canada’s largest fleets by the 1870’s.”  

Various Moran families from Ireland were to be found in Leeds county, Ontario by the 1850’s and 1860’s.  Anthony Moran, a farmer, was recorded there in 1852 but had moved to Simcoe county by 1861.  John Moran, probably his brother, had remained in Leeds county, however.

Australia.  Two Moran brothers, Michael and Patrick, were convicted with others under the Whiteboys Act in Galway in 1832.  They were transported to Sydney on the Eliza.  Michael died in 1848, Patrick lived longer and was the father of seven children.

Michael Moran arrived in Sydney in 1877 and, after some early struggles, was a successful baker there.  His son Herbert Moran, better known as Paddy, became renowned as a sportsman and later for his medical practice and public speaking.  His son Patrick was a distinguished academic.

Moran Surname Miscellany

The First Morann.  Morann from Connacht was recorded as the son of the 101st ruler of Ireland, Carbri Cinn Cait, at around the time of Christ.  During his father’s reign he became known as a great Brehon (lawgiver), eventually serving as the Chief Justice of Ireland.  His work was in direct contrast to his father’s brutal and harsh rule.

Known as the Just Judge, Morann was renowned for the wisdom in his judgments.  He wore something known as the Iodhan Moran (Moran’s Collar).  It was an ornamental collar made of gold.  Chief Justices through the ages wore the collar which it was said would choke the wearer if were about to give an unjust decision.

Morann was also known in Irish history as the first to believe in a single all-powerful god, before the arrival of Christianity.  When Saint Patrick codified Irish law in about 400 AD in a work known as the Senchus Mor (The Great Law), Morann was mentioned very favorably.

However, the efforts by the Irish historian John O’Hart in his 1876 book Irish Pedigrees to link this first Morann with the Morans who became prominent in Mayo around the year 800 are considered rather fanciful today..

The Moran Presence in Connacht.  Moran is an anglicized Connacht name, with its main presence in county Mayo. But the name has cropped up elsewhere in Connacht as well.

The Morans of Roscommon reportedly date back to Mughron, the progenitor of five chiefs named O’Moghrain, who was born in 841.  They were based near the modern village of Elphin in north Roscommon.  Lough Moran near Elphin was named for this family.

O’Moghrain was also the chief at Criffon in Galway. The Galway sept was a minor branch of Ui Maine, an ancient population group of mid Galway and south Roscommon.

Then there were the MacMoruinn of Fermanagh, whose name was anglicised as MacMoran and later to Moran; while an Offaly clan, O’Murchain (sea warriors), anglicized their name to Morahan, Morrin and Moran.

Reader Feedback – Simon Moran in Wicklow.  I am from county Wicklow and have for some time been researching the Moran families that lived around my part of Wicklow.  One of these families were the family of Simon Moran, whose son Patrick became a Catholic bishop in Cape Town and New Zealand.

Although the first record I have for Simon Moran was his marriage in Rathdrum in 1818 I have always been of the belief he was part of the Moran family that had lived in the area from at least 1750’s. He was buried in Glendalough beside an earlier generation of the local Moran family.  However, earlier this year I became aware of a reference to Simon’s father James being a Frankist Jewish Rabbi who had been living in Liverpool.

Margaret Connolly (

Jim Moran – Our Little Hero.  Jim Moran was shot down during the Irish Civil War in 1923 at the age of twenty-four.

When his coffin was brought into Newport they opened it for his mother.  She mopped his brow with her handkerchief and kept it till the day she died.  She also asked to talk to the young soldier who shot him so she could forgive him.  She was proud of her family’s stand for freedom and was often heard singing The Tricoloured Ribbon O while spinning and weaving.

His requiem mass took place in St. Patrick’s Parish Church in Newport, Mayo.  The Mayo News for March 24, 1923 reported:

“His funeral to the family burial ground in historic Burrishoole was an impressive one. The coffin draped in the tri-color was borne on the shoulders of the young men of the district.  Considering the disturbing -times a surprisingly large number of young men marched to the graveside, followed by a large number of ladies carrying wreaths with ‘Our Little Hero’ written on them.  Several rosaries were recited on the way.”

He was buried in the grave with his grandparents Tom Timothy Moran and Honor Heverin looking out on the Burrishoole river.  Neither the members of the family or the priest who officiated were named in the Mayo News article, a sign of the troubled times.

