Origin, Meaning and Family History of the Purcell Name
Surname Name Meaning, Origin, and Etymology
This English/Irish/Welsh last name of Norman ancestry derives from the nickname “the porcel” from the Middle English pork, Old French porc, meaning a pig, pork, or hod, with the diminutive porcell, meaning a young pig. The Old French would pourcel means a piglet. In Italian, the word porcella means “a sow pig”. The diminutive Porchet derives from the Old French porquet. Ultimately, these words derive from the Latin word porcellus, meaning a pig. As such, this is an occuptational surname for a swineherd, a person who raised pigs, an important job during medieval times and the Middle Ages. The family is seated at the Castle of Loughmoe in county Tiperrary. The family did not come to Ireland until after the Anglo-Norman Invasion of 1172 AD, at which time they became proponents to the Butler-Ormond family. Another theory, of which I cannot find much evidence, is that it is a locational/habitational name, for a person from Pirsoul in France.
In Ireland, it is widely believed the progenitor of the family was Sir Hugh Purcell, a companion/knight of Strongbow (Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke, a Welsh-Norman noble who invaded Ireland at the bequest of Diarmaid MacMurchadha, King of Leinster, who lived in the twelfth century AD). Hugh’s grandson, also named Hugh, married Beatrix, daughter of Theobald FitzWalter, and received Loughmore (Loghmoe) as his wedding present (from King Henry II?). It should be noted the coats of arms of the various branches of the Purcell family depicts boar’s heads, an obvious allusion to the name’s etymology and origin.
Another source, Mr. D’Alton, writes the following in regard to this last name and it’s genealogy/ancestry: “was early introduced into Munster, where it soon became so numerous that the rolls of licenses for protection and pardon in the year 1310, (in prudence then necessitated), included no less than thirteen adult Purcells; while eight years previously, Hugh, Philip, Maurice, and Adam Purcell were of the Irish magnates summoned to the Scottish war…In the reign of Elizabeth and James, the Purcells were seized of many castles and manors in Kilkenny”.
Purcell Family of Ireland
The book, Genealogy of Irish Families, by John Rooney published in 1895, has a section dedicated to this name. He states the Purcell family is of Norman (French) origin and came into Ireland in 1171 AD, and branches took root in Cork, Clare, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Tipperary. In the last mentioned county, the Purcells were Barons of Luachmhagh of Loughmoe, near Thurles. The author goes on to state “In 1240 a member of this family, Sir Hugo Purcell, founded a monastery in the town of Waterford. The Purcells of the County of Limerick had a castle in Ballycalhane, a townland in the parish of Kildimo, barony of Kenry. In the year 1581 David Oge Purcell and his people had a fierce encounter with a body of the soldiers of Adare, in which the latter were defeated with great slaughter. When the news was carried to Adare by the few survivors, Achin, the captain of that town, assembled the soldiers of Kilmallock, set out for Ballycalhane, and slew one hundred and fifty men, women, and children inside and in the vicinity of Purcell’s castle.” He also mentions Reverend John Baptist Purcell, a prominent notable of this family in the United States, who was the Archbishop of the city of Cincinnati, Ohio, as well as a renowned journalist named William Purcell, who was of Rochester, New York.
Common spelling variants or names with similar etymologies include Pursell, Purssell, Porcel, Purcel, Purcill, Purcel, Pursel, Percell, Porcell, Percill, Porsell, Purcele, Purchell, Purscel, and others. The Gaelic form of the name is I am a man: nothing human is foreign to me Puirséil. Perhaps the names Parsel or Parcel have similar origins, although I have not found evidence to support this claim.
Popularity & Geographic Distribution
The last name Purcell ranks 1,517th in popularity in terms in the United Status as of the 2000 Census. The name ranks particularly high in the following nine states: Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Idaho, New York, Illinois, Indiana, Colorado, and Montana. The spelling variant Pursell ranks 11,815th in the same Census.
The surname Purcell frequency/commonness ranks as follows in the British Isles: England (1,213rd), Scotland (1,633rd), Wales (1,356th), Ireland (216th) and Northern Ireland (1,576th). In England, it ranks highest in Shropshire and Cheshire. In Scotland, it ranks highest in Argyll and Dunbartsonshire. In Wales, it ranks highest in Mongomeryshire. In Ireland, the surname Purcell ranks highest in Kilkenny and Tipperary. In Northern Ireland, it ranks highest in Londonderry.
The name is also present throughout the remainder English speaking world: Canada (1,788th), New Zealand (1,050th), Australia (557th), and South Africa (7,835th).
The 1890 book Homes of Family Names by H.B. Guppy, states the following in regard to this surname: “Purssell is one of the oldest of Bucks names. From 1350 to 1373, Robert de Pursele owned property in Warmston and Haddenham; and in the early part of the following century a family of Pursel or Purcel held property in Bierton. In 1606 there was a John Pursell in Oving, and in 1634 there was a Roger Pursell in Padbury. Edward Purcell was mayor of Buckingham in 1687 and 1697 (W.). During the early part of last century several of the name of Pursell or Purcell were buried in Burnham Church, including the family of Richard Pursell, gent”.
Early Bearers of the Surname
The earliest known bearer of this surname was Gaufridus Porcellus who was documented in the Pipe Rolls of Surrey in 1130 AD. Ralph Purcel was listed in the Pipe Rolls of Staffordshire of 1159 AD. William Purcell was documented in the Pipe Rolls of Leicestershire in 1230 AD. The Hundred Rolls of 1273 AD, a census of Wales and England, known in Latin as Rotuli Hundredorum lists four bearers of this surname: Reyner Porchet (Salop), Edward Porcel (Buckinghamshire), Roger Porcel (Salop), and Agnes Purcel (Oxfordshire). The Writs of Parliament lists one John Purcel in 1313 AD. Early baptisms involving this surname include 1) Sara, daughter of Joseph Purcell, was baptized in 1633 AD at St. James Clerkenwell in London and 2) Anne, daughter of Joseph Pursell, was baptized in 1634 at the aforementioned church. An early marriage involving this surname was James Purcell to Elizabeth Norman in Cork, Ireland in 1681 AD.
George Fraser Black’s, The Surnames of Scotland, published in 1946, states the following in regard to the surname Purcell: “Will Pursell was pledge for Wille Broun in Lanark, 1490. Alexander Pursell in Cousland, 1566. John Pursill or Pursell in Lessudden, 1664, and John Pursell in Melrose, 1692 . Explained by Lower, Bardsley, and Harrison as a nickname from the young pig, Old French, purcell, porcell, diminutive of Old French porc, Latin porcus”.
Purcell History, Genealogy, and Ancestry
The famous genealogist Bernard Burke’s book “The Landed Gentry” discusses three branches of this family: Purcell of Burton House, Purcell of Altamira, and Purcell of Cork. Each will be discussed in some detail below. It should be noted that Burke’s other magnificent work, “Peerage and Knights”, does not contain an entry for this surname.
Purcell of Burton House
John Mathew Purcell, Esquire of Burton and county Cork was born in 1852. Burke traces the lineage or genealogy back to John Purcell, of Pulleen, county Cork, Ireland, who is claimed to be a descendant of the Barons of Loughmoe. He married and had several issue, including John, James (ancestor of the Purcell of Altamira), and Richard. Richard was an Esquire of Kilbrin, Knockballymore, Rathnagardbeg, and Gurtnaconroe, and he married Barbara, daughter of Richard Atkins of Currykerry West, and had three daughters and two sons with her. His sons were John of Temple Mary and Thomas of Gurtnaconroe. His son Thomas Purcell married a daughter of John Webb and had two daughters with her, as well as his son and heir, John. He later married a daughter of the Fitzgerald family and had two issue with her: Richard (married Avice Twiss) and Avice (married Bartholomew Purdon). His son and successor, Sir John Purcell, was of Highfoot in county Cork, and was knighted for the gallant defense he made when attached by a gang of robbers. He married Gertrude, daughter of Mathew Franks of Mooretown in county Limerick. He had issue and his eldest son was Mathew. This Reverend Mathew Purcell, of Burton, Rector of Churchtown and Dungourney, married Eliza, daughter of William Leader of Mound Leader, and had the following issue with her: John, Matilda, Eliza (married George Crofts), Henrietta (married Richard Labarte of Springfield), Margaret (married William Purcell of Altamira and later Richard Harris Purcell), Emily (married Francis Sandes Bradshaw), Octavia (married Richard Gibbings Esq. of Gibbings Grove), and Georgiana (married William Gumbleton of Curryglass). He died in 1845 and was succeeded by his son John. John Purcell was an Esquire of Burton who was born in 1801 and in 1850 he married Anna Moore Dempsey, and had issue with her: John Mathew (mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph) and Elizabeth Mary. The family bore the following Purcell Coat of Arms: Or, a saltier between four boars’ heads couped sable. Some branches have the following heraldic blazon: Barry wavy of six argent and gules on a bend sable three boars’ heads of the first. Crest: A hand couped above the wrist erect holding a sword proper pommelled and hilted or, pierced through the jaw of a boar’s head also couped sable vulned and distilling drops of blood, the sleeve azure turned up argent.
