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Different websites give conflicting opinions regarding this surname. What is the origin of Griffin when used as a surname?

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4 Answers 4

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Griffin is often incorrectly described as being simply of Welsh origin. For example:

http://genealogy.about.com/library/surnames/g/bl_name-GRIFFIN.htm http://forebears.co.uk/surnames/griffin

In reality if we look at phonebook data, it is clear that Griffin is primarily of Irish origin.

Dublin Ireland, 216/1,271,000 = 0.02%
Clare Ireland, 87/117,196 = 0.07%
Kerry Ireland, 201/145,502 = 0.1%

Cardiff Wales,  22/341,000 = 0.006%
Bangor Gwynedd Wales 2/18,808 = 0.01%
Wrexham Wales  2/65,692 = 0.003%

Birmingham England 40/1,074,000 = 0.004%
Leeds England 22/474,632 = 0.004%
Southampton England 4/253,651 = 0.001%
Manchester England 16/514,417 = 0.003%

I used the Eir phone book for Ireland and the BT phone book for Wales and England. I've divided the number of entries in the phonebook by the local population when arriving at the local percentage with the surname.

Additionally, note that many of Wales' and England's Griffins are of Irish extraction, due to large levels of migration from Ireland to Britain. Of course, the surname Griffin may well have unique sources in both Wales and England. For example, Griffin is probably an alternative spelling of Griffiths in some instances.

Here is a map showing the distribution of Griffin per capita for Britain and Ireland:

Griffin surname map

Source: http://www.celticfamilymaps.com/?link=Griffin&q=node/2

The surname Griffin has numerous sources in Ireland. For example, in Kerry the name comes from the Gaelic surname Ó Grifín while in Clare it comes from Ó Gríofa.

See also: Griffin Surname Maps

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  • Modern geographical repartition can be a tool, but is not a sole indicator of a name's origin. For example if a welsh person named Greffin moved to south-western Ireland and had 10 boys, all Greffins, and that they themselves had lots of kids, etc,,, you could have the repartition shown in the image but still a name of Welsh origin. (That's just an example).
    – Bregalad
    Nov 5, 2018 at 10:51
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According to the Dictionary of British Surnames:

Griffin F/N A diminutive of Griffith; or a nickname for a fierce person ME griffin (gryphon, a heraldic beast); Irish: Anglicized form of Gaelic O' [descendant of) Griobhtha ('gryphon'). Gtiffing is a scarce scattered variant.

Personally this is my go to book for Surname origins.

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The usual origin is a patronymic based on a diminutive of the Middle Welsh name Gruffudd, either transmitted directly from the Welsh, or via Breton immigrants who came over to England with William the Conqueror. (See Reaney & Wilson: A Dictionary of English Surnames, s.n. Griffin; for example Osbertus filius Griffini 1153-68.)

The same Welsh name is the source of the Irish surnames Grífin and Ó Grífin. (See Woulfe, Irish Names and Surnames s.n. Grífin: https://www.libraryireland.com/names/g/grifin.php.) However, there are other Irish surnames that end up looking and sounding like "Griffin" in English, and some of them are more likely derived from an Irish given name Gríobhtha, which Woulfe derives from words meaning "gryphon-like, fierce warrior" (https://www.libraryireland.com/names/og/o-griobhtha.php).

Either way, however, the surname Griffin originates as a patronymic or relationship-based byname, naming the father or other ancestor of the bearer.

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Due to Y DNA testing, we now (since 2016) know that the Griffin surname in Ireland has several different origins:

  1. O'Griffy in County Clare with an Irish Y haplogroup
  2. Griffin in County Clare with a Lowland Scots Y haplogroup
  3. Griffin in County Kerry with a Highland Scots Y haplogroup
  4. Griffin in County Galway with an Irish Y haplogroup
  5. Griffin in County Donegal that, to my knowledge, haven't yet been tested
  6. Griffin from Welsh and English origins

The Griffins with a Scots haplogroup are probably descended from gallowglasses who left Scotland before surnames were fixed then received Griffin as an epithet for a warrior in Ireland.

The County Galway Griffins may be descended from the County Clare O'Griffy family.

It will be interesting to find out whether County Donegal Griffins have an Irish or a Scottish Y haplogroup.


From comments:

I don't think Y-DNA genealogy of Irish Griffins has made it into peer review journals yet but raw data can be seen in the Griffi(th)(n)(s)(ng) group at FTDNA.

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  • Welcome to G&FH:SE. Citing sources to support your assertions would greatly improve your answer. Nov 1, 2021 at 15:12
  • Thanks and I agree. I don't think Y-DNA genealogy of Irish Griffins has made it into peer review journals yet but raw data can be seen in the Griffi(th)(n)(s)(ng) group at FTDNA: familytreedna.com/groups/griffith/about/background
    – Coemgen
    Nov 2, 2021 at 16:15
  • I've taken the liberty of adding that to your answer. I hope that's OK. Nov 2, 2021 at 21:00

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