Norris Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Norris Meaning
Norris surname is
Norman-French in origin. Its most
probable source is the Norman-French word norreis,
meaning “northerner” but more specifically a Norseman or Viking who had
in Normandy.
Norice appeared on the roll at Battle Abbey after the Norman
invasion. The name Robert Norreis was
recorded in Hampshire in 1148. The
family spelling generally became Norreys until Norris took ascendancy
during the 15th and 16th centuries.
An alternative although less likely derivation would be the
French word norrice meaning
“nurse.” The surnames Nurse and Nourse
came from this root.

Norris Resources on

Norris Ancestry

England. The
forebear of the
Norreys/Norris line in England appears to have been a Geoffrey le
Norreys who
held lands in both Yorkshire and Lancashire in the 12th century. The lands in Yorkshire were based around
Bereford (or Barforth) Manor near Darlington until the late 13th
century when
their position
there declined.

Lancashire. The
centerpiece of the family holdings in Lancashire was Speke Hall, obtained by Alan
le Norreys through marriage around the
year 1280. The Norreys family held sway
there for over four hundred years.

During that time they were substantial landowners in the county,
frequently MP’s for Liverpool, and Catholic (sometimes subject to
fines) and connected to other Catholic families in Lancashire. The male line ended with the death of Thomas
Norris in 1731. Henry Norris, a wealthy Manchester merchant and a
descendant, purchased Davyhulme Hall in Lancashire in 1792. His
family later adopted the old Norreys spelling.

Berkshire. There was a related Norreys line that established
itself south in Berkshire, first at Ockholt manor near Bray and then,
in 1435,
at Yattendon castle when Sir John Norreys married the heiress. Sir John became a courtier to Henry VI and
the subsequent Norreys in Berkshire
prominent in royal and military circles during Tudor times:

  • Sir
    William Norreys was a well-known soldier on the Lancastrian side who
    fought at
    Bosworth Field in 1485.
  • Sir
    Norreys was executed by Henry VIII for his suspected adultery
    Anne Boleyn.
  • Henry
    Norreys was guardian
    to Princess Elizabeth and trusted by her as Queen.
  • Sir
    John Norreys was a distinguished military
    officer during Elizabeth’s reign.
  • and
    killed himself with a crossbow in 1622.

as Norris was elsewhere and earlier.

the west country, there were Norrises at Chudleigh in Devon in the late
14th century.

Norris served as an MP for Totnes from 1388 to 1395.

Norris family from Winkleigh in Devon settled at Milverton in Somerset
in the 16th century. Richard Norris was a Catholic priest who was
banished to France in 1585. Norrises paid recusant fines.
Hugh Norris moved to London and prospered as a Levant merchant,
building his home in Hackney.
descendant was the Anglican High Church clergyman of early Victorian
the Rev. Henry Handley Norris.

Norfolk, John Norwys was recorded as a freeman of Norwich in
1414. Some therefore think that the Norris name may have
been a contraction of de Norwich.

one Norris line at Congham in the King’s Lynn area of Norfolk, traced
back to the late 1300’s, began with a Geoffrey Norreys.

Norris, a skinner, was made a freeman of Norwich in 1561 and from him
came the Norrises of Witton and Witchingham. James Norris, a
mercer in Norwich a century or so later, was the forebear of the
Norrises of Wood Norton and Guist. Norris families in Norfolk
were covered in Walter Rye’s 1906 book The Norfolk Antiquarian Miscellany.

has had the largest number of Norrises.

best-known has been John
a London merchant said to have been the richest
commoner in England in the mid-18th century. He also had a
reputation as a rake and for siring illegitimate children. His
father was Robert Norris, also a London merchant, who was saved from
bankruptcy by his wife’s money.

of his sons, Charles, moved to Wales and gained a reputation as an
etcher of the Pembrokeshire countryside.

Ireland. The
Norreys/Norris family from Berkshire made their mark on Ireland during
Elizabethan times as soldiers and administrators, but left little in
terms of family – although one branch in Armagh did claim descent from

The Norris name was handed down from other English Norrises. It
has been found mainly in county Cork. Norris families were
recorded in Maghera parish in county Derry from 1740. John Norris
was a farmer at Tamlaghtmore in Tyrone in the 19th century.

Scotland. The Scottish form of
Norris was Norrie.
It was mainly to be found in Aberdeenshire and elsewhere on
Scotland's northeast
coastline. Norrie could become Norris on
its travels. For example, one Norie
family from Scotland on its 19th century journey through America to
ended up as Norris on the other side of the world

early Norris arrivals in New England were:

  • the
    Rev. Edward Norris from Gloucestershire
    who, after persecution at home, came to Salem, Massachusetts in 1630. He became the pastor of Salem church ten
    years later and was present during the famous witch trials. Many Norris descendants stayed in Salem. But one son John, detesting the church
    strictness there, left for Long Island where he started up a shipping
    between Boston and England.
  • and
    Norris, a young stowaway from Ireland, who first showed up in Hampton,
    Hampshire in 1663. He was a tailor by trade
    and lived in the town of Exeter for 57 years. His
    descendants are numerous.