Purcell of Altamira
Pierce Purcell Esquire of Dromore and Altamira, county Cork, Ireland, was Justice of the Peace who was born in May 1811, in 1856, married Alicia Ellen, daughter of Richard Wills Gason of Richmond, and had four issue with her: James Charles Henry, William Wills, Annete, Georgina Hannah. Burke traces the Purcell genealogy or pedigree back to Pierce Purcell, Esquire of Altamira, son of William, and grandson of James Purcell, and great grandson of James. This Pierce married Barbara, daughter of Thomas Harris of Harrisgrove, and he had six children with her: William (married his cousin, Margaret Purcell), James (married Ellen Williamson), Richard Harris (married Louisa Leader), Hannah, Eliza (married her cousin Richard Purcell), and Lucy (married John Sandes of Kerry).
Purcell of Cork
Reverend Francis Talbot Purcell was born in 1833. In 1858, he married Fanny Jane, daughter of Edward Keane (Commander in the Royal Navy), and had seven children with her: James Edward (1866), John Norton (1870), Letitia Sarah (1860), Frances Isabella Mary (1862), Agnes Talbot (1864), Eleanor (1868), and May Eiffe (1873). Burke traces the lineage of Purcell genealogy back to Richard Purcell, Esquire of Kanturk House and Springford in county Cork during the reign of King Charles II (1660-1685). He married a member of the Butler family and had two daughters (Sarah and Mary) and four sons (James, William John, and Richard) with her. His son Richard was born in 1703 and he married Jane, daughter of Richard Goodwin of Coomhooly, and had nine children with her: Reverend Richard (Rector of Coole, married Katherine Grove), William, Percival, John, James, Thomas, Goodwin, Catherine, Mary. The youngest son Goodwin Purcell was an Esquire of Kanturk House born in 1739. He married Mary Allan and had the following children with her: George, Richard (Major of North Cork Militia), James, Goodwin (Major in the 31st Regiment). The eldest son George, was Esquire of Glannanore, Castletown Roche, near Fermoy, and he married Mary, daughter of Edward Delany, in 1791. They had a son named James. This Reverend James George Purcell married, in 1820, Letita, daughter of Francis Talbot and Mary Norton/Eiffe, and they had six issue together: George (1827), Francis Talbot (of Rugeley), Bridget Frances (1821), Mary Georgina (1822), Mary Anne Bridget (1832), and Frances (1824). He died in 1843 and was succeeded by his only surviving son, Francis Talbot (mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph).
Other Purcell Ancestors
A one Humphrey Purcell was born in England in 1478 AD. He married Helena Swinnterton and had a daughter with her named Elizabeth, who married into the Wighton family.
A one Nicholas Purcell was born around 1500 and he had a daughter named Eleanor who married Rowland Pugh. This Nicholas was of Dyntle and was the Lord of Talerddig and Sheriff of Montgomeryshire, Wales.
A one Nicholas Purcell was born in Shropshire in 1500. He married Anna Beeston and had a son with her named Richard. Richard was born in 1532 in England and he married Elizabeth Hager.
A one Henry Purcell was born in Newton Purcell, Oxfordshire, England in 1215 AD. He had a son named Otwell. Otwell was born in the same town in 1240 AD. He married a woman named Dionisia and had a son with her, also named Otwell. This Otwell was born in the same town in 1253 AD. He married Denise and had a daughter with her named Dioisia Shareshull.
Herr Purcell was born in German between 1508 and 1628. He had two issue: Thomas and Henry, Sr.
A one Thomas Purcell was born in Kentucky in 1796. He married Rebecca Higgins and had two issue with her: Warren and James Roderick. His son James was born in Breckinridge, Kentucky in 1822 and he married Sarah Jane Litsey, with whom he had a son named Squire Jesse Purcell. Squire was born in Grayson, Kentucky in 1848 and he married Mary J. Mullen, with whom he had a son, also named Squire who was born in 1884, married Sarah G. Bethel, and died in 1959.
Thomas Purcell was born in Ireland in 1610. He died in Nassau, New York in 1667. He had a son named John Persell, who was born in Queens, New York in 1634. He married Judith Ytie Jans and had had three issue with her: John Persell, Catherine Purcell, and Thomas Purcell (or Pursell).
Samuel Purcell was born in Lincoln, Virginia in 1775. He married Elizabeth Lawrence and had a son with her named William F. William F. was born in Kentucky in 1808 and he married twice: Mary Brown and Nancy Sprigg. He had a son named Brison Purcell. Brison in turn had a daughter named Nancy.
Early American and New World Settlers
Early settlers in colonial America bearing this name John Purcell (Maryland 1680), Garrett Purcell (Virginia 1701), Katherine Purcell (Virginia 1705), Robert Purcell (South Carolina 1769), Henry Purcell (South Carolina 1770), Dominick Purcell (New York 1798). In Canada, one of the earliest bearers of this surname was Edmond Purcell who came to Quebec in 1784. In Australia, one of the earliest bearers of this last name was William Purcell, a furnace-man (a person who tends to a furnace with fuel), who came in the late 1820s or early 1830s to Tasmania (then called Van Diemen’s Land, named after the explorer who first discovered it. In New Zealand, one of the first bearers was Catherine Purcell, age 25, who came to the city of Auckland aboard the Alfred in 1864.
Early Americans Bearing the Purcell Family Crest
I researched the following three resources and did not find any coats of arms for Purcell: Bolton’s American Armory, Matthew’s American Armoury and Bluebook, and Crozier’s General Armory.
We have identified two Purcell family mottoes, both Latin, which translate into English as follows
1) Aut vincam aut periam (Either conquer/win or perish)
2) Humani nihil alienum (I am a man: nothing human is foreign to me)
We have 14 coats of arms for the Purcell surname depicted here. These 14 blazons are from Bernard Burke’s book The General Armory of England, Ireland, and Scotland, which was published in 1848. The bottom of this page contains the blazons, and in many instances contains some historical, geographical, and genealogical about where coat of arms was found and who bore it. People with this last name that bore a Purcell Coat of Arms include:
1) Purcell to Fitz-Gerald of county Lancashire, Suffolk, Northampton, and Ireland, 1818
There are hundreds of notable people with the Purcell surname. This page will mention a handful. Famous people with this last name include: 1) Clare Purcell (1884-1964) who was an American Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, 2) Benjamin Harrison Purcell Jr. (1928-2013) who was an officer in the United States Army who was born in Clarkesville, Georgia and became a member of the Georgia House of Representative as a Democrat, 3) Albert Arthur Purcell (1872-1935) who was a British trade unionist and politician in the Labor Party who served in the House of Commons, 4) William Aloysius “Blondie” Purcell (1854-1912) who was an American Major League Baseball player born in Paterson, New Jersey who played for the Buffalo Bisons, Syracuse Stars, and Philadelphia Athletics, among other teams, 5) Daniell Purcell (1664-1717) who was an English Baroque composer who was an organist at Magdalen College, Oxford, 6) William Paxson Purcell III (1953) who was the 67th Mayor of Nashville from 1999-2007, 7) Edward Mills Purcell (1912-1997) who was an American physicist born in Taylorville, Illinois, who won a Nobel Prize for his work in nuclear magnetic resonance, 8) Joe Edward Purcell (1923-1987) who was the Governor of Arkansas for a brief period, as well as the state’s Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas, 9) Henry Purcell (1659-1695) who was an English composer born at St. Ann’s Lane, Westminster whose legacy was developing a unique form of Baroque music, 10) Irene Mary Purcell (1896-1972) who was an American film and stage actress who was born in Whiting, Indiana, and 11) Philip J. Purcell (1943) who was the Chairman and SEO of Morgan Stanley during the late 1990s and early 2000s who was born in Salt Lake City, Utah.