Morrison Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Morrison Surname Meaning

The Morrison surname derived from the personal name Maurice that was popular during the Middle Ages. Maurice, the name of some early Christian saints, was the learned spelling of the name. Morice or Morris was its more common form. The patronymic Morison or Morrison (“son of Morris”) cropped up as a surname in England, in Scotland, and in Ireland.

The Morrison clan that was centred on Lewis in the Western Isles derived their surname from the Gaelic name MacGilleMhoire; and the Morrisons on the Isle of Man came from Myvorrey or Mylvorrey. MacMuiris was the Irish version of Morris. But most Morrisons in Ireland were of Scots origin.

Morrison Surname Resources on The Internet

Morrison Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Hebrides), Northern England, and Isle of Man
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and Australia

Scotland. Morrisons, from the Gaelic MacGilleMhoir, first appeared in the islands of the Outer Hebrides. 

Outer Hebrides. Legend has it that they were descended from the son of a King of Norway who was shipwrecked off the shores of Lewis. He married the heiress of Pabbay castle off Harris and it was from this union that the Morrison clan was said to have begun.

The Morrison hereditary judges or brieves on the isle of Lewis were generally recognized as the chiefs of the clan until the early 1600’s. A number of these Morrisons were forced to flee at that time, crossing over to the mainland and settling at Durness in Mackay country.  

“According to tradition, Aodh Mac Thormoid married a daughter of the Bishop of Caithness who bestowed on the couple the whole of Durness. Aodh then brought over a colony of about 60 families, mostly of his clan.”  

In 1861 the Morrisons of Lewis numbered 1,400, while the Morrisons of Harris amounted to 530. The Morrisons on Harris may have been related to Lewis. More likely, they descended from the bardic O’Muirgheasáin clan who arrived there from county Donegal in the 1500’s. The Morrisons of Ruchdi in North Uist were descendants of the Morrisons of Pabbay in Harris and in 1965 were invested as the chiefs of “clan Morrison.”

Elsewhere.  Morrisons in Scotland have origins other than the Outer Hebrides. The Morisons of Bognie in Aberdeenshire have been in fact a leading Morrison family. This family first gained their Bognie estate in 1635 and it remained in their hands for the next three hundred years.

“A younger son James Morison achieved wealth and notoriety in the 1820’s as the inventor and purveyor of Morison Pills. These were purgatives that were very popular but often lethal when taken in excessive quantities by the infirm or seriously ill.”

Other Morisons have been those of Dersay in Fife and those of Preston Grange in East Lothian.

The first account of the Scottish Morrisons was undertaken in 1880 by Captain Thomas and L.A. Morrison in their book The History of the Morison or Morrison Family.

England.  Morrison, like similar patronymic names, has generally been a name of the north of England. It first appeared as a surname – as Robert Morisson – in the Yorkshire poll tax records of 1379.

Morrisons in the North.  The Moryson family of Chardwell in the West Ridings of Yorkshire dates back to the 15th century. Thomas Morrison later moved south to Hertfordshire and his son Richard, a protege of Thomas Cromwell, distinguished himself as a diplomat at the time of Henry VIII.

Another Moryson family may have come originally from Northumberland. They were in Lincolnshire by the early 1500’s. Thomas Moryson of Cadeby in Lincolnshire was a member of the local gentry who held the lucrative office of Clerk of the Pipes. The family was wealthy enough that his son Fynes could travel around Europe for six years in the 1590’s. He published an account of these travels in 1617.

Some Morrisons in England were of Scottish ancestry, such as Robert Morrison the Protestant missionary to China. He was born of a Scottish father in Northumberland in 1782. John Morrison, born in Alston in Cumberland in 1761, was also probably of Scottish origin. 

Morrison supermarkets, begun by William Morrison of Bradford in the 1920’s, has been traditionally associated with the north of England. Son Ken Morrison, the recent Chairman of Morrisons, was born in Bradford and makes his home outside York.

Morrisons in the South.  James Morrison, the 19th century businessman, grew up in a small village in Hampshire. He came to London and made his fortune as a trader on the principle of “small profits and quick returns.” His son Alfred of Fonthill House in Wiltshire was a noted art collector.

Isle of Man. Morrison can be a Manx name. The Manx names of Myvorrey and Mylvorrey, meaning “the son of Mary’s servant,” would become Morrison. Patrick Mylvorrey, for instance, was born around 1761 in the northwest of the Isle of Man. The next Mylvorrey generation became known as Morrisons.

