Posted by on 31 January 2013 in General, What's in a name?

Authored by Jo Fitz-Henry.  Jo Fitz-Henry is the co-ordinator of the Fitz(-)henry One Name Study at the Guild of One Names Studies, and the Fitz(-)henry DNA Study, trying to link the various Fitz(-)henry families around the world when the paper records run out. If you have any enquiries about the surname, or the DNA study, she would love to hear from you at fitz-henry@one-name.org or you can follow the blog at fitz-henry.blogspot.co.uk

The surname Fitzhenry

Figure 1 – “The medieval Macmine Castle in County Wexford, held by the Fitzhenry (later Fitzharris) family until the time of Cromwell.”

Origins

The surname Fitzhenry first arrived in Britain after the Norman Conquest of 1066, with the introduction of Norman-French as the language of the new lords. “Fitz” was the Norman word for “son”, and so Fitzhenry (or Fitzhenri) was the son of Henry.

When surnames became more common among the conquered Saxons (who were the greater majority of the British population and still used their own language), they used Harrison  – literally “the son of Harry”, the English version of Henry. Later on still, the native Welsh used the surname “Ap Harry” (“of Harry”) which has become shortened to Parry.

There is a romantic notion that all Fitzhenrys are descended from Henry Fitz-Henry, one of the illegitimate sons of Henry I, but there is evidence from medieval documents that men were given the surname Fitzhenry simply because their father was called Henry. The use of “Fitz” does not mean that the son was illegitimate. The first Lord Mayor of London, Henry FitzAlwyn (from 1189-1213) had four sons, all of whom were given the surname FitzHenry.

In the 12th century, Norman knights (including Meiler and Robert Fitzhenry, the sons of Henry FitzHenry, son of Henry I of England) invaded and occupied Ireland for Henry II. As both Robert and Meiler died without male heirs, it is likely that there were other knights and their household members with the name Fitzhenry in the invading army. The name flourished in South East Ireland, especially Wexford.  Some Fitzhenry families in Ireland also called themselves Fitzharris.  However, the Fitzhenry name virtually died out in England.

Spreading out

From the late 1700s onwards, Fitzhenrys and Fitzharrises from Ireland started to settle in what is now the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The emigration speeded up after the Potato Famines of the 1840s and 50s.  Irish Fitzhenrys also “emigrated” back to England in the 19th century where they reintroduced the name to the industrial areas of the country (mainly London, Liverpool and Manchester).  The surname Fitzhenry was also seen in India (mainly soldiers), South Africa (farmers and missionaries) and South America (traders and miners).

Spellings

Today, the surname is most commonly spelled Fitzhenry without the hyphen. Older spellings are Fitz Henry, Fitz-Henry and Fitshenry.  As well as the variant Fitzharris, the Irish also used the variant McHenry and O’Henry. A Fitzhenry family in Iowa changed the spelling to Fitzsenry in the 1890s. At least one Fitzhenry family that we know of in the US dropped the Fitz and became plain Henry.

 

Jo Fitz-Henry is the co-ordinator of the Fitz(-)henry One Name Study at the Guild of One Names Studies, and the Fitz(-)henry DNA Study, trying to link the various Fitz(-)henry families around the world when the paper records run out. If you have any enquiries about the surname, or the DNA study, she would love to hear from you at fitz-henry@one-name.org or you can follow the blog at fitz-henry.blogspot.co.uk

 

About Emma

Emma Pulman is a Social Media and digital Marketing Executive for Ancestry.co.uk. Based in Ancestry's London office in Hammersmith, Emma regularly tweets and posts on Ancestry's Facebook page.

2 Comments

Jeuan David Jones 

I’m bemused by some of the points made in the second paragraph. Patronymics (son of) is the conventional system of naming until the adoption of fixed surnames. The gist of this assumes the universal adoption of fixed surnames in the ‘Saxon-speaking population before the emergence of Middle-English ca 1350-1400; what is the evidence for this?
Also, I find the term ‘native Welsh’ rather curious; were there no ‘native Saxons’?
Moving on, Ap or Ab is integral to the Welsh partonymic system meaning ‘son of’. Following the 16th Century Acts of Union, the system becomes heavily influenced by English forms and practice. Parry is a contraction of Ap Hari; Pugh – Ap Huw. Partonymics (though with heavily anglicised names) lasted well into the 19th century in some parts of Wales: my 4xgt grandfather was William Rowlands whose eldest son, also born in Anglesey, was Rowland Williams. Shortly after his birth, the family moved to the burgeoning industrial area in the NE Wales coalfields, where subsequent children (his siblings) were all given the surname Rowlands.

31 January 2013 at 7:59 pm
Jo Fitz-Henry 

Dear Jeuan
Thank you for raising these points.

Surnames did not stay the same in successive generations either in the Norman or Saxon speaking population in a way we would recognise today, until several hundred years after the Norman invasion.

Patronymic surnames (being identified by your father’s name) are one form of surname type. Being identified by the place you came from (locative names), what you did for a living, and bodily characteristics are others.
Before they became fixed as a hereditary family name, a surname might have changed in each generation of a family. The surname that a present day Fitzhenry has may been different if the surname had “fixed” to a father’s name a generation before or after. The comparison of Fitzhenry and Harrison was to show the similar derivation of the names in both languages used in England at the time.

I hope I didn’t give offence when I used the term “native Welsh” to differentiate the indigenous people of Wales, and their language and naming systems from the later Norman and Plantagenet invaders of Wales.
The Saxons, although they had been present in what is now England for several centuries before the Norman invasion, were not native to England.

I received the information about the Parry surname and its similar derivation to Fitzhenry/Harrison from the person conducting the Parry One Name Study. As you have shown in your own family, the patronymic system of giving children surnames derived from their father’s forename (rather than a hereditary family name) continued in parts of Wales far longer than it did in England.

1 February 2013 at 11:47 pm