This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 24th April 1995, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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 MORAN?

Although most people called "Moran" would generally regard themselves as bearers of an Irish name, it is not exclusive to that island, and they might be surprised to learn that it can also be traced to both French and English sources. Furthermore, it can plausibly be linked with the Welsh name "Morgan".

The first unit "Mor-" is certainly derived from a Gaelic word "mor" which means "great" or "large" and from which the modern expression "more" (as understood by 'Oliver Twist') has evolved. In its original form the surname was written "O Morain" and signified "One who is a descendant of Moran".

The exact identity of this personage is elusive because two parties of almost identical names are associated with the area from whence the name emanates - North-West Ireland. Either of them was almost certainly Chieftan and was, presumably, distinguished for being tall and powerfully built.

Although some investigators have claimed to locate these leaders in the Province or Connacht, and, indeed, some even specify the town of Balina in County Mayo, others advance reasons for placing them in Fermanagh.

Wherever it originated, however, the fact is that somebody called "Moran" was so highly esteemed that his name was adopted and was extremely popular in Medieval Irish Society. So much so that it generated a girls' name - "Maire" and this was deemed a preferred alternative to "Mary" out of deference to the veneration afforded to the New Testament Character or that name. It produced also the diminutive "Morain" which has passed into English as "Maureen".

During the time when the English were in control of Ireland, the use of Irish Surnames was prohibited and so the form "O Morain" was converted into "Moran". No doubt the choice was influenced by the fact that a similarly spelled form of the name had already made its way into English, although from a very different source.

Despite the prohibitions, some versions of the name still appeared, such as "O Moran." It should be noted that the prefix "O" is a unit on its own and signifies "a descendant of-" and so the intrusive apostrophe by way of "O'Moran" is superfluous. It arises, almost certainly, through false analogy with English expressions, such "- o'clock." Sadly, during its stormy history, many Public Records were destroyed and detailed investigation into Irish names is hampered.

In a foregoing passage, mention was made of an English name "Moran" and that it was of a different origin. This "origin", as far as can be ascertained, is Norman French. There is very little, though, to go on. The name is centred on Essex. The only paths which can be followed lead to a reference to a Hugh de Monte Virum, dated 1130 and belonging to that region. A later mention is made (1331) to a John de Mouviron. It is conceded that the name "Moran" could have evolved from "Monte Virum" but any place of that name in France from whence the "Monte Virim" family might have come has yet to be identified.

It may be very tentatively surmised that since the unit "virum" can be brought within the Latin words which indicate "armed force" or "conflict", the place might have been the site of a long-forgotten battle. Names with such a connotation are frequently found, but they are imprecise as to location: they are referrable to wide areas or neighbourhoods, and it is rare for them to indicate a specific point.

The issue is still further confused in that while there are old records alluding to a "Moreharn Hall" in Essex (and of which "Moran" could certainly be a corrupt rendering) the name does not appear in any current Gazeteer and its location is doubtful. However the name "Morham" occurs in Scotland (East Lothian, 4 miles East of Haddington) but while a few people called "Moran" might conceivably be able to trace their name to that source, any link with the Essex site is highly unlikely.

The Welsh name "Morgan" has an affinity with the Irish "Morain" but only in that the Welsh word "mor", both of which mean "great". In addition there is also an extremely old Welsh name "Morien" which can be interpreted as "Son of the Sea". So some bearers of the name "Moran" might be able to look towards Wales for their origins. Otherwise the name has been regularly listed as among the most frequently occuring surnames in Ireland - certainly since 1500. There are about 100 entries in the Local Directories and it is fairly evenly distributed across the rest of the Country - though places such as Liverpool and Glasgow, which have stronger Irish connections, show more concentration.

The Irish associations of the name were acknowledged in 1943 when Charles McMoran Wilson (1882-1977) was created Baron Moran. His family originated in Northern Ireland although he himself was born in Yorkshire. He was a distinguished Medical Personage and played an important part in the development of our National Health Service.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 24th April 1995.

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