Vance Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Vance Meaning
The Vance surname in Scotland and Ireland originated with the Norman name de Vaux. It became Vance in Ireland and was brought to America as Vance. Sometimes in America German surnames such as
Wentz and
Wantz were anglicized to Vance
during the 18th century.
There was a separate English origin of Vance. It was
describing someone who
lived by a fen or marsh (from the Old English fenn meaning “low-lying marshy
area”). There were many early spelling variations – Fann, Vann,
Vanne, Vanns,
Vance and Venn. The “v” sound was often
regarded as the normal pronunciation for “f” in medieval dialects.

Vance Resources on

Vance Ancestry

The Vance surname has not been that common in England. The
numbers in the 1891 census were less than 300, with most of them in
either Lancashire
or London. The best known Vance was the Victorian actor and
pantomimist Alfred Vance, known in later life as ‘the great Vance.’
He was born
in London, made his mark in London music halls, but died

“On Boxing Day 1888 at the Sun
music hall in Knightsbridge, after he had given two songs and sung in
the wig and robes of a judge three verses of a third, he fell down at
the wing and was found to be dead from a heart attack.”

ScotlandThe de Vaux family had come from Normandy and settled in Galloway on the southwest corner of Scotland in the mid 12th century. Many generations later in 1384 Johannis de Vaus married an heiress and obtained the lands of Barnbarroch in Wigtonshire. The family name became Vans in the 16th century. Sir Patrick and his son Sir John Vans served as ambassadors to Denmark in the century.

Ireland.  The two main Vance outposts in Ireland were Donegal and county Tyrone.  Sir John Vans had been in great favor with King James VI of Scotland and was granted the Longcastle estate in county Donegal in the early 1600’s. His son John emigrated to America, as did Patrick Vance some years later. 

The Rev. John Vance was the first to use the name of Vance instead of Vans. He was a Presbyterian minister who had travelled to Ireland in 1660 to escape religious persecution at home. Under the Act of Settlement he obtained a land grant in county Tyrone. His son Dr. Lancelot was surgeon of a regiment and one of the defenders of Derry in the siege of 1689.

America. Most of the Vances in America have Scots Irish origins.

Patrick Vance came to America from Donegal in the 1750’s and settled in Cumberland county, Pennsylvania. There he married twice and was
to have fifteen children. He moved with his
family to the Blue Ridge mountains in Tennessee in the

Joseph Vance’s forebears were Scots Irish immigrants who had come
to Virginia at around the same time. He himself had been born in
Pennsylvania, but moved with his father, a Revolutionary War veteran,
first to Kentucky and then to Ohio. There he rose through the
political ranks and became Governor of the state in 1836.

Three Vance brothers, also Scots Irish, came to Virginia sometime in
1740’s. Later Vances moved to North Carolina and became active in
politics and business there.

This line culminated in Zebulon (Zeb) Vance, one
of the most influential Southern leaders of the Civil War and
postbellum periods. His father David had moved into a five room
log house in the mountains of western North Carolina after the
Revolutionary War was over and that was where Zeb Vance had been born
in 1830.

Andrew Vance arrived in Pennsylvania from Tyrone sometime
in the 1730’s. His grandson Robert was a
patriot of the Revolutionary War and an early pioneer of the Pittsburgh
area. It was thought likely that Colonel
Cyrus Vance,
born in Pennsylvania in 1807, was a descendant from Andrew. From his line came Cyrus Vance, US Secretary of State

Other Vances include the descendants of a number of German Wentz
who had immigrated into Pennsylvania in the 18th

Canada. Three Vance
families who
came to Canada were:

  • William Vance and his wife from Fermanagh who came to Durham
    county, Ontario in the 1820’s
  • Charles and Elizabeth Vance who came from Ireland to farm at
    Dunham in
    Quebec probably some time in the 1850’s. Their son Edward
    crossed the
    border in 1882 to settle in the Glendale district of what was then
    Montana territory.
  • and Vances from Wigtonshire in Scotland who settled in Oxford
    county, Ontario. They included James Vance who arrived with
    his wife Susan.

In the 1840’s George Grey, married to Isabella
Vance, was an Irish contractor clearing the bush for settlement in the
Ilawarra area
south of Sydney. Included among those enlisted for the clearing work were
his in-law
Vances, William and Joseph, from Fermanagh.
They brought their families and settled there


Vance Miscellany

Vance Surname Origins.  According to the antiquarian Sir James Dalrymple: “The ancient surname of Vans in the
later charters, called DeVallibus, is the same with the name Vaux in
and is one of the first surnames that appeared there after the

In Scottish heraldry it was recorded that:
“Few of the ancient names of Scotland can trace their origin to so
distinguished a foreign source as that of Vans, or more properly Vaus

The Gazetteer of Scotland stated: “In the twelfth century the
Anglo-Norman family of DeVallibus or DeVaux obtained a grant of the
manors of
Golyn and Dirleton and parts of Fenton;” and later: “The home of the
family at Dirleton in East Lothian was transferred to Barnborroch (or
Kirkinner) in Wigtonshire.” 

Vaus/Vans in Scotland.  The Vans
in Scotland were originally de Vaux and then Vaus.
The first in Scotland was said to have been
Phillip de Vaux in the 1150’s.

de Vaus obtained the lands of Barnbarroch in Wigtonshire in 1384 and
the line
from him has been more readily traceable.
DNA testing has suggested that this Barnbarroch Vaus line was
not only a
family in its own right, but also a branch of a Scottish superfamily to
which belonged
large groups of Elliotts, Glendennings, Littles, and McClains.

Vaus/Vans of this line were:

  • Robert
    Vaus (died in the 1460’s)
  • Blaise
    Vaus (died in 1482)
  • Patrick
    Vaus (died in
  • John
    Vaus (died in battle in 1547)
  • Sir
    Patrick Vaus (died in 1597)
  • Sir
    Vans (died in 1642)
  • and
    Sir John Vans (died in 1673).

John Vans succeeded his father as the Ambassador to
Denmark.  He was in great favor with the
King and, as a
consequence, received the grant to the estates of Longcastle in county
in Ireland.

Patrick Vance in America.  Patrick Vance
came to America from Donegal in the 1750’s and settled in Cumberland county,
Pennsylvania.  Per the 1768 tax list
Patrick had a three hundred acre farm and owned four horses, six cows
twelve sheep.

Patrick married
twice.  The first time was to Sarah
Taylor with whom he had six children.
Sarah sadly died soon after the birth of their sixth child.  In 1778 Patrick married again, to Elizabeth
Houston by whom he was to have an additional nine children.

home in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania,
a large and impressive two-story structure, still exists and presently
as the corporate headquarters for a quarry company.

the mid-1790’s Patrick and his family
moved south to the sparsely settled area of North Carolina west of the
Ridge Mountains (now Jefferson county, Tennessee).  There
he purchased 640 acres, established a
farm, and lived until his death in 1803.

Vances in Virginia.  The Rev. James Vance, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Virginia, said the following:

three brothers came from the north of Ireland and settled in the valley
Virginia.  One went thence to North
Carolina and from him the North Carolina Vances are descended (among
whom was the
Senator Zebulon B. Vance).  Another
brother went to Tennessee and from him my family is descended.”

The Rev. Hugh Vance was pastor of the
Tuscarora and Back Creek Presbyterian churches in Virginia from 1771
until his
death twenty years later.

Cyrus Vance’s Ancestry.  The Vance family of Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter, may have been
initially Scots Irish, from the immigrant Andrew Vance.
The more confirmed line is from Colonel Cyrus
Vance who had been born in Washington county, Pennsylvania in the early
1800’s.  He migrated to Clarksburg, West
Virginia in the 1830’s and was later mayor of the town.

Clarksburg was where Cyrus Vance was born on
St. Patrick’s Day in 1917 in an old family mansion (now demolished) at
corner of Pike and Sixth Street.  Vance
came under the wing of his cousin John Davis, a noted Clarksburg
attorney and
Democratic Presidential candidate in 1924.

Reader Feedback – James Vance to Canada.  The
James Vance who came from Wigtonshire in Scotland and settled in Oxford
county, Ontario in Scotland was one of five brothers: David, Robert,
George, James and Joseph.  We have a family record that says that
four came initially.  It appears that a fifth came later – maybe
that was James?  Joseph was my great great grandfather and he
arrived around 1836.

Christine Goodnough (

Wentz/Vance in America.  The Wentz surname is German, a pet form of Werner or, in the east, Wenceslaw.  The
name change from Wentz to Vance in America
often came about as a result of the census taker writing down the name
that the
census taker heard rather than the name that was said, particularly as
German “W” sounds “V” in America.

Examples have been:

  • Johann
    Diel Handle Wentz, a
    German immigrant who married Elizabeth Casner in Lancaster county,
    in 1750.  He became Vance during his
  • and
    John Philip Wentz, a German
    immigrant who lived and died (in 1795) in York county, Pennsylvania.  His descendants became Vance in the early



Vance Names

  • Zeb Vance was Governor and Senator for North Carolina and one of the most influential Southern leaders of the Civil War and postbellum periods.
  • Alfred Vance, known as “the great Vance,” was an English actor and pantomimist who made his mark in London Victorian music-halls.
  • Cyrus Vance was US Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter.

Select Vance Numbers Today

  • 2,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Yorkshire)
  • 16,000 in America (most numerous in Ohio)
  • 3,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Vance and Like Surnames

The English came to Ireland as early as 1170 with Strongbow’s invasion.  The invaders – largely Anglo-Norman – stayed and many became large landowners and public officials.

Over time their Norman French names changed to fit the local landscape – le Gras to Grace, de Burgh to Burke, de Leon to Dillon, and de Lench to Lynch for instance.  They became more Irish, often Catholic.  When the English came again, in the 16th and 17th centuries, some sided with the English and were rewarded.  But others resisted and had lands confiscated.

Here are some of these Anglo-Irish surnames that you can check out.



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