Morris Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Morris Surname Meaning

The surname Morris derived in England from the personal name Maurice which was introduced to Britain by the Normans. Maurice, the name of some early Christian saints, was the learned spelling of the name, Morice its more common form.

The English Morris name may have been mixed in Wales with the Welsh personal name Meurig (with a hard ending) or with Mawr Rhys (a Welsh prince of the 12th century) sometime during the 15th century.

The root of the “morris” in the English folk “morris dancing” is different. It came from the Spanish moresca dance from the Moors, first brought to the English court in the 16th century. However, it is possible that the surname Morris could sometimes have been a nickname, from Moorish to describe someone with a swarthy complexion.

Morris Surname Resources on The Internet

Morris Surname Ancestry

  • from Western England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland (Galway)
  • to America, Canada, Caribs (Jamaica) and Australia

England. Nicholas Morris was recorded as the Abbot of Waltham Abbey in Essex from 1371 to 1390.  The Morice name applied to a family from Royden in Essex in the early 1500’s at the court of Henry VII. Another family of that name at Werrington in Devon had Welsh ancestry.

West of England.  Morris became a common name in the English border counties. The town that is said to have the most Morrises per square mile is Bishop’s Town, just by the border of Wales in Shropshire. Overwhelmingly they are likely to be rural people, mainly farmers.

One of the earliest records of the name there (reflecting the Welsh influence) was a Hugo Morys, son of Maurice ap Phelip, in the 1450 Shropshire rolls. In the 1720’s Robert Morris moved from Shropshire to Wales to help start a copper works in Swansea.  His son John built an industrial village for his workers called Morriston that still exists today.

A Morris family of Clifford Chambers and Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire dated from the 1540’s. Later Morrises were contemporary with Shakespeare at Stratford. The family remained there in succeeding centuries, although Samuel Morris of this family emigrated to South Carolina in the 1780’s.

The main numbers of Morrises in England seem to have been in a line running north from Shropshire into Lancashire. The name has also cropped up on the Isle of Wight in southern England.

Wales. Many of the early Morrises were from north Wales, such as the Morris family of Llanfihangel Tre’r Beirdd in Anglesey and the brothers Edward and Hugh Morris, the 17th century Welsh bards and sons of Morris ap Edward from Perthi LLwydion in Denbighshire.

Some in Caernarvonshire who took English surnames initially adopted the more formal Maurice name.  Sir William Maurice of Clenennau, a member of an old Caernarvon family, was the son of Moris ap Elise.  The line from Morus ap Griffydd of Aberdaron went to Henry Maurice, the minister who transformed himself from Anglican rector to Dissenting preacher in 1670.

The Morris family of Tintern in Monmouthshire was a supporter of Parliament during the Civil War. After the Restoration two Morris brothers left for Barbados in the Caribbean. The younger brother Richard later moved onto New York with great success. Another Morris found mixed fortunes in St. Vincent. Colonel Valentine Morris returned from St. Vincent in 1736 and bought the Piercefield estate near Chepstow.

Most Morrises are to be found in south Wales today.

Scotland.  The Morris name, initially Moris or Mores, also extended into Scotland, notably in Fife.  Richard Moris was born in Dunfermline in 1505.  Later Morrises were walkers in the weaving industry in Cupar.  From St. Andrews in the early/mid 1800’s came two Morrises famous in the world of golf – Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris.

Ireland. Morris was one of the fourteen Tribes of Galway. Richard Morris was recorded as the town Bailiff in 1486. The Morris home was later at Spiddal and they became Barons Killanin in the 19th century.

Morris in Ireland was also an anglicized form of the Gaelic O’Muirghis, variants of which also produced the surname Morrissey.

America. Thomas Morris was a shipbuilder and a Puritan from London who had left England with other pilgrims on the Hector in 1637. It was said that two of his forebears had been killed during the reign of Bloody Queen Mary for refusing to give up their Protestant faith. He led a party in 1638 to New Haven, Connecticut and a forested area where he resumed his shipbuilding. This area was known as Morris Cove and now as Morristown.

Richard Morris from Monmouthshire in Wales, a soldier in the English Civil War, arrived in York in 1670 and bought land in the Bronx. This land was and is called Morrisania and the Morrises became important New York landowners. Their numbers included:

  • Judge Lewis Morris, sometime Governor of New Jersey and Chief Justice of New York
  • and Gouverneur Morris, the man who drafted much of the US Constitution.

One of his brothers, Staats Long Morris, was a Loyalist.  A later line of these Morrises settled in South Carolina and fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War.

Philadelphia was the home of two notable Morris families:

  • one began with Anthony Morris, a Quaker preacher of Welsh extraction who was an early arrival from London in 1683. His son Anthony was the mainstay of the Philadelphia Quaker community for forty years. Later Morrises were merchants. From 1787 until the early 1900’s they lived at Morris House in the city (which now operates as the Morris House Hotel).
  • and the other started with Robert Morris, a tobacco factor from Liverpool who had moved to Maryland in the 1740’s. His son Robert developed such a profitable trading business in Philadelphia that he could help finance the American Revolutionary War.

Jewish. Morris was sometimes adopted in America as a Jewish name. 

The most well-known example is Zelman Moses who arrived with his parents from Germany as a nine year old boy in 1882.  He went into business in New York as William Morris, Vaudeville Agent, which is now the oldest entertainment talent agency in the business.

Meanwhile Joseph Morris started his funeral business in Brooklyn in 1888.

Canada.  Morris was an early English name in Nova Scotia history. Charles Morris from Boston came there as early as 1748 to help establish the Annapolis garrison. He remained as an administrator and judge until his death in 1781. Son Charles was Chief Surveyor for Nova Scotia, as was his son and grandson. Their home in Halifax, Morris House, has been preserved.

Alexander Morris from Paisley in Scotland brought his family to Canada in 1801.  His sons William and James were merchants in Perth, Ontario and both held prominent positions in the Legislative Council of what was then Upper Canada. William’s son Alexander was Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories from 1872 to 1877.

Caribbean. Samuel Morris, thought to have come from Scotland, was an early settler in Jamaica, arriving there in the 1740’s. He was referred to as Colonel Morris “of old St. James.” He was a tavern keeper in Hanover parish.

John Ball Morris was a London merchant who held estates in Jamaica in the early 1800’s. His son Mowbray, born there, was editor of The Times from 1847 to 1873.

Australia.  George Ennever from Bath changed his name to George Morris in 1807 to avoid any connection with his brother Joseph who was executed for forging bank notes.  Yet he himself was later convicted of handling forged notes and was transported to Australia in 1817.  Soon after his arrival he was able to set himself up as a cobbler on Castlereagh Street in Sydney.  He and his wife Ann were subsequently inn-keepers there and prospered.

Another George Morris, this time from Lancashire, arrived in Victoria in 1852 in pursuit of gold.  He was moderately successful in this endeavor and was able to purchase land at Rutherglen in NE Victoria.  He started a vinyard and winery there in 1859.  His descendants have been and remain one of the most prominent wine-making families in Australia.

Morris Surname Miscellany

Mawrrhys.  The Welsh name Mawrrhys is composed of two elements, mawr meaning “great” and rhys meaning “chief.”  Perhaps as a result, many of the early Kings of Wales had the Mawrrhys name.  Mawrrhys, the last so named to bear this title, died in the year 1200.

Morris at the Time of Shakespeare.  The Morris family was recorded as living at Stratford-on-Avon or nearby Clifford Chance since the 1540’s.  During the reign of Queen Elizabeth these Morrises included:

  • Richard Morris who had a son Ferdinand
  • John Morris who married Elinor Jones and had a son William
  • and Jasper Morris, the rector of the church at Clifford Chambers.

Clifford Chance has in fact been claimed by some as the real birthplace of William Shakespeare as the bubonic plague was rife in the town of Stratford at that time.

The Morris estate was at Shottery, a suburb of Stratford, and was where Shakespeare married Ann Hathaway.  Kathryn Morris served in the Shakespeare household when he was growing up, whether as governess, nurse or maid it is not possible to say.  She died in 1587.

The later Morris line in Stratford took as its starting point George Morris who was born in Clifford Chance around the year 1605.

Tom Morrises in the World of Golf.   Old Tom Morris, born at St. Andrews in Scotland in 1821, is considered the Grand Old Man of Golf.   He worked as a greenkeeper, clubmaker, ballmaker, golf instructor, and course designer, as well as playing match and tournament golf. He came second in the first Open Championship in 1860 and won the following year. He followed this up with further victories in 1862, 1864 and 1867.

His son – known as Young Tom Morris – was in fact perhaps the greater golfer.  His first Open Championship win was in 1868 when he was aged just seventeen.  He followed this up with three successive championship wins.

Young Tom was the Tiger Woods of his day.  He was the first all-out professional. He was not a ballmaker, he was not a caddie, just a professional through and through. When he went on tours in England he was paid to play.

However, Young Tom’s life ended in tragic circumstances.  In 1864, whilst on tour, he received a telegram saying his wife had died in childbirth. He was inconsolable.  Three months later, Old Tom found him lying in his bed. He was 24 and had effectively bled to death of a burst aneurysm in his left lung.  Some said he died of a broken heart.

The Morris Family of Galway.  The Morris family was one of the fourteen “Tribes of Galway” who were leading merchants of the town.  Richard Morris was its first Bailiff in 1486, under a charter granted the previous year by the English King empowering them to elect one mayor and two bailiffs.  The Morrises, sometimes written Mares or Morech, had apparently first arrived in Galway at about that time.

Various Morrises succeeded Richard Morris as Bailiff of Galway during the 16th century.  Anthony Morris was the town Mayor in 1588.  A later Anthony Morris took part in the defense of the city against Cromwell’s forces in 1651.  The Morrises, like the other Galway merchants, then lost their position.

They did manage to survive the changing political fortunes of the later 17th century, establishing their home at Spiddal.  The family later became the Barons Killanon of Galway.  In the 1970’s Lord Killanin was the sixth President of the International Olympic Committee.  His sons were the filmmaker Redmond Morris and the horse-trainer Mouse Morris.

The Morris Brothers in Barbados and New York.  Colonel Lewis Morris, said to have commanded a Troop of Horse under Cromwell, may have visited the West Indies as early as 1633.  He served under Admiral Penn in 1655, taking part in the attack on Jamaica and later acquiring an estate in Barbados.  He was described in 1670 as a “merchant of Barbados.”  He died in 1691.

His younger brother Captain Richard Morris had also served with the Parliamentary Army.  After the Restoration in 1660, he deemed it unwise to remain in England. He went to Barbados disguised as a Quaker and married there.  His only son Lewis was born in 1671.  By that time, however, he had established himself as a merchant in what was then New Amsterdam (still in the possession of the Dutch) and what was to become New York.

In 1668 Richard Morris purchased land granted by the Dutch in 1639 to Jonas Broncks, the first white settler of Westchester county.  This was the basis to what became Morrisania.  Richard himself died in 1672 and it was his infant son Lewis who was later to inherit his estate.

Reader Feedback – The Benjamin Morris Line from England to Virginia.  I am trying to find more about my Morris ancestors.  The line I have reads as follows:

  • my great-grandmother was Charity Morris (1861-1943) who married James Irvin.
  • her father Valentine Morris (1812-1885, died in Illinois) married Eliza Jane Hall.
  • his father William Morris (1780-1835, died in Illinois) married Sara Ann McClellan.
  • his father Benjamin Morris (born in Lancaster in 1723, died in Virginia in 1791) married Mary Burgmann.
  • his father Roger Morris (1696-1759 from London) married Mary Fathers.
  • his father James Morris (born in June 1650).

Do you have any further information on this Morris line? I would appreciate any help you could possibly share with me.

Billie Slusher (

Morris and The Battle Hymn of the Republic.  In the 19th century, the Battle Hymn of the Republic was adapted to fit prominent American surnames of the time, including Morris.  The Morris version had three stanzas of specific references.  They ran as follows:

  • “Edward, Thomas, Nicholas were fathers of our clan;
  • Posterity of Anthony and Owen never ran.
  • Jacob was a hero, Roger was a famous man.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • Sir Martin was an Irishman and statesman of renown;
  • And Anthony was mayor of a Pennsylvania town;
  • With great men of Jersey, Richard’s name is written down.
  • The clan goes marching on!
  • Charles was captain of the ship that sailed across the sea.
  • When Lafayette returned to France, America was free.
  • Jacob was an aide-de-camp to General Robert Lee.
  • The clan goes marching on!”

Edward and Thomas Morris were early settlers in Massachusetts, Nicholas Morris came to Virginia in 1640. Anthony Morris was a Quaker preacher in Pennsylvania, Owen Morris an early settler in Chester county, Pennsylvania.  Jacob’s identity is uncertain.  Roger Morris was a colonel who fought in the French and Indian War.  Roger Morris was also a successful suitor for the hand of Mary Philipse, a beauty of her day, over George Washington.

Anthony Morris Jr was the second mayor of Philadelphia. The Richard Morris name probably refers to the first of the line of Morrises, a leading New Jersey family in the 18th century. Sir Martin’s renown escapes us.

Charles Morris was in charge of the vessel named Brandywine by which Lafayette, the French hero of the Revolutionary War, returned to France in 1825 after his tour of America. And Jacob was indeed an aide-de-camp to General Robert Lee at the time of the Civil War. 

The Morris Family Coming to South Carolina.  Another verse poem written for a 1921 reunion celebrated the Morris family that emigrated from Stratford-on Avon to South Carolina in 1788.  The following are some stanzas from this poem:

  • “In seventeen eighty eight they came,
  • Samuel and wife Lucy by name
  • From Stratford-on-Avon
  • To this American haven
  • Father Morris, he
  • Mother Morris, she
  • And the eight little Morrises
  • To grow the family tree.
  • Richard son, Sarah daughter,
  • They brought across the water,
  • William, George, Thomas, Alice,
  • Lucy and Mary – too young for malice
  • Farmer Morris, he
  • Mistress Morris, she
  • And the eight little Morrises
  • That came across the sea.
  • In South Carolina —
  • What state could be finer?
  • They built their family home
  • E’er their sons began to roam
  • Samuel Morris, he
  • Lucy Morris, she
  • And all the other Morrises
  • In glad felicity.”

Joseph Morris of Brooklyn.  Morris is a common Jewish name, more popular as a first name because of its similarity to or derivation from Moshe or, as it is commonly known, Moses.  Morris is less common as a surname but does appear.

Joseph Morris was a prominent citizen of early Brooklyn.  He owned and operated livery stables to furnish horse-drawn hearses and carriages for the conduct of Jewish funerals.  His firm was established in 1888 as I.J. Morris and incorporated in its present form in 1929.

The original Morris location was at Thatford and Sutter Avenues in the almost exclusively Jewish community of Brownsville in Brooklyn.  Most of the prominent Jewish schools, yeshivas, rabbinical seminaries, and synagogues had their roots in the community serviced by I.J. Morris.

Morris Names   

  • Robert Morris, a Philadelphia merchant, was one of the main financiers of the American Revolutionary War.
  • Old Tom Morris is considered the Grand Old Man of golf for his pioneering work in Scotland in the 1850’s and the 1860’s in playing golf and in designing golf courses.
  • William Morris was an artist and writer of the late 19th century, the founder of the English Arts and Crafts movement.
  • William Morris, 1st Lord Nuffield, was a pioneer UK automobile manufacturer.
  • William Morris, born Zelman Moses, was the founder of the William Morris talent agency in New York.
  • Desmond Morris was a well-known British zoologist through his TV appearances.
  • Jan Morris is the author and travel writer from Wales formerly known as James Morris.

Morris Numbers Today

  • 131,000 in the UK (most numerous in West Midlands)
  • 120,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 52,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Morris and Like Surnames   

Patronymic surnames can be with either the “-son” or the shorter “s” suffix to the first name.  The “s” suffix is more common in southern England and in Wales.  Here are some of these surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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