Oliver Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Oliver Meaning
The Oliver surname in England comes from the old French personal name
Olivier that came over with the Normans after 1066. The name had
been popular throughout Europe in the Middle Ages as having been borne
by one of Charlemagne’s paladins, the faithful friend of Roland, about
whose exploits there were many popular romances.
Oliver is derived from oliver, meaning “an olive tree.”  The Catalan Oliver surname has the same roots. The spelling has
sometimes been Olver in Devon. Olivier is the French form and there are other variations of the name in Italy and Spain.
Oliver Resources on

Oliver Ancestry

The Oliver name cropped up at various locations in England in the 14th
century. John Oliver, recorded in 1300, held an estate at Stanway
in Essex. John Oliver was rector of Rendlesham church in Suffolk
in 1306 and William Oliver rector at Wakefield in Yorkshire in 1318.

John Oliver was recorded as an advowson of St. Mary
Overy in Southwark in the 14th century and another John Oliver was a
rector of St. Mary Mounthaw in the early 16th. But the most
prominent Olivers in London by that time
French Huguenot refugee immigrants.

Peter Oliver, a goldsmith, had fled Normandy in France with
his family for London in 1568. His son Isaac and grandson Peter
well-known miniaturist portrait painters in England. Also
from France, the Pyrenees this time, came another Huguenot, Peter
Olivier. His line in England went through a succession of
Anglican church ministers in the 18th and 19th centuries to the actor
Sir Laurence Olivier in the 20th century.

SW England.
Cornwall has been a place for Olivers:

  • Richard Oliver
    married Alice Carr in Menheniot near Liskeard in
  • Olivers from Madron dated from the 1660’s. James Oliver
    left Madron
    with his family in 1846 to try his luck in London, working there as
    a hatter. A descendant is the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
  • the Olivers of Trevarnoe and Ludgvan were a prominent
    Cornwall family of the later 17th century. Their numbers included
    William Oliver, physician to the Red Squadron of the British Navy, and
    his cousin William Oliver of Bath, also a physician and the inventor of
    the Bath Oliver biscuit.
  • then there were the Olivers of Polperro
    of the late 18th century, smugglers who became Coastguard officers in
    the next generation.
  • and Olivers of Helston was established in 1860. This
    traditional Cornish family business started out at Helston as butchers.

Meanwhile from Bristol came Thomas Oliver who emigrated to New England
in 1632 and Richard Oliver, a merchant and sugar planter in Antigua in
the Caribbean by the 1690’s. Four succeeding Richard Olivers
were active in the sugar business in London and Antigua. Robert Oliver
of this family moved to America in 1728 and his son Thomas was the last
colonial Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts.
Thomas returned to England with the defeated British troops and
back in Bristol.

By the 19th century, the Oliver surname distribution showed three
distinct clusters:

  • first, the largest cluster around London and the
  • second, Olivers in the northeast, probably a spillover from
    the Scottish border Olivers
  • and third, a smaller outpost in Cornwall
    in the southwest.

Scotland. This
old French name was probably brought to Scotland by the Normans.

An Oliver family had settled in the border
area of Scotland and England by the middle of the 13th century.
main territory was Jedforest to the south of the Scottish border town
Jedburgh. Early spellings of the name were Oliphant and Olipher. They were a clan, even though they had no
chieftain. Their stronghold of Dykeraw
tower was burned by the English in 1513.
Subsequently the Olivers of Jedforest were tenants and vassals
of the Douglases.

There were other Oliver lines in the Scottish Borders:

  • Ringan Oliver
    farmed Smailcleuchfoot was a Covenanter.
  • an
    Oliver family which had farmed Lastruther for many
    generations became
    the lairds of Dinlabyre in Liddesdale.
  • William
    Oliver, known as “Old Sourhope,” was the Sheriff of Roxburgh in the
    and was the last of these Olivers to be buried in the old Oliver burial
    at Chesters. A
  • while
    another Oliver family
    farmed at Falside in the 18th century and became the lairds of Langraw
    in 1801.

The Olivers in
Ireland could be of English, Scots border, or even of Huguenot origin.

The English Olivers came at or around the time of Cromwell,
establishing themselves at Drogheda in Louth and Mullinture in
Armagh. Captain Robert Oliver, an officer in Cromwell’s
army in 1649, got what came to be called Castle Oliver in county
Limerick. His family was to have a dominating influence on the
eastern part of this county
for the next century and a half.

“By the end of the 18th century the
power of the independent country gentlemen of Ireland had reached a
very high point. In most areas of life in their localities their
was law and their power to impose their way almost limitless.
Many of
their dealings were both unjust and unacceptable by modern standards.”

