This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 16th August 1993, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called TERRY?

This name has many variants: Tarry, Terris, Torry, etc. which is hardly surprising because it has two distinct origins. The first is that it is an occupational name and means a "potter". Its similarity to the French word "terre" and the Spanish "tierra" - both of which mean "earth", confirms the point. Hence some people called "Terry" can take it that they had ancestors who were associated with working in clay. This notion is carried foreward in that the name "terra-cotta" (which is an Italian expression meaning "burnt-earth") refers to a well-known type of ceramic. Furthermore in Old French the word "terrin" was used to describe earthenware vessels.

The alternative is, however, more romantic. It is derived from the Germanic name "Theodoric" which is composed of two units: "theuda" meaning "people" or "folk"; and "ric" which means "chief" or "ruler". Taken together the name in full can be interpreted something as "Power to the People"! The original Theodoric was a Goth who invaded Northern Italy and ruled it from Ravenna from 493 to 526 A.D. His reign has been described as one of the most impressive in European history and so it is not surprising that his memory is commemorated in his name being so very popular in succeeding generations.

Among German-speaking people it was modified into "Dietrich" which, in turn, passed into French as "Thierry" and from thence into English as "Terry". In parallel, the form "Dietrich" also provided the name "Derek" and this, too, has modified into "Terry". Because the name originated in Central and Southern Europe, it tended to establish itself in regions in the United Kingdom where there was more cross-Channel traffic and so it is only until one reaches records dating from the 1300's that it is found to have progressed from the South-Eastern counties to the North.

Tracing the origins of this particular surname is made slightly difficult because of tempting similarities with that form of the name "Terry" which is in fact derived from the Latin first name "Terence" and travels quite a different road. One thing is certain, however. The name is not in any way related to "Theodore" which is a Greek name and means "God's gift" and which also provide the forms "Terry" and "Teddy".

Although the name is to be found in every region of the United Kingdom, it seems to be more frequently encountered in the Home Counties and entries in local Directories are not numerous.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 16th August 1993.
A further article on this surname was published in March 2004.

Are you called TERRY?
Variations: Torry, Torrey, Tarry.

Contrary to what might be assumed, neither the personal name Terry nor its related surnames are derived from the classical name "Terentius" or, in its Anglicised spelling, Terence. It is Germanic and based on the name Theodorc which survives today in the attenuated form Derek. It has continental counterparts: Dietrich in Germany and Dirk in the low countries.

As a surname, forms of Terry were not infrequently found in the middle ages and beyond: then, following a modern fashion (c.1850) it began to be adopted as a personal name. But with this important difference: the original source, Theoderic, was forgotten and it was incorrectly thought to have a Latin base.

Very briefly, the original Terence (c.195BC) was a slave who took the name of his master following his release. (Note: the adoption of the name of one's master or employer is a feature throughout the history of surnames.) He is a celebrated playwright. One dramatic passage is so well expressed, that only the opening words "Quot homines" are usually quoted and the sense of the remaining passage is taken for granted. The meaning of Terence (Latin: Terentius) is uncertain. A suggestion is that it is from "terere" meaning to 'winnow', but how applicable is not clear.

Otherwise the original medieval "Terry" has undisputed Teutonic origins. it combines two units: first is the "Theudo" - signifying "people" or "tribe"; second "ric" meaning "power". Taken together a possible interpretation could be "He who derives his power from the people". The most celebrated bearer of the name was Theodorc (c.500) the Leader of the Ostrogoths. By coincidence the Germanic name bore a remarkable similarity to a Greek name "Theodore" which means "Gift of God". Such religious connotation rendered it most acceptable to medieval Christian society, especially in Southern Europe. It was adopted as a first name to such an extent that it is often confused with Theodorc and it is sometimes difficult to separate out surnames derived therefrom. In Cornwall, for example, the spelling "Terricus" (1221) is now exposed as a clumsy Latin rendition of "Theodorus".

The first appearance under the spelling of "Terry" dates from 1166 and refers to a money-lender (Usuarius) of Norwich, this suggests there to be a continental connection. Indeed marginal notes in documents referring to bearers of the name make mention of them being "Allemannus" or "Flandrensis". The oldest record is dated 1114 (London) and refers to William as being the "son of Teorri". Confining ourselves to surnames appearing in the Local Directory, Hugo Terry was registered in Bedford for 1250; William Tarry in Essex for 1327 and another William, this time called Torry appears in Berkshire for 1327.

Because the Normans had greater connections with Ireland and Scotland than is realised, the name is also to be found in those countries. An Anglo-Norman family bearing the name Terry was long established in the region centring on Cork. It should be noted however that the personal name, which is so popular in Ireland, "Terence" (eg Terence O'Neil) is derived from an Anglicised rendering of the native name (Mac) Toirdealbhaigh. Its meaning signifies: He who can be likened unto the God Thor. In Scotland mention is made of a certain David, Son of Terri (c.1100) of Galloway.

In France itself, the name "Theoderic" yielded forms such as "Thierry" as in the case of Jacques Thierry (1795-1856) a distinguished historian. Whether they are related is not known but several distinguished stage personalities were named Terry. Daniel Terry (1780-1829) (apparently of Wingfield), was hugely popular both in London and Edinburgh theatres, while Ellen Terry (1847-1925) is still remembered by older theatre-goers.

Merely for completeness it may be mentioned that the use of the word "terry" in connection with textiles (eg terry towelling) is derived (supposedly) from the French "tire" which means to be "pulled" and refers to the surface of such fabrics where the threads are pulled into loops and remain uncut.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 22nd March 2004.
The first article on this surname was published in August 1993.

URL of this page: http://names.gukutils.org.uk/Terry.shtml
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