|View category for people with the Geer surname|
First introduced from Normandy to medieval England after the year 1000, “bynames” or second names grew out of a need for better individual identification. By the end of the 12th century the hereditary designation of a family name was common among the English nobility. But, even as late as 1465, second names were not universally used and a large part of the population did not develop hereditary surnames until the 18th century, many not being formalized until the middle of the 19th century.
Geer and variants
For the most part these early surnames were derived from a location, an occupation, a father’s name, some personal characteristic or a weapon. The GEER name, however, appears to be derived from several of these sources which are difficult to separate unless an individual knows their country of origin and, even then, uncertainties exist. In its many variations, the GEER name is most often seen as Gear, Geare, Gears, Geear, Geere, Geers, Gere, and Gier.
Place names indicate that the GEER surname has origins in northern France and Belgium. The village of Ger is found near the hill top town of Domfront, France in the administrative dèpartment of Orne in Lower Normandy, an area famous foGearr its countryside beauty and calvados wine. The river Geer, located in southeastern Belgium, has been known since 57 B.C. when Caesar campaigned against the Belgae, a people of German and Roman heritage that occupied the northeastern lands of ancient Gaul, an area now shared by France, Belgium, western Switzerland and The Netherlands. In the Belgae’s native Walloon language (an early form of French) Geer is spelled Jaar.
Situated in this Wallonia region of southern Belgium, along the country’s border with The Netherlands, is the town of GEER. Home to just 2,946 inhabitants in 2007, this municipal district in the region of Hesbaye near the city of Liège is divided into the boroughs of Bolhe, Darion, Hollogne-sur-Geer, Lens-Saint-Servais, Ligney and Omal. Here, sixty miles north of the French border, the river Geer rises at Lens-Saint-Servais, flows north past Waremme and Tongres and winds some thirty-five miles until it enters the river Meuse at Maastricht in The Netherlands southeast of Rotterdam. A few miles to the west of the head of the river Geer is the battlefield of Ramillies, where in 1706 Sir John Churchill,1st Duke of Marborough, defeated the French army lead by François de Neufville, Duc de Villeroi, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). About twenty miles further lies the famous field of Waterloo where the Allied victory over France on June 18, 1815 brought an end to The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Back to the east is the city of Liège, where the Germans entered Belgium during World War I (1914-1919) bringing Great Britain into the conflict on August 4, 1914. Lambert de Geer (b. abt. 1350, d. 1398) of nearby Fize-le Marchal, is noted as an early ancestor of the Dutch born inventor Louis de Geer (1587-1652) who is know as the Father of Swedish Industry. His family later acceded into Swedish nobility as the Barons of Finspång, located in Östergötland, Sweden.
Eldson Smith notes the GEER surname as a shortened form of van den Geer, a topographic name from the Dutch word geer meaning “headland.” Leo Van der Geer, as cited by Jeremy Geere, indicates geer is a common Dutch name often referring to land and/or woods. The Van der Geer family, he says, traces its history back to a piece of marshy wetland near the river Drecht just south of Amsterdam. Various Dutch spelling of the name include: Gheerens, Gherns, Gherin, Geerns, Geers, Gerens, Geresmes and Gierens among others. Aart van der Geer (b. abt. 1742) