Sunday, October 25, 2015

Mystery Monday/Where Did The O Go?


     My ancestors from Rathvilly, County Carlow had a weird surname. I'm sorry, but it is decidedly odd.  Hore.  Would you want to be called Hore?  No, and neither did my Grandmother and Aunt who as soon as they were old enough, changed it to O'Hara.  Early records from Auburn, New York where the family first settled, use the "Hore" or "Hoare" spelling.  After a few years, say about 1855 or 1860, the name became O'Hore or O'Hora.  By Grandma's generation they were the O'Hara's although, the Auburn branch of our family even today retains the O'Hora spelling .
     A few weeks ago I wrote about my Lawler relatives who remained in Ireland during the famine while most other family members emigrated to the USA.  In that blog I noted that Anne Lawler gave her mother's name as Winifred "O'Hara" in 1916.  Below is Winifred's baptism at Rathvilly Parish in County Carlow, there is no O prefix before her surname:

Church Baptism Record
Winifred Hore
 Date of Baptism:    24-Mar-1822
Address: Ricketstown    Parish:   RATHVILLY
Denomination:    Roman Catholic
Father:    Michael Hore   
Mother:    Mary Travis        

Sponsors:   Ned Hore  Catherine Kelly

     This got me wondering, (again), where the surname Hore could have originated.  It obviously sounds like a not so nice name to call a woman, so I started by looking up the word's etymology.  I found that the pejorative meaning has been around since at least 1530, and was found in Middle English, so yeah, everyone knew what it meant by the time my ancestors were using it as their surname.

     But from whence did it come?   My first thought was that it was a Norman name, like Fitzgerald or Power.  But then I began seeing the name spelled with the O prefix in a few pre-famine records in Ireland, the earliest being the 1845 marriage of Winifred's brother John to Catherine McGarr, although when their first child was born a year later the PP wrote "Hoare" as the surname. So was it a Gaelic name after all?  Was it just the vagaries of the Priest who wrote the record?  It must also be remembered that the use of Gaelic prefixes like O and Mc were outlawed for a time.  I recently saw these statistics at a great site called Your Irish

YEAR                         Percentage of Population Using The O Prefix
1866                                                      4%
1890                                                     13%
1914                                                     20%
1944                                                     60%

     You can see that as time went by, and pride in their national heritage grew, Irish men and women began to return to the older forms of their names.  I still tend to believe there was no O prefix in the original name.  Probably the first Hore in Ireland was a Norman knight named Sir William le Hore who came in 1169.  He was granted an estate in County Wexford about 45 miles from Rathvilly.  There are still families of that name in Wexford and up through Wicklow and of course in Carlow.

     It's still puzzling to me why the American Hore's decided to add the O, certainly in 1850's America there was no real advantage to being Irish.  Quite the opposite, many Americans were not happy about the influx of Irish immigrants during and after the famine and treated them quite badly.

     For now, I'm going with the Norman origin of the name.  It's well known that the descendants of those early soldiers who came to Ireland intermarried with the locals and assimilated their customs, language and manner of dressing.  By the 1300's some of them couldn't even speak English!  This so distressed England that in 1366 the Statutes of Kilkenny were introduced forbidding intermarriage, the use of Irish language and names and Irish laws.  Given the proximity of those first "Hores" to where my ancestors lived, it makes perfect sense.



  1. Ellie, the name was probably always pronounced more like Hor-re or Hora, in Ireland, so probably they changed the 'English' spelling to more closely resemble their actual surname.

  2. Very interesting! With all of my many ancestor lines and even a few very odd surnames, I've never found an instance where a name was so deliberately altered. Certainly an added challenge!

  3. Yes it was challenging. The McGarrs in my tree were odd too, in Ireland the spelling was often Mcgah or even McGa. I need to ask Dara about that one.