Vance Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Vance Surname Meaning

The Anglo-Norman de Vaux family name became Vaux in England, Vaus in Scotland and Vans in Ireland.  Vans in turn 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.  But the Vance surname in England might have had different origins.

Vance Surname Resources on The Internet

Vance Surname Ancestry

  • from England, Scotland and Ireland (Donegal and Tyrone)
  • to America, Canada and Australia

England.  There was a Vaux family in England, recorded from the 13th century and possibly earlier.  Their family seat was Harrowden Hall at Great Harrowden in Northamptonshire.

Sir Nicholas was made Baron Vaux in 1523 after his support for the Lancastrian cause.  His male Vaux line ended in 1663, although the Baron Vaux title did continue.  These Vaux were Catholics, with Eliza Vaux being involved in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605.

The Vaux name was not that common in England in the 1891 census, with the numbers only around 400.  However, the Vance name was even less common, with numbers below 300, most of them being 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 suddenly.

“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 or Vance in the 16th century. Sir Patrick and his son Sir John Vans served as ambassadors to Denmark.  This family later became Vans Agnew. 

One Vance family from Wigtonshire came to Virginia in the 1720’s, another to Canada in the 1830’s.

Ireland.  The two main Vans/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 had Scots Irish origins. 

Scots Irish.  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 1790’s. 

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 the 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 post-bellum 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 had 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, the US Secretary of State in the Carter administration

Many Scots Irish ended up in Appalachia.  J.D. Vance’s 2016 book Hillbilly Elegy described how these Appalachians struggled when they had to leave the homes and move into the factory towns of Ohio and Pennsylvania in search of work. 

The story was told through the esperience of his maternal grandparents – Papaw and Mamaw Vance – from whom J.D. Vance took his surname.  They had been born in east Kentucky and moved to Middletown, Ohio.  The Vance generations before them – Wilbur Lee Vance and James Evert Vance – had been from West Virginia. 

German.  Other Vances in America have included the descendants of a number of German Wentz families that had immigrated into Pennsylvania in the 18th century. 

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 in the 1830’s.  They included James Vance who arrived with his wife Susan.

Australia.  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 Surname 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 England and is one of the first surnames that appeared there after the Conquest.”

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 or DeVaux.”

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.”

Harrowden Vaux in England.  The Harrowden name came into the Vaux family by the marriage of William Harrowden to Margery Vaux.  Margery’s father William Vaux was a prosperous lawyer.  She belonged to a family that could trace an unbroken descent from the 13th century and a less certain broken descent from the Conqueror, likely Robert Vaux.

Reader Feedback – Harrowden Vaux and a Vance Line.  My grandmother is Oscar Vance’s daughter.  She was Mary Vance.  The DNA says Vance 1B is from de’vallibus/Devaux and the Vaux family of Harrowden in Northamptonshire.  Do you know any immigrant names of Vances from that line?  Franz Josef von Hofler (

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.

Johannis 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.

Later Vaus/Vans of this line were:

  • Robert Vaus (died in the 1460’s)
  • Blaise Vaus (died in 1482)
  • Patrick Vaus (died in 1528)
  • John Vaus (died in battle in 1547)
  • Sir Patrick Vaus (died in 1597)
  • Sir Patrick Vans (died in 1642)
  • and Sir John Vans (died in 1673).

Sir 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 Donegal 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 and 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.

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

In the mid-1790’s Patrick and his family moved south to the sparsely settled area of North Carolina west of the Blue 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:

“The traditional three brothers came from the north of Ireland and settled in the valley of 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 the 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 (

Reader Feedback – Joseph Vance to Canada.  I’m a descendant of the Scottish Joseph Vance (1807-1879) who immigrated to Canada from Wigtownshire, but have hit a roadblock and can’t identify any family connection prior to 1780.

Michael Vance (

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 the German “W” sounds “V” in America.

Examples have been:

  • Johann Diel Handle Wentz, a German immigrant who married Elizabeth Casner in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania in 1750.  He became Vance during his lifetime.
  • and John Philip Wentz, a German immigrant who lived and died (in 1795) in York county, Pennsylvania.  His descendants became Vance in the early 1800’s.

J.D. Vance and Hillbilly Elegy.  In his 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance described his own upbringing and family background while growing up in the city of Middletown, Ohio.   He wrote about a history of poverty there and of low-paying, physical jobs that have since disappeared.

His mother and her family hailed from eastern Kentucky. Their Appalachian values included traits such as loyalty and love of country that were thrown into disarray in their new environment.  He recounted his grandparents’ alcoholism and abuse and his unstable mother’s history of drug addictions and failed relationships. Vance’s grandparents eventually reconciled and became his de facto guardians. He was pushed by his tough but loving grandmother.  Eventually Vance was able to leave Middletown to attend Ohio State University and Yale Law School.

There was a political dimension to his writing.  His resentment of those who seemed to profit from poor behavior while he struggled, especially combined with his values of personal responsibility and tough love, was presented as a microcosm of the reason for Appalachia’s overall political swing from strong Democratic Party to strong Republican affiliation.

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.
  • J.D. Vance, the author of the best-selling Hillbilly Elegy in 2016, was elected the Senator for Ohio in 2022.

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)

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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Written by Colin Shelley

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