Reader Feedback – Morans in Taylor County, West Virginia.  My line here goes back as follows:

  • James Ernest Moran (G-Father)
  • Edgar Smith Moran (GGF)
  • Perry Moran (GGGF)
  • Robert Moran (GGGGF).

James Moran (

The Thomas Moran House on Long Island.  The Thomas Moran House was the East Hampton home of Thomas Moran, an American painter of the Hudson River School, best known for his landscape paintings in the American West.

Moran’s watercolor paintings from the 1871 first survey of Yellowstone are credited with leading to the creation of the first National Park.  His landscape paintings of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and others have hung in the US Capitol building and in the Oval Office of the White House.

The Thomas Moran House was constructed in 1884.  It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

James Moran’s Farming Travails in Kansas.  In 1879 James Moran had decided to leave the coal mines of Pennsylvania for a newer and freer life on the open Kansas prairies. Leaving the railroad at Hays City, he homesteaded with his family in a place two miles north of Nekoma in Brookdale township. He had secured there a small stone house, built in the style of a dugout with a single room and a dirt floor and dirt roof.

James Moran had a cash capital of perhaps $50 when he arrived in Rush county.  He remembered how in Ireland the small farmers spaded up patches of ground and planted garden stuff and he determined to try the same methods in Kansas.

Nothing came of his efforts, and failing in that direction he next hired a man to break the sod.  Even in that he was bent on having his own way.  He commanded the plowman to follow him with the team and plow.  He started off and soon began to circle, and after two days of such circle plowing the man rebelled and quit, saying he would not plow after that fashion notwithstanding he was being paid for it.

About that time necessity compelled him to leave his agricultural experimenting and he decided to resume his trade as a coal miner.  He first went to the coal fields of Colorado and also worked in the mines of Eastern Kansas, spending several winters in that way.

Around 1885 he was able to buy some cattle. But it was a number of years before he had any success as a farmer. Yet in one area he did have a conspicuous success – in the raising of chickens.  It was said he was able to get more eggs from his chickens than anyone else in the county. This was accounted for by the reason that he gave them a meat diet of boiled jack rabbits.

In the course of some twenty years he seemed to have reformed and adapted his methods so as to get crops from his land and in time he became a very successful wheat raiser.  By 1903 he harvested a banner crop.

Herbert Moran Better Known as Paddy.  Herbert Moran, better known as Paddy, grew up in Sydney and was educated at Darlington Public School, St Aloysius’ College and St Joseph’s.  He studied medicine at Sydney University, graduating in 1907 and later acquiring a master’s degree in surgery.

He played virtually no football at school and began seriously only when he was shamed into it for being “slack” when a third-year medical student. Within a few years he was captain of the first Wallabies rugby team to tour Britain in 1908/09.  He also was a competitor in the 1908 Olympic Games held in London.

He fought at Gallipoli during World War One and survived. Afterwards he wrote a book, Viewless  Winds, about his war experience.

Moran had a notable surgical career.  His great interest lay in cancer research and the then new use of gamma irradiation through the medium of metallic radium.  In this he was far ahead of his time.  He travelled widely, published in journals, and studied and lectured in many parts of the world.

Reader Feedback – Thomas Moran from Ireland to New York.  My great grandfather Thomas Joseph Moran left Ballina in county Mayo in 1888 for New York City. He never learned to read or write.

I became a doctor and Assistant Professor of Dentistry at Boston University. I am also the author of fourteen collections of poetry and was appointed Poet Laureate of Suffolk county, NY in 2005. I believe I owe all of my successes to my GGF and wonder what he would think were he alive today.

Daniel Moran (

Moran Names

  • Michael Moran, better known by his nickname of Zozimus, was blinded in infancy and made his living on the streets of Dublin in the early 19th century with his recitations and ballads. 
  • Thomas Moran who arrived in America in 1844 became famous as a painter of the American West. 
  • Robert Moran was a prominent Seattle shipbuilder who served as the city’s mayor from 1888 to 1890. 
  • Bugs Moran, born Adelard Cunin, was a Chicago gangster rival to Al Capone who narrowly escaped death in the 1929 Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.   
  • Kevin Moran is the only sportsperson ever to win both All-Ireland Gaelic football medals (with Dublin in 1976 and 1977) and English FA cup medals (with Manchester United in 1983 and 1985).

Moran Numbers Today

  • 20,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 27,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 23,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Ireland)




Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *