Russell Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Russell Meaning
Russell derived from the Old French rousel
meaning “red” and was originally descriptive of someone with red
hair. The surname first appeared as Rousel in the early 12th
century. The alternative Russel spelling
still exists. Other derivations of the name
are possible.

Russell Resources on

Select Russell Ancestry

England. Early sightings of Russell as a surname were in
the west country, in Worcestershire and Devon.

The Worcestershire Russells were
first recorded at Strensham near Pershore in 1283.
A branch of the family appeared in
Herefordshire in the early 1400’s. Sir
William Russell was the Royalist governor of Worcester at the time of
the Civil
War. The last male representative of
these Russells died in 1705. But the
Strensham manor remained with his descendants until 1817.

Sir John Russell was reported in
1211 as the storer of the King’s wine barrels and was granted the royal
of Kingston
near Weymouth in Devon.
His descendants held the Yaverland estate on the Isle of Wight
and, in
the 17th century, Chippenham Park in Cambridgeshire (which was
acquired by Admiral Edward Russell).

Whether Sir John was the forebear of the
famous Russell family from Dorset is unproven as no link has ever been
established. However, so convinced were
these Russells of
the connection that they purchased the Kingston Russell estate in 1560.

earliest traced ancestor was Stephen Russell who represented Weymouth
Parliament in 1394. His descendants were
wine merchants. John
Russell made a name for himself in 1506
when he was able to look after the Archduke Phillip of Austria and his
wife and
escort them to London after their ship had been caught in a storm off
Weymouth. This Russell was subsequently
ennobled as the Earl of Bedford. He
acquired Chenies
in Buckinghamshire in 1526, which became the

These Russells were to establish themselves as one of
Britain’s leading Whig
families and participated in every great political event from the
of the Monasteries to the Great Reform Act of 1832:

  • during the 17th and 18th
    centuries the Russells left their mark on London by their development
    Garden and Bloomsbury.
  • during the 18th century, the Bedfordites – led by John
    Russell, the fourth Duke of Bedford – were an important political
    faction in the country.
  • during
    the mid-19th century, Lord John Russell of this family served as both
    Prime Minister and its Foreign Secretary.
  • and the family also produced the
    philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Russell name did appear in the north of England. William
Russell, a banker in Sunderland,
acquired the Brancepeth estate in Durham in 1796. By
chance, he had also acquired land with
rich coal seams. This was to make him
and his son Matthew two of the richest men in the north of England in

By the late 19th century, however, the largest number of Russells in
England was to be found in London and the southeast.

Around the year 1600 Alexander Russel was Provost of
Elgin in Morayshire. His Russell descendants were subsequently
the lairds
of Moncoffer in Banffshire and Aden in Aberdeenshire.
was an early 19th century Elgin merchant who had come
from a Moray
family that had farmed at Alves for several generations.

The Russells of
Ashiesteel were a prominent family in Selkirkshire, many of whom
themselves in military service in India in the 18th and 19th
By the late 19th century, the largest number of Russells in Scotland
was living
in and around Glasgow.

The Russell name started to appear in Ireland soon after the
invasion when Robert de Russell was granted lands in county Down.

The main branch of this family was the
Russells of Killough. They remained
Catholic over the 17th and 18th centuries and experienced persecution
for their
beliefs and
confiscation of their lands. Their numbers
included Henry
, the famous explorer of the Pyrenees, who had been
born of an Irish father escaping Catholic persecution at home and a
French mother.

Also in the 19th
century, from the cadet Killowen branch, came:

  • Dr, Charles W. Russell, a
    prodigious Catholic scholar at Maynooth
  • and Charles A. Russell, one of the leading lawyers
    of his time who became Lord Chief Justice of England in 1884.

Another old
Russell family in Ireland was the one based at Seatown north of Dublin. They too were Catholic and lost most of their
estates in the 17th century. Their home,
Drynam House, remained with them until the 1920’s.

name has also been long associated with Limerick, with references to
the name there
as early as 1272. However, the main
recorded presence post-dates the year 1650 when Cromwell laid siege to
town. Nathaniel Russell, a soldier in
Cromwell’s army who died during the siege, was probably the forebear of
Russells. Russells were prominent
merchants in Limerick
in the 18th and 19th centuries,
contributing to
commercial expansion and often serving as Mayor. Ted
Russell, a more recent Limerick
politician from this family, died in 2004.

America. There were two notable Joseph
Russells in
early New England history.

Joseph Russell
of New Bedford
was a
descendant of John Russell who had come to Dartmouth, Massachusetts
1661. Born in 1719, he is considered the
founder of the New
whaling industry.

There was another Joseph Russell, this time of Rhode Island,
and another John Russell immigrant, this time to Newbury around 1650. These Russells got to Rhode Island via Cape
Cod. Joseph Russell trained and worked as
a silversmith (some of his pieces have survived) and later served as
Justice of Rhode Island. His home in
Providence, built in 1772, is still standing; as is the home of his son
Nathaniel, a merchant, in Charleston, South Carolina.

Thomas Russell, from a Birmingham family of ironmasters, came to
in 1720 to set up Principio Ironworks, the first iron blast furnace in
country. He subsequently returned to
England. But his son Thomas arrived in
1764 and produced
cannonballs there for the American army during the Revolutionary War.

Russell, born in 1735, was a prominent citizen of SW Virginia at the
time of
the Revolutionary War. Many of his
descendants lived in Russell county, Virginia which was named after him. His son William was an early settler in
Kentucky and Russell county in Kentucky was named after him.

Joseph Russell came to New Brunswick from
Clackmannan in Scotland in 1819 and became a successful shipbuilder
there. He and his family converted to
Mormonism in
1840 and they migrated to Utah two years before Joseph’s death there in

William and Hannah Russell
migrated from Kent with their nine children to Canada in 1857, first
settling in
Brockville on the St. Lawrence river and, then, seven years later,
moving by
boat to Elk Rapids on Lake Michigan.
They lived there for just on a hundred years.
A family Bible showed their line of descent.

Zealand. Thomas and Mary Russell
from Ireland were early migrants to New Zealand, arriving in 1840. Thomas tried his luck in the Californian
goldfields a decade later, but then returned.
His son J.B. Russell became a prominent Auckland lawyer.


Russell Miscellany

Reader Feedback – Russell Name Meaning.  As a Russell I enjoy browsing through your webpage that
is full of interesting information on Russell history and its link
to Kingston Russell in Dorset.

I was also most interested to read in your web page that the name Russell
from the Old French rousel for
“red.’  I have also read
various texts that claim its origin from Rufus, Rushall, or Hrod.
Another one
says that the first Russell on record was William Russel, named in the
Priory Register as the son of a Ralph de Rosel from Dorset whose
name is
in the Winton Domesday Book.

It looks
like the name Russell could have more than one origin, although the
from Dorset one seems to have the advantage of official documents to
back it

Regards  Charles Russell (

Russells of Kingston Russell.  Sir John Russel was granted
the royal manor of Kingston Russell near Weymouth in Devon
for his services to the King.  He had
under King John been Governor of Corfe Castle and was recorded as
follows in
the 1211 Book of Fees:

“John Russel
holds Kingston for half a hide of land from the Lord King from the time
William the Bastard sometime King of England through the serjeanty of
marshal of the king’s buttery (i.e. storer of wine barrels) at
Christmas and at

The serjeanty changed during
the minority of King Henry III to the counting of the King’s chessman
storing them away after a game.

After Sir John’s death in 1224 there followed
Ralph, Sir William, Theobald, Ralph, Maurice, and Thomas.
Thomas died in 1431 and Kingston Russell
passed to his sisters who had married and therefore the manor was
from the Russell family name.

William was Constable of Carisbrook castle on the Isle of Wight. He
there Katherine de Aula, heiress of the Yaverland estate which Russell
descendants held.  The Kingston Russell
line continued with his son Theobald.  It
was long thought that this Theobald had a son named William who was an
of the Russell Dukes of Bedford.  But no
such son existed.

Chenies Manor.  The Chenies Manor House in Buckinghamshire had been owned by the Cheyne family who were granted manorial rights there in
1180.  Sir John Cheyne built the current
around 1460.  But by 1526 it had been
acquired by John Russell who became the 1st Earl of Bedford.

The manor house was extended
into a palace prior to Henry VIII’s first visit there in 1534.  John Russell had risen to the lofty
heights of an Earldom under Henry VIII, despite lacking aristocratic
antecedents.  Unlike Thomas Cromwell, he
was able to hang on to both his head and his title and, as a
consequence, his
descendants became Dukes of Bedford in their turn.

Bedford chapel at Chenies holds monuments
starting with John and his wife Anne Sapcote and continuing until
Francis, the
10th Duke and his wife Adeline Marie.
The manor house remained in the possession of the Russells until

The Russells of New Bedford.  It was Joseph Russell, a
prosperous Quaker farmer from Dartmouth, who had acquired land along
the Acushnet
river and first settled in the early 1700’s in what
became the
town of New Bedford.   He in fact
suggested the name of New Bedford as the Dukes of Bedford in
also bore the name of Russell.

His elder
son Caleb farmed, his younger son Joseph was one of the first merchants
of New
Bedford and many consider him the founder of the New Bedford whaling
industry.  Under Joseph’s leadership the
inhabitants of Bedford village became whalers and shipbuilders.  He lived a long life and died in New Bedford
at the age of 85 in 1804.

John Russel of Elgin and His Descendants.  In 1805 John Russel, an Elgin merchant who consistently spelled his name with only one ‘l,’ rode to the new tweed
mills in
Galashiels.  After concluding his
business there he spent a few days with a wheelwright Thomas Russell in
Peebles, where he fell in love with his daughter Janet and asked for
her hand.

marrying John Russel, Janet joined a Moray
family which had farmed at Alves for several generations.
There were legendary links with the Royalist
Alexander Russell of the Civil War who was said to have fled to Elgin
Marston Moor.  More prosaically, they
were a branch of the Elgin Russells who had acquired Blackhall in

and Janet’s son Alexander (he preferred
two ‘l’s) became proprietor of the Elgin
, following his father’s purchase of the Courier plant in
1834.  He bought new premises for the paper
on the
High Street in 1840 and was to be its editor for thirty five years.

Willsher’s 2005 book A Scottish Family: The Story of Eight
covered these and six more generations of this family.

Russell Merchants in Limerick.  By 1760, when Limerick was proclaimed an open city,
the Russells had established themselves as prominent merchants there.  William Russell was recorded as a merchant on
Main Street in the 1769 Limerick directory.
His vault is to be found at Limerick’s St. John’s Church of

Russell’s vault was marked as follows:

“Here are interred the rewards of Philip Russell.
He was born on the 6th of March 1750 and
died on 24th of June 1832.  In this tomb
also rest the remains of his wife Susan and his sons Francis Philip
Henry Ivers
and Whitecat Keane Russell.”

had signed the pro-Union petition circulated
in Limerick after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, as had John Norris

first cousin John Norris Russell founded
the firm of J.N. Russell and Sons in Limerick.  He
started out as a corn merchant and later became
a shipowner and an industrialist.  He
built the Newtown Pery Mills on Russell’s Quay and the Newtown Pery
adjacent to it on Henry Street.   He was described as “the most enterprising
merchant Limerick ever saw.”  He died in

Henry Russell, The Irishman who Conquered the Pyrenees.  Henry Russell’s love of physical contact with the
mountains led to his introduction of sleeping bags into the annals of
mountaineering.  His first sleeping bag
was made of six sheepskins. Next he introduced shelters for climbers.  Wanting only natural items around him, he had
local artisans build rock caves with iron doors on his beloved
Vignemale in the

entertained there not only
other climbers, but friends from high society.
Scientists, botanists, explorers and politicians overnighted in
well appointed caves.  He ordered in a
large supply of food and wine, plus liquors and cigars.
They often would have an evening round of hot
wine, then climb about a half hour to the summit to see the sun set.

version of ecstasy was to spend the night
buried in the top of his mountain with only his head exposed so he
could, as he
explained, “feel” and “be” the mountain.

last cave, called the Grotte du Paradis, was built in 1893
just 18 meters below the summit. He began to spend more and more time
living as a hermit.  Russell made his
last ascent and sleepover at his beloved mountain in 1904.
He spent his last five years writing books
about his travels and died in 1909.


Russell Names

  • Lord John Russell was twice Prime
    Minister of England in the mid 19th century.
  • Jack Russell, known as the
    Sporting Parson, was a founding member of the Kennel Club. The Jack Russell terrier was named after him.
  • Dr. Charles Russell was a prominent Catholic scholar of the 19th century at Maynooth in Ireland.
  • Bertrand Russell was an eminent British philosopher, writer and, in his later years, a campaigner for nuclear
  • Bill Russell was the leader of the great Boston Celtic
    basketball teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Willy Russell from a working
    class Liverpool background was the author of popular plays such as Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.

Select Russell Numbers Today

  • 83,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Kent)
  • 84,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 59,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Russell and Like Surnames

Nicknames must have been an early feature of medieval life in a family or community as these nicknames later translated into surnames.  People then lived a more natural life than we do today and the surnames have reflected that.

They could be about color (Brown, Gray, Green etc), whether of hair or complexion or other factors; mood (Gay and Moody are two extremes); youth (Cox and Kidd); speed of foot (Swift and Lightfoot); and actions (such as Shakespeare and Wagstaff).  Then there were likenesses to animals (notably Fox and Wolfe but also Peacock) and to birds (Crowe and Wren for example).  And then there were some extraordinary nicknames such as Drinkwater and Wildgoose.

Here are some of these nickname surnames that you can check out.






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