The History of the 'Gray' Name

The name Gray appears to have originated in northern France and most likely came from the village of the same name in Normandy. The village is known as 'Graye-sur-mer' and it lies on the coast near the historic city of Caen.

The earliest known record of the name is Arnulph, Lord of Gray, France c.970. Although Arnulph was Norman, like most Normans he was descended from vikings who had settled in northern France under King Rollo and the name Arnulph is a good example of this connection.

The name then travelled to England by way of Anchetil Gray who came with the famous William the Conqueror. Anchetil held lands at Rotherfield, Oxford in 1086.

With the possession of title and influence the family flourished and descendants spread northwards into Northumberland. The descendants of one Robert de Gray baron of Rotherfield (1246) included Hugh de Gray ancestor of the barons Gray of Scotland.

From the mid 13th century the name spread throughout much of Scotland and then to Ireland and more particularly Ulster in the early 17th century. My own research has uncovered a number of people baring the name in Muster Rolls (A register of able bodied men for enlistment) of 1630/31 in Ulster. The Orr Manuscripts suggest that Grays were amongst the earliest families to settle in Ulster in 1606.  

Ulster Scots History in County Down

1.The Plantation of Ulster 1606
2.The Irish Rebellion of 1641
3.Clash of the King 1660 - 1791
4.The Promise Land & United Irishmen 1798

Emigration of Ulster-Scots to the Americas was common in the 18th century and there are a number of records showing the emigration of Grays to Canada and the USA.

From the ancient roots of the name over 1000 years ago in France it has now spread to many countries who have a link with Britain, France and Ireland. However one thing which consistently appears in the records of those of the name right through to present day is the commonalty of male christian or first names; you will regularly see the names Robert, William, Alexander, John and Hugh.  The names are mainly Norman in origin however the influence of scottish history and heritage has had a major effect on generations of the last 300 years in both Ireland and America.
Narrative by Jonathan Gray