Ireland.  Most Morrisons in Ireland are to be found in Ulster, in particular in Antrim and county Down, and are of Scots origin. The singer Van Morrison’s family roots are from the Ulster Scots population that had settled in Belfast.

John Morrison was among those Scots Irish who fled after the siege of Londonderry in 1689. Lieutenant Robert Morrison and Captain James Morrison also took part in the battle and were declared traitors by King James in 1689. They all emigrated, helping to found a new Londonderry in New Hampshire in 1719.

Some Morrisons in Fermanagh are descendants of the Irish Morrisons on Harris who fled the Western Isles after conflict with the McAuleys.

America. Most of the Morrisons who came to America in the 18th century were Scots Irish. Their numbers included:

  • two Morrison brothers, Samuel and James, who settled in Drumore township in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania around 1718.
  • the Morrisons from Londonderry in Ireland who helped found the town of Londonderry in New Hampshire in 1719. The John Morrison who died there in 1736 was said to have been 108 years of age. The family home, Morrison House, was built there in 1760 and still stands.
  • Samuel and Mercy Morrison of county Tyrone who came to Bucks county, Pennsylvania on the Sally of Coleraine around 1740. Some of these Morrisons moved onto New York and Ohio.
  • four Morrison brothers who came to Pennsylvania from Ulster around 1740.  William Morrison was an early settler in North Carolina.
  • and Nathaniel Morrison from the Isle of Lewis who came to Greenbrier, Virginia sometime in the 1750’s.

Morrisons from Scotland were early pioneers in the West:

  • born in Scotland, John Morrison emigrated to Connecticut around 1830 and learned carpentry there. He arrived in Oregon county in 1842 in the same wagon train as the other famous Oregon pioneers.
  • while George Morrison was a Scottish stonecutter in Colorado in the 1870’s who moved his family to what was to become Morrison, Colorado. His son Tom served as the town’s first mayor. His grandson Pete was a silent movie star who returned to the area to live following the end of his career in the late 1920’s.

Jacob Haight Morrison was born in upstate New York, but moved south at some stage, married well, and acquired the Brunswick sugar plantation in Pointe Coupee parish, Louisiana in 1856. This plantation was to stay with his family until the 1930’s. Later Morrisons of the family were to be prominent in local New Orleans politics.

Canada. Captain John Morrison visited Nova Scotia as a military officer, sent to destroy French fortifications at Louisburg in 1759. By that time he had a family with six young children living in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He was inspired by the lands of Nova Scotia and he moved there, becoming one of the first settlers of Truro. There was to follow the Scots Irish settlement of Londonderry nearby.

Australia.  Scott Morrison became Prime Minister of Australia in 2018.  His Morrison forebear, Alexander, arrived in Australia from Scotland in the 1860’s.  Further back, he is descended from William Roberts, a Cornish convict who was convicted of stealing yarn and transported to Australia on the First Fleet in 1788.  His line came from William’s youngest son Edward who was born in Windsor, NSW in 1813.

Morrison Surname  Miscellany

Morrisons in the Outer Hebrides.  The Morrisons of Lewis established a fortress named Dun Eistein on the northern tip of the island. They gave rise to ten generations of hereditary judges or brieves who were well briefed in Gaelic law and held sway from their seat at Habost in Ness near the Butt of Lewis.

Their power was broken in 1616 when Hutcheon Morrison confessed on his deathbed to being the natural father of Torquil MacLeod. Torquil overcame the MacLeods and then turned on his allies, the Morrisons, and drove them from their lands.

One tradition has it that the line of brieves was originally descended from the Morrison heiress of legend and the Macdonald of Ardnamurchan she had married in the 1340’s.  The Morrisons of Harris have laid claim to be of this original Morrison line.  Their seat was at Pabbay, a small island off the coast of Harris.  It has been from these Morrisons of Pabbay that the current Morrison clan chief descends. 

The Morisons of Bognie.  Alexander Morison had obtained the lands of Bognie in Aberdeenshire in 1635. His son George built Bognie House and lived there in some splendor with his wife the Viscountess Frendraught:

“The household of Bognie, besides the Laird and Viscountess, consisted of their son and two daughters – Barbara Morison, a sister of the laird’s; Elizabeth Blair, his niece; and Christian Ramsay, a niece of the lady’s.

There was also a chaplain, a steward, the laird’s page, a man cook, a footman, and a groom; likewise, a farm grieve, five male and three female servants – in all twenty-three persons, which bespeaks the importance and affluence of the family at the close of the 17th century.”