There were a number of examples of the unjustness and cruelty of
Oliver rule
at this time.

Then there were some Huguenot Olivers of French Protestant origin who
took refuge in the Netherlands and came to Ireland with William of
Orange’s army. The following Olivers were to be found in Dublin
in the early 1700’s – Jean Oliver, a stocking maker, and Francois
Oliver, a cabinet maker.

America. Early Olivers
came to New England.

New England. Thomas
brought his family from Bristol to New
England in 1632.
Some generations later came Daniel
Oliver, a prosperous Boston

His son Andrew inherited his father’s business
and was a leader of the Hutchinson-Oliver
faction which dominated politics in colonial Massachusetts.
However, in 1765, he was commissioned to administer the unpopular Stamp
Act and earned the wrath of the local population. A Boston mob hung Oliver
in effigy from the Liberty Tree.
On the figure’s right arm were the initials “AO”
and, on the left, this couplet:

“What greater Joy
did ever New England see

Than a Stampman hanging on a Tree.”

Indiana. A
poverty-stricken Oliver family left the Scottish borders for a new
life in America in the 1830’s. Their eldest son John, restless
and penniless, had gone there first, tying all of his belongings in a
red handkerchief and working his passage as a seaman. He then
sent back money so that the family’s debts could be paid.
Five years later they followed him.

“All the family’s surplus belongings
were sold at auction as some of the children stood by and sobbed.
The old stone cottage was locked, the key turned back to the landlord,
and they piled their few remaining belongings onto carts.
Neighbors accompanied them on the first two miles of their journey.”

The family eventually came to Mishawaka, Indiana. Son James
raised enough money to invest in an iron foundry
there and in time his company – now based in South Bend – became the
largest plow-makers in the
Midwest, selling their plows not just in America but all around the
business prospered under James’s son J.D, but foundered in the Great
Depression of 1929.

. William Oliver arrived in Ontario from Scotland in
1856 and, twelve years later, his eldest son George acquired land on
Pigeon Lake in the Kawarthas. This land is now, after a family
donation in 1998, the James McLean Oliver Ecological Centre.

Another Oliver family came to Ontario, this time from the Derbyshire
Peak District in England, in 1870. Their elder son John was
a pioneer settler and farmer in British Columbia. He entered
politics and became the 19th Premier of the province in 1918. The
town of Oliver in British Columbia, Mount John Oliver, and John Oliver
Secondary School in Vancouver were all named after him.

Australia and New Zealand. Among the
Olivers who made the journey in the 19th century were:

  • James and Ruth Oliver who were among the first settlers in New
    Zealand. They arrived at New Plymouth from Devon on the Amelia Thompson in 1841.
  • James Oliver from Oxfordshire who had set off from Liverpool for
    Australia on the Catarqui in
    1845. Sadly he never made it. The vessel foundered in the Bass
    Strait and the ship broke up.
  • and William Oliver with his family from the Scottish borders who
    sailed on the White Star to
    Tasmania in 1855. They settled in Dunorlan and he farmed on the
    Cressy estate.

Oliver Footwear, a fourth generation Australian owned family company,
owed its origins to gold mining in the Victorian provincial city of
Ballarat. It was there that the company’s founder James Oliver, a
bootmaker by trade, came from Cornwall in the 1860’s. Finding no
gold, he started a new venture producing boots for miners and farmers
in 1887.


Oliver Miscellany

Ringan Oliver and His Border Escapades.  Ringan Oliver
who farmed Smailcleuchfoot in the Borders was a Covenanter, a good
and a man of enormous strength.

Dunkeld he encountered a Highlander as big as himself who challenged
him to a
fight with broadswords. Ringan accepted
the challenge and drew out Andrea Ferrara, his splendid weapon.  After a desperate encounter he killed his
adversary and he and his companions made their way back home to
Jedforest.  His farm at Smailcleuchfoot was
not far from
Fernieherst mill, a house built for defense, and when Ringan got within
walls he felt safe.

For many years he
lived a quiet life, cultivating his little farm in which he took much

One unlucky day a Border baron hunting with
his hounds entered old Ringan’s farm and did much damage to his crops.  To add to this, his servants treated Ringan
with great insolence.  This was more than
Ringan could endure and, in the heat of the moment, he loaded his gun
and shot
two of the hounds.

For this action he
was reported as disloyal to his King and a warrant was issued for his
apprehension.  He refused to surrender
and kept his besiegers at bay for some time, his only companion being a
girl called Mary, who loaded the gun for him. During the siege she was
and this infuriated the old man so much that he threw open the door to
his enemies sword in hand.

