Origin, Meaning and Family History of the Kerr Name
Ireland, Scotland, England
Origins of Name:
The surname of Kerr is an Anglo-Saxon surname, but has deep roots in a Pre 7th Century Old Norse origin. This surname was a topographical one, and found mostly in the “Border counties” of England and Scotland. The Kerr surname is mostly meant to describe someone who lived near a patch of wet ground that has been overgrown with brushwood. This name derived from the word “kjarr” which is translated to mean “copsewood” “brushwood” or “wet ground” which would eventually become the Northern English “kerr” which is translated to describe a “bog or fen” that was “covered with low brushwood.”
More common variations are:
Ker, Carr, Care, Kerry, Kerre, Kierr, Keerr, Kerra, Kearr, Kaerr, Kerro, Kerri, Kerru
The first recorded spelling of the surname of Kerr was found in Scotland in the year 1190. This name, which was recorded as one Johannes Ker, was found in the Episcopal Register of the City of Glasgow, Scotland. This document was ordered and decreed under the ruling of King William, who was normally referred to in history, and also known as “The Lion of Scotland” and ruled from the year 1165 to the year 1214. In this country, there is an old legend that those who bore the surname of Ker in Scotland were left-handed, and it is believed that this surname perhaps comes from the “cearr”. Cearr is a Gaelic word that translates to mean “wrong handed” or “left handed,” but this has not been a proven theory, and by many it is not accepted as a plausible course of events. In Scotland, those who bear the surname of Kerr are found in large concentrations around the entire country of Scotland. The counties that specifically have a large concentration of people who bear the surname of Kerr are as follows: Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, and Midlothian counties.
Other recorded instances of the surname of Kerr throughout history include Osbert de Ker, who was recorded in the Charters of Rievaulx Abbey in the year 1200, while Margaret Kerr married Robert Hai in the year 1565 at Bemersyde in Roxburgh. In England, those who bore the surname of Kerr are most often found in the Northern region of the country. The counties that have the highest concentration of those who bear the surname of Kerr are in Northumberland, Durham, Lancashire, and Cheshire.
Kerr is still today a common name in Northern Ireland, mainly in Antrim county. Many Kerrs came over to Ireland during the Scottish plantations. In Down county, Ker and Karr variations of the name are common. By 1840, it was thought that one out of every twenty acres in Down county belonged to the Ker family of Portavo. At that time, they were one of Ireland’s thirty richest families. While Kerr in Ireland is generally of Scottish origin, Carr is of either Irish or English origin.
United States of America:
During the 17th Century, there was a large migration from European countries to the United States of America, which at that time was referred to as The Colonies, or the New World. These settlers were seeking out a better life for them and their families, and America promised freedom from religious persecution, a life without an overarching ruler, and better living conditions. This migration was referred to as The European Migration. The first person to bear the surname of Kerr and land in the United States of America was one Johan Kerr, who arrived in the state of Pennsylvania in the year 1728. Those who bear the surname of Kerr are found all over the United States of America. Kerr is one of the more popular surnames in this country. Those who have this surname of Kerr are often found in high concentrations in the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and the state of Michigan.
United States 53,490
Northern Ireland 4,412
South Africa 4,219
New Zealand 3,976
Brigadier-General Francis Rusher Kerr (1890-1975) who was an American Assistant Administrator of Veteran Affairs in the year 1946
Malcolm Kerr (1931-1984) who was an American academic
Cristie Kerr (born in 1977) who was an American LPGA Professional Golfer
Walter Francis Kerr (1913-1996) who was an American writer and Broadway theatre critic who was awarded the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism
Deborah Kerr CBE (1921-2007) who was a Scottish-born, American movie actress who was most notably remembered for her role in The King and I who also starred Yul Brynner for which she was awarded a Golden Globe Award
Donald Macklean Kerr Jr. (born in 1939) who was an American physicist, and the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory from the year 1979 to the year 1985, and served as the director of the FBI Laboratory in the year 1997
James “Jim” Kerr (born in 1959) who was a Scottish musician and singer-songwriter, was a member of the Scottish rock band Simple Minds. Their biggest hit was the famous song “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”
Kerr Coat of Arms Meaning
The three main devices (symbols) in the Kerr blazon are the mullet, chevron and stag. The two main tinctures (colors) are gules and argent.
The bold red colour on a heraldic shield is known as gules. It has a long history within heraldry, it is known that one of those who besieged the scottish castle of Carlaverock in 1300 was the French knight Euremions de la Brette who had as his arms a simple red shield.. The word gules is thought to come from the Arabic gule, or “red rose” . Later writers associated it with the precious stone ruby and the metal iron , perhaps because of the red glow of iron in the heat of the blacksmith’s forge.
Argent is the heraldic metal Silver and is usually shown as very pure white. It is also known more poetically as pearl, moon (or luna) . In a sketch or drawing it is represented by plain, unmarked paper .
The heraldic mullet, not to be confused with the fish of that name, is shown as a regular, five pointed star. This was originally, not an astronomical object, but represented the spur on a horseman’s boot, especially when peirced, with a small circular hole in the centre it represents a type of spur known as a “rowel” . A clear example can be found in the arms of Harpendene, argent, a mullet pierced gules. The ancient writer Guillim associated such spurs in gold as belonging to the Knight, and the silver to their esquires . In later years, Wade linked this five pointed star with the true celestial object, the estoile and termed it a “falling star”, symbolising a “divine quality bestowed from above” .
The chevron is one the major shapes used upon a shield, known as ordinaries. The inverted ‘V’ of the chevron is perhaps thought to have originated to represent a military scarf folded on the shield , or additional cross-pieces used to strengthen the shield and painted a different colour.. It has also acquired the meaning of “Protection… granted… to one who has achieved some notable enterprise” , possibly becuase of its resemblance to the roof truss of a house.
We should be surprised to find the stag or buck, noble quarry of many a mediaeval hunt, being illustrated in many a coat of arms. . It shares many of the poses to be found with the lion, but also one almost unique to the deer, grazing, as if the animal is still unaware of the hunter’s approach. . In common with all symbols related to the hunt we probably need look further for their intended meaning than the pleasure taken by the holder in such pursuits!