Bognie House was a tall four storey rectangular unvaulted palatial structure, with crowstep gables and possibly corner turrets. The window facings appeared to have been removed for use elsewhere, leaving only the relieving arches.  It is just a ruin today.

There is a faded memorial panel to George Morison who died in 1699 in Forgue parish churchyard.

Mylvorrey to Morrison in the Isle of Man.  Patrick Mylvorrey was born about 1761 in Ballaugh and he and his family lived at Glenshoggill near Ballaugh as farmers and farm laborers.  When Patrick married his name was recorded as Morrison.  His children and were baptized variously as Mylvorrey and Morrison between the 1780’s and the 1820’s.   The next generation generally became known as Morrisons.

Patrick’s grandson William moved to Santon in the south east of the Isle of Man.  It was William’s grandson William Ernest Morrison who migrated to Australia in 1910.

Morrison House in Londonderry, New Hampshire.  The Morrison House is one of the few pre-revolutionary homes existing in Londonderry and it is considered to be a landmark.  It was originally owned by the Morrison family who had escaped Ireland and come to Londonderry (the name of their home town back in Ireland).

The Morrison House was originally built on Rockingham Road in Londonderry in 1760.  Its many original features included a large center chimney fireplace with beehive ovens and brick hearth, Indian shutters, a borning room, wide pine floors, nine over six pane windows, feathered clapboards, and 18th century door latches.  Now completely restored, the Morrison House is a fine example of an 18th century farmhouse as it would have appeared in the mid-19th century.

William Morrison, Early North Carolina Settler.  William Morrison was one of four brothers who left Ulster for Pennsylvania with their father James in 1730. William and brother Hugh settled in Chester county where William secured the plum job of tax collector.  The other brothers, Andrew and James, were to be found in Lancaster county, probably Drumore township.

William – and possibly one of his brothers – moved onto North Carolina in the early 1750’s. He was recorded as being among the first settlers of what was to become known as the Fourth Creek Settlement.  He built a mill on his land in 1752 and lived on for another nineteen years, dying there at the age of sixty seven in 1771.

Morrisons – Father and Son.  Brought up in Bradford, William Morrison started selling butter and eggs there on a wholesale basis in 1899.  Shortly afterwards he opened a stall.  By the 1920’s his business had flourished enough to allow him to open his own retail stores offering counter service.  The operation remained a small, Bradford-area focused business throughout his lifetime, the company’s warehouse being in the garage behind the family’s home.

Morrison had six children, the youngest of whom, Ken, the only boy, was born when Morrison was already 57 years old.  In 1950, with his health failing, William Morrison offered the family business to Ken after he had just joined the company.

Ken Morrison approached the grocer’s trade with a new perspective. Rather than the small, urban center shops run by his father, Morrison saw the future in larger-scale supermarkets, particularly in ex-urban and suburban locations.

At the same time, improvements in packaging and increasing branding of grocery products were occurring, coupled with a growing trend toward self-service shopping.  Taking over as company chairman in 1956, Ken Morrison steered the family company into the newly developing supermarket industry, placing prices on all of its goods and adding checkout lines, a first for the Bradford area.

Morrison next turned his attention to opening new stores. In 1962, he bought an abandoned theater in Bradford and converted it into a supermarket.  Once transformed, the theater offered some 5,000 square feet of retail space and a parking lot for the company’s increasingly mobile customers. The success of that store encouraged Morrison to begin opening new stores.  In 1967, the company backed its expansion with a public offering on the London Stock Exchange.

Morrison’s focus remained on its northern England region.  By the late 1970’s the company had succeeded in establishing itself as the region’s top supermarket and one of the top chains in the country.

Reader Feedback – Morrisons in Argentina?  I would like to have information about the Morrisons who first travelled to Argentina in the 1900’s.

Anabel Morrison (

Morrison Names

  • Samuel Eliot Morison was an American historian noted for his works of naval history.
  • Herbert Morrison was a British Labor politician who was Deputy Prime Minister in the Labor government of the 1940’s.
  • Jim Morrison was an American cult singer of the 1960’s who died young in Paris at the age of twenty eight.
  • Van Morrison is a singer/songwriter from Northern Ireland.
  • Toni Morrison, born Chloe Wofford, is a Nobel Prize-winning American novelist, author of works such as Beloved.
  • Scott Morrison became Prime Minister of Australia in 2018.

Morrison Numbers Today

  • 42,000 in the UK (most numerous in Aberdeen)
  • 44,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 37,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Morrison and Like Surnames  

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



Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *