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Irish Surname - White

White is among the 50 most numerous names in Ireland. It is a descriptive name given to a person who was fair-haired or had a pale complexion, from the Middle English "whit," meaning "white." In addition, some Whites originally were Wights, which may have derived from the Isle of Wight, on the coast of Hampshire. Lastly the name could be Huguenot 17th century. Many French people called 'Blanc' fled France after 1685, and in England they changed their name to White.

A sizeable proportion of the surname in Ireland stems mainly from the "le Whytes" who came to Ireland with the Anglo-Normans. As many of these families were absorbed by Gaelic culture, White was phonetically hibernicised 'Mac Faoitigh' or 'de Faoite'. After the final collapse of the Gaelic order in the 17th century this was re-anglicised as MacWhitty and MacQuitty, as well as the original White. The Irish word for white is 'bán' and thus names such as Bane or Bawn sometimes also had their surnames translated to 'White'.

In the north of Ireland, many Whites were of Scottish extraction and the surname was a translation of the Highland Gaelic 'Mac Gille Bhain', 'son of the fair-haired servant or youth'. The surname was also adopted by many of the MacGregors and Lamonts when they were outlawed and their own names denounced. Elsewhere in Ireland, White was sometimes used locally for many Irish originals containing, or thought to contain the elements ban (white) or fionn (fair).

People bearing the surname settled in every province in Ireland in widely separated areas and many of the name became distinguished Irishmen for a variety of reasons. In Limerick, for example, the name occurs very frequently in the list of mayors and sheriffs from soon after the Anglo-Norman invasion, the earliest being in 1213. A branch of this city family became landed gentry in County Clare. Father James White, who compiled a History of Limerick in 1738 (now in the Royal Irish Academy), was of this family.

Another famous branch of the family were the Whites of Waterford whose names began to appear in the list of mayors in 1414: in this case the landed family resided at the aptly named 'Whyteshall' in County Kilkenny, and near Clonmel. The famous Jesuit Father Stephen White (1575 - c. 1648) born at Clonmel, was professor of scholastic theology at Ingolstadt (Germany) 1606-9. He transcribed many valuable manuscripts, one of which 'Adamnan's life of St. Columba', was used by Ussber in his work on ecclesiatical antiquities.

Today the surname is mostly found in Clare, Galway, Limerick, Waterford and Kilkenny.

Famous People

James White worked as an art critic in Ireland from the 1930s onwards and was the curator of the Dublin Municipal Gallery from 1960-1964. He joined the National Gallery of Ireland in 1964 and became Director in 1968.

Motto

Labore parta = Acquired by work

Researching Irish Surnames

We have researched many sources for the origins of Irish surnames and extracted a fair representation of the origins of each. As there are many variations we have compiled a representative, but by no means exhaustive, selection.

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