Norris had run away
from his home at Congham in Norfolk in 1620 when still a boy and went
sea. He ended up coming ashore in
Virginia in 1630 and later became a planter along the Chester river in
St. Mary’s county, Maryland. His line was traced in Harry
Davis’s monumental 1941 book The Norris Family of Maryland
and Virginia.

Norris line from Maryland included:

  • Joseph
    Norris who
    came to Kentucky in 1796. His son John
    of Boone county enlisted in the War of 1812 and wrote an account of his
  • Barnett
    Norris who moved his family to Virginia around this
    time. His grandson was John L. Norris, a
    well-known patent attorney in Washington DC.
  • other Norrises who settled in South Carolina and Georgia.
  • and Edmund Norris who took his family southward to
    what became
    Nacogdoches county, Texas in 1803. His
    sons Samuel and John were prominent in the early American history in
    Texas. John's son James enlisted in the
    Confederate army and after the war moved to Brown and later Coleman

perhaps the best-known early Norris was Isaac Norris, a Quaker
born in London, who arrived with his father Thomas to Philadelphia in
1690. Thomas died in an earthquake in Jamaica in 1692, But
Isaac became one of Philadelphia’s richest merchants. Norristown
in Pennsylvania was named after him.

Norris, born in 1806 in Kentucky, was an early
settler in Alta California, living at Mission San Jose from 1847 until
when he set off for the San Ramon valley.
There he built his Norris cattle ranch.
His son William was an expert horseman with a lasso expertise
which few
could rival. The ranch lasted until 1951
when a fire destroyed the building.

notable Norris families in Canada in the 19th century came from

first was James Norris from Glasgow who left Scotland for Caledon East
Ontario in 1834. His son James was a sea
captain and businessman who became mayor of St. Catherines; his
grandson James
S. Norris began a grain trading company in Montreal.
His son James E. Norris then expanded that
business greatly and was said to have been the largest grain buyer in
the world
in the 1930’s. He also had extensive
interests in National Hockey League franchises.
He and two of his sons were voted into the NHL Hall of Fame.

The second was John
who was born in Caithness in 1826 and went to work for
the Hudson
Bay Company twenty years later. He was a
pioneer of the Canadian West, helping to establish the route to
Winnipeg in
1850 and then to Edmonton where he settled in 1864.
He married a local Metis girl and his son
Malcolm took up the cause of Metis and Indian rights.

Irish Norrises also came
to Canada at that time, such as:

  • Michael
    Norris and his family from county Cavan
    who arrived in 1832 and settled in Peel township in Wellington county,
  • and
    James Norris and his family from county Tyrone who came in the late
    1840’s and settled in Hibbert township in Perth county, Ontario.

Australia. Richard Norris was tried and convicted in
Dublin and transported in 1800 on the Minerva
to Australia. He married a fellow
convict Mary Williams and they farmed in the Hawkesbury district of NSW. Mary endured the incarceration of her son
John in Tasmania for cattle theft (he did come back) and of her husband
in Norfolk Island for some minor infraction (he never came back). Later Norrises of this family moved from
Hawkesbury to the western plains beyond the Blue Mountains


Norris Miscellany

Speke Hall in Lancashire.  Speke Hall
is a half-timbered framed mansion that sits on the banks of the river Mersey in Lancashire.

Henry Norris was responsible for much of the building when he
inherited the foundations of the project from his father in 1490.  It was continued on by Henry’s son, William
who made several additions to the moated manor house to accommodate his
of nineteen children.  Completion then fell to Edward, who added
the date of 1598 over
the entrance, no doubt with a sigh of relief.
Three generations of the family can be seen on the carved
over-mantle in
the great parlor.

The estate remained in the
Norris family until 1736.  Mary Norris inherited it from her
father Thomas in
1731.  Five years later she married Lord
Stanley Beauclerk. Mary’s strong attachment to the house was not shared
by her
husband and son.  When she died in 1766,
the house was let out to tenants and subsequently, in 1795, sold.

The Norreys of Berkshire.  Sir John Norreys (1400-1466), married Alice Merbrooke of Tattendon (plus two other marriages) (first of the Norreys line at Yatterdon; courtier to Henry VI)

– Sir William Norreys (1433-1507), married Lady Jane de Vere (plus two other marriages) (well-known soldier on the Lancastrian side; fought at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485)

— Sir Edward Norreys (1464-1487), married Frideswide Lowell (died on the battlefield)

— John Norreys (1481-1564), married Elizabeth Brave (royal courtier to four successive monarchs; no children to marriage)

— Sir Henry Norreys (1484-1536), married Mary Fiennes (executed by Henry VIII for his suspected adultery with Anne Boleyn)

—- Henry Norreys (1525-1601), married Margery Williams (trusted by Queen Elizabeth; created Baron Norreys of Rycote)