However, he
was soon overpowered by force of numbers and sent off to Edinburgh jail
he was imprisoned.  When he was released
he was placed under the supervision of the authorities and was obliged
remain in Edinburgh.  He died there in
1736 and was buried among the martyrs in the churchyard of Old

Thomas Oliver’s Tragedy.  Thomas Oliver brought his family
from Bristol to New England in 1632.  A year later John Winthrop
the following in his journal:

Oliver, a right godly man and elder of the Church of Boston, had three
or four
of his sons, all very young, cutting down wood upon the Boston
Neck.  One
of them (Nathaniel), being about 15 years old, had his brains beaten
out with
the fall of a tree which he had felled.

good old father, having the
news of it in as fearful a manner as might be, called his wife and went
to prayer
and bore it with much patience and honor.”

Huguenot Olivers in America.  Pierre Olivier,
believed to be among the refugees from Niort in Poitou, was recorded as
arriving in Charleston, South Carolina from England on the Richmond
in early 1680.
Peter and John Olivier were naturalized there a year

John died in 1721 and
Peter in 1732, they obviously had issue.
The marriage of Peter Oliver and Margaret Duval took place in
1729.  They had five children, three sons
and two
daughters.  Peter was a butcher.

Olivers in Antigua.  The south
transept of St. John’s Cathedral in Antigua contains a panel with the

to the memory of
Richard Oliver Esq. planter, speaker of the House of Assembly 1704,
member of
HM Council 1708, and colonel of militia 1715, he was baptized at St.
in Bristol on August 14th 1664 and was here buried on May 29th 1716  Also
of Richard Oliver Esq, his grandson, an
alderman and MP for the City of London and strenuous supporter of the
constitutional rights of the American colonies, he was baptized in this
on January 7th 1734-5 and died at sea off Nevis on April 16th 1784  This
panel is dedicated by Vere Langford
Oliver in commemoration of his ancestors and kinfolk who lie buried in
churchyard or in their plantation, 1919.”

Richard Oliver of Polperro.  Richard Oliver,
born in 1772, was the owner and master of a smuggling vessel called the
when a Custom House officer was murdered in 1798 while trying to board
her off
Cawsand near Plymouth.  So incensed were
the authorities by this outrage that the hunt for the Lottery
and its
crew continued for months.

Several Lottery
crewmen were captured and stood trial at the Old Bailey. One of them,
Potter, was convicted of the murder and executed after another member
of the
crew testified against him.

But Richard
Oliver remained at large.  A notice
published by the Customs Commissioners in 1799 described him as having:
dark complexion, long face, light brown curled short hair, about 6 foot
rather thin, but very boney and walks very upright.”

Ironically, two of Richard’s sons joined the
new Coastguard service formed in 1822 to stop the smuggling trade that
had been
rampant with their father during the Napoleonic Wars.

Charles Silver Oliver at Castle Oliver.  In 1798
Charles Silver Oliver took control of the Castle Oliver and its 20,000
estate.  The same year Charles Silver
hung, drew and quartered a popular local united Irish man Patrick
Wallis and placed his head on a spike on the top of Kilfinane market

He had at least four illegitimate children by
his mistress at Castle Oliver.  The
youngest of these children was Eliza Oliver, mother of Elizabeth
Gilbert known as Lola Montez “the Spanish dancer,” who was born in 1818.  Lola was the mistress of King Ludwig 1 of
Bavaria.  She subsequently departed for
and died of pneumonia, aged 42, in  Brooklyn.

James Oliver in South Bend.  James Oliver was a great benefactor to the town South Bend in Indiana and
built for them a magnificent hotel, the Oliver Hotel, which opened in

At the opening ceremony in early
1900, the inhabitants of South Bend presented him with a gold loving
cup on
which was inscribed the word Copshawholm.
Copshawholm was the name of the small town in Liddesdale where
Oliver was born.  James’s father had been
a shepherd there, as still was his younger brother George.


Oliver Names

  • William Oliver may or may not have invented the Bath bun, but he did invent the Bath Oliver, a biscuit.
  • Joe Oliver was a jazz cornet player and bandleader in the 1920’s, a mentor for Louis Armstrong.
  • Sir Laurence Olivier has been acclaimed as possibly the greatest English actor of the 20th century.
  • Jamie Oliver is a popular English celebrity chef.

Select Oliver Numbers Today

  • 41,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Durham or London)
  • 40,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 27,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Oliver 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.





Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply