Savage Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Savage Surname Meaning

The surname Savage comes from the French sauvage, a nickname for someone with a wild disposition and fierce temper.  Another interpretation of the name was as follows:

“When first born as a surname, Le Sauvage signified, probably not the ferocious but the forester, as distinguished from the inhabitants of fortified towns.”

Le Sauvage was the name of a Norman family. The name is believed to have crossed the Channel at or after the time of the Norman Conquest.

Savage Surname Resources on The Internet

Savage Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Cheshire and Yorkshire) and from Ireland (Down)
  • to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

England.  The first le Sauvage in England appears to have been Robert le Sauvage, recorded at Broadwater in Sussex in the Domesday Book of 1086. This family later migrated to Stainsby in Derbyshire and subsequently to Clifton in Cheshire.

Another early Savage line was to be found at Stockbury and Bobbing in Kent.  Sir Arnold le Sauvage of this family, who died in 1410, was twice elected as Speaker of the House of Commons.

Cheshire.  By the late 14th century the main Savage line was to be found at Clifton in Cheshire. John Savage fought for Henry VII at Bosworth Field in 1485; Thomas Savage was Archbishop of York in 1501; and another Savage branch began at Elmley castle in Gloucestershire at this time. Sir John Savage had Rocksavage, a great showpiece Elizabethan mansion, built at Clifton in 1568.

In the 17th century the Savages were ennobled as Earl Rivers.  John Savage, the second Earl and a Catholic, played a prominent part in raising troops for the King during the Civil War. Richard Savage the poet was the illegitimate son of Richard, the fourth Earl. Meanwhile, two 19th century English poets, Walter Savage Landor and Alfred Lord Tennyson, have Savage descent.

Yorkshire.  There has been a notable Savage presence in Yorkshire, dating back to the 1360’s when Will Savage was the rector at St. Helens, Treeton near Rotherham.

Sir Edward Savage of the Cheshire Savages became bailiff of Hatfield near Doncaster in 1495 and his arms are to be found in the local church there. Savages in and around Sheffield date from the 1600’s. George Savage was a razor grinder in the town in the early 19th century.

Ireland. The county Down family of Savage – Savage of the Ards – was planted there by William le Sauvage from Kent who had served under de Courcey in his Ulster invasion in 1177. He built his castle on the summit of the hill at Ardkeen in the region of county Down known as the Ards. Over time, the Savages became fully part of the Irish landscape (the Gaelic version of their name was Mac an tSabhasaigh) and were constantly at war with other Irish clans in the area, in particular with their arch-rivals, the Clandeboye O’Niells.

The Savages at Portaferry established themselves as the Lord Savages of Arde by converting to Protestantism in the 16th century. They changed their name to Nugent in 1812. This prompted one disgruntled member of the family to retort that he would “rather be an old savage than a new gent!” Lady Dorcas Savage, who died in 1835, was the last of these old Savages.

The story of the family has been told in GF Savage-Armstrong’s 1888 book The Ancient and Noble Family of the Savages of the Ards.

America. Early sightings were in Virginia and New England.

Virginia.  Ensign Thomas Savage was just thirteen when in 1608, soon after his arrival in Jamestown, he was given to Powhatan as a hostage by Captain Newport so that he could maintain Powhatan’s friendship. Later Thomas made his family home at Savage’s Neck on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He died around 1627 but left a son, Captain John Savage. Some of his Savage descendants have remained on the Eastern Shore.

Meanwhile “Carpenter” Thomas Savage, who arrived possibly in the early 1630’s, was a prominent figure in early Northampton and Accomack county histories. He was known as a builder of watercraft, a manufacturer of casks and barrels, and a large plantation owner.

New England.  Another Thomas Savage came to Massachusetts on the Planter in 1635. The line from his son Habijah led to Thomas Savage and his son Thomas, noted silversmiths of Boston and Bermuda. From this family came:

  • Edward Savage, a famous portrait painter best known for his painting of George Washington in 1790. His son John became a wealthy ship-owner and merchant in Philadelphia trading with the Caribbean. A later John Savage resigned his commission during the Civil War and ended up living on a reduced inheritance.
  • and the Bostonian James Savage who was to start the first American savings bank in 1816.

John Savage was in Middletown, Connecticut by the 1650’s. His descendants included Empire Loyalists, David Savage who joined the Mormon church, and George and Georgetta Savage, early settlers in Washington state on the West Coast.

Canada. Jans Sauvage from Brittany in France came to Canada around the year 1780 and made his home in Nouvelle Longueuil, Quebec. Some eighty or so years later the family name became Savage.

Australia and New Zealand.  Richard Savage emigrated to Melbourne from county Down in the late 1850’s. He and his wife Johanna raised eight children, the youngest being a son Michael.

Finding work hard to get in Victoria, Michael Savage emigrated to New Zealand in 1907. He involved himself with the Labour party there and was one of its first MP’s following the 1919 election. He became New Zealand’s first Labour Prime Minister in 1935.

Savage Surname Miscellany

Sauvage in France.  The Norman home of the Sauvage family is believed to have been in the neighborhood of Avranches.  There was an ancient de Sauvage family, lords of Montbaron, who might have been related.  They held lands extending into Burgundy.  However, their family records were destroyed in a fire at the chateau de Montbaron in 1615.

Sauvage is a French surname today (some 15,000 bear the name).  It is most common around Calais.

Reader Feedback – Early Savage History.  I am from the Savage family and have been researching it for over 15 years, which has resulted in document of over 5,000 pages on all the main Savage families around the world.

Firstly there was no Sieur Thomas le Sauvage in 1066 in England.  No document in England has been found with such a name.  Secondly, the early history/descent of the le Sauvages in Walt’s work, I am afraid, is wrong or incorrect.

The first known le Sauvage recorded in England, from the Domesday Book in 1086, was Robert le Sauvage of Broadwater in Worthing in Sussex.  The research for the Sussex line from 1066 was done by W.E. Done in 1964.  I have checked all the documents he listed and come to exactly the same conclusion.

Best regards, Hugh Savage (
Worthing, Sussex 

Lord Savage and the Rhymer O’Daly.  Patrick Savage, Seneschal (Lord) of Arde, lived in county Down during Elzabethan times.  He was empowered by the English Crown to punish “malefactors, rebels, vagabonds, rhymers, Irish harpers, and idle men and women.”  He had the whip applied to the rhymer O’Daly and drove him out of the Ards.

O’Daly composed a bitter retort in Irish.  Translated it read:

  • “The Ards of Uladth, scarce and starving,
  • A country without happiness, without religion,
  • Where Savage, the foreign hangman,
  • Scrapes off the limpets with his knife.”

Lady Dorcas Savage.  Lady Dorcas Savage, “the last of the Savages,” had a ship named after her.  She was also known for her acts of charity.  Her name appeared in a poem written by Alexander McGrattan of Kansas who was from the area and remembered his hometown fondly. The excerpt from his poem went as follows:

  • “In eighteen hundred twenty five,
  • A schoolhouse there was placed
  • By a Lady Dorcas Savage,
  • Being the last of her race.
  • As she did not limit cost
  • It is plain to be seen,
  • The best schoolhouse in all the North
  • Was then built at Ardkeen.”

Savages in the 17th Century.  Sir John Savage of Rocksavage died in 1615 and he was succeeded by his son Thomas who was created a Viscount.  When Thomas died in 1635 and was buried in Macclesfield, his eldest son Lord Viscount John Savage became the owner of Rocksavage.  He was made Earl Rivers in 1639.  After the Civil War, because of his support for the King, he was stripped of his title and estates.  He died at Frodsham castle in 1654.  A few hours after his death the castle was completely destroyed by fire.

The Rocksavage estates were restored to his son Thomas by Charles II after the Restoration.  Richard Savage, the fourth Earl, was one of the most conspicuous rakes of his time.  The Savage line became extinct in 1742.

Richard Savage’s Unfortunate Life.  Richard Savage was born in 1698, having been the son of Anne, Countess of Macclesfield, by Captain Richard Savage, afterwards the Earl of Rivers.  He might have been considered the lawful issue of Lord Macclesfield; but his mother, in order to procure a separation from her husband, made a public confession of adultery in this instance.

As soon as her spurious offspring was brought to light, the countess treated him with every kind of unnatural cruelty.  She committed him to the care of a poor woman to educate as her own and prevented the Earl of Rivers from making him a bequest of £6,000 by declaring that he was already dead.  She endeavored to send him secretly to the American plantations; and at last, to bury him in obscurity and indigence for ever, she placed him as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Holborn.

About this period his nurse died.  In searching her effects, Savage found some letters which unravelled the mystery of his origin.  He therefore left his low occupation and tried every method, but without avail, to awaken the tenderness and attract the regard of his mother.  Being thus thrown upon the world without the aid of any fostering hand, he availed himself of the portion of learning he had acquired at the grammar school of St. Albans, and commenced a life as an author.

In 1723 he produced a tragedy, in which he himself performed the principal character, entitled Sir Thomas Overbury.  The profits of this play appear to have amounted to £200.  The world was beginning to regard this victim of maternal heartlessness with a more favorable eye when the accident occurred which put not only his reputation but his life itself into jeopardy.  He – together with James Gregory and William Merchant – was indicted at the Old Bailey for the murder of James Sinclair during a tavern brawl, Savage for having given him a mortal wound with a drawn sword in the lower part of the belly and Gregory and Merchant for having aided and abetted him.

After a trial of eight hours, the jury found Savage and Gregory guilty of murder and Merchant guilty of manslaughter.  Savage faced the prospect of the death sentence.  It will scarcely be believed that, at this critical juncture, the inhuman countess exerted all her influence to prejudice the Queen against her unhappy child and to render unavailing every intercession that might be made to procure for him the royal mercy.

At length, however, the Countess of Hertford having laid an account of the extraordinary story and sufferings of poor Savage before her majesty, a pardon was obtained for him and his companion and they were accordingly set at liberty.

However, he was destitute of all means of subsistence and his latter days appear to have been spent, for the most part, in abject poverty.  He died at Bristol, where he had been imprisoned for debt, in August 1743, in his 46th year, and was buried in the churchyard of St. Peter at the expense of the jailer.

Ensign Thomas Savage and the Indians.  After the hostage giving, ensign Thomas Savage lived with the Powhatans – from the age of thirteen to around seventeen; and, when he returned to live in the colony, he continued to have close ties with the Indians.

He was the first white man to settle on the Eastern Shore.  He had developed good relations with the Accomacks there so that, even as a very young man, he was accepted into their councils.  When Captain Martin visited the Eastern Shore in April 1610, he found Thomas Savage already a power among them.

He made his home at Savage’s Neck on the Eastern Shore where today there is the following marker:

“Here in Savage’s Neck was the home of Ensign Thomas Savage who came to Virginia in 1608. Granted a tract of land by Debedeavon, the “Laughing  King” of  the Indians in 1619,  Savage became the first English permanent resident of the Eastern Shore.”

Thomas Savage was a trader later.  In the 1624-25 muster he was listed as having a storehouse in which he stored his goods of trade.

George and Georgetta Savage, West Coast Pioneers.  George and Georgetta Savage and their four children crossed the plains from Iowa in 1873 on the first train to carry passengers to San Francisco.  The family then went north by sailing ship to New Westminster and settled in British Columbia. But the “King George” Indians did not like the “Boston Men,” so they left again on a sailboat which Mr. Savage had built.

The next winter they spent at Marchs Point, but later went on to Utsalady on Camano Island where a sawmill was located.  Eventually Mr. Savage left the mill to look for a homestead.  After staying one winter at Day Slough on the North Fork of the Skagit river, he went up the river toward Concrete and settled on a timbered tract fronting on the stream. Timber which was cut from the tract was dragged out by oxen and rafted down to the mill at Utsalady.

George Savage was the first county engineer of Skagit county and located most of the pioneer roads there. He was interested in early politics and once made a steamboat journey from Mount Vernon to Whatcom (now Bellingham) to protest in behalf of the would-be Skagit county residents.   He passed away in 1920.

His original home was destroyed by fire.  But Bert Savage today has a home on the same site; and part of the old log outbuildings, as well as part of the original orchard, are still in use.

Savage Names

  • William le Sauvage was in 1170 the first of the Savages of the Ards in county Down.
  • John Savage, the 2nd Earl Rivers, was Catholic gentry from Cheshire. He was a key supporter of Charles I during the Civil War.
  • Jim Savage was the California pioneer who discovered the Yosemite valley.
  • Michael Savage, of Irish parentage, was the first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand, taking office in 1935.

Savage Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous in Hertfordshire)
  • 18,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 9,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).

Savage 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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Written by Colin Shelley

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