—– Sir John Norreys (1547-1597), unmarried (distinguished English soldier, culminating in Ireland)

—– William Norreys (1550-1579), married Elizabeth Morison (soldier who died of fever in Ireland)

—— Francis Norreys (1579-1622), married Bridget de Vere (Baron Narroys of Rycote; his estates forfeited after he shot himself with a crossbow)

——- Elizabeth Norreys (1600-1645), married Edward Wray

—– Sir Henry Norreys (1554-1599), no reported marriage (soldier who died of his wounds in Ireland)

—– Sir Thomas Norreys (1556-1599), married Bridget Kingsmill (soldier in Ireland who was made President of Minster and built Mallow Castle in Cork)

—— Elizabeth Norreys (1593-1623), his heiress married Sir John Jephson (the Jephsons inherited Mallow Castle).

The Francis Norreys Line.  Much of the Norreys Berkshire line died in Ireland.  But a Norreys barony and a line in
Oxfordshire did continue from Francis Norreys.

It was said that he had been contemplating divorce when he committed
crime of elbowing Lord Scrope in the presence of royalty.
He was sent to Fleet Prison. Upon his release,
he went home to Rycote and killed himself with a crossbow.
His estate was then forfeited to the

He left no legitimate sons.  Soon after his
death his daughter Elizabeth
decided to elope with her lover of the King’s household, Edward Wray.  She crept out of her house and walked three
miles to St. Mary Aldermary’s church to marry him.
When news of the secret marriage got out,
Edward Wray was put under house arrest and lost his post at court.  However, all must have been forgiven at some
time as the Norreys barony did descend to Elizabeth and then to her

left an
illegitimate son, also named Francis, who married into Oxfordshire
gentry and
succeeded to the Weston estate in 1623.
Both he and his son Edward were returned as local MP’s.

John Norris and Francis Dashwood.  John Norris
and Francis Dashwood were both members of the Hellfire Club, a loose
grouping of
high society rakes that flourished in the mid-18th century.  They both had country estates in

Dashwood estate stood at the top of West Wycombe hill next to the
church of St Lawrence.  The original
14th century tower of the church was
raised and capped with a golden ball in 1752 by Dashwood.

Camberley, some thirty miles away, a
similar tower with a golden ball was erected by John
Norris, who
lived at nearby Hughenden Manor.  It
is believed that Norris and Dashwood used to signal to each other
heliograph, reflecting the rays of the sun with a mirror, from
respective golden balls.

A West Virginia Story.  The story
goes that an Englishman by the name of Norris caught an Indian boy from
a tribe
of Indians from the Allegheny mountains.
Norris named the Indian boy Sam.  The
Englishman had a daughter whose name was Betsy. Betsy
and the Indian boy Sam would go out and get
the cows every day and Betsy gave birth to a Indian child.
He was born in Morgantown in 1750 and she
named him Sam Norris after his father.

In 1764 young Sam, then aged fourteen,
followed a man named Johnnie Gaul out of Morgantown to Hacker’s Creek. Later Sam took a
Delaware Indian named Pretty Hair as his wife and built a cabin for
starting his life with the Indians.

lived to the ripe old age of 94 and was
buried in 1844 at the Norris cemetery in Barbour county, West Virginia.
Five generations of Norrises now trace back to
Sam Norris. 

John Norris’s Pioneer Days in the Canadian West.  John
Norris was a tracker who helped open up the route to Winnipeg in 1850.  He wrote of his experience then as follows:

men were hitched to each
boat and it was slavish work.  We were
practically transported.  There was no
use to rebel.  You got no thanks for
up the country.  I believe if we hadn’t
opened up the cart trail to Winnipeg there would not be as many
settlers in the
prairies today.

found tracking
pretty hard.  Some men used to be so
tired they could not eat at the end of the day.  They
would roll themselves in a blanket and fall down like dead

In winter our work was hard
too.  We would make 40 or 50 miles a day
with running dogs if the trail was light and good.
But not if there were snowdrifts.”

Fourteen years later, in 1864, John Norris
headed the first brigade of 200 Red river carts who made the journey
Winnipeg to Edmonton.  It took three and
a half months.


Norris Names

  • Alan le Norreys was the founder in the 13th century of the Speke Norris line in Lancashire. 
  • Sir John Norreys, born around 1400, was the
    progenitor of the Norreys family of Yattendon in Berkshire that was prominent
    in English life in Tudor times. 
  • John Norris was a merchant and a rake, reputed to
    be the richest commoner in England
    in the mid-18th century. 
  • James E. Norris was a Canadian-American businessman of the early 20th century with large
    interests in grain and cattle and ownership of ice hockey teams in the NHL.   
  • George Norris was the US Senator for Nebraska for thirty years between 1913 and 1943. During the Depression years he created the Tennessee Valley Authority and was a leader of progressive and liberal causes in Congress.

Select Norris Numbers Today

  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in London)
  • 35,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Norris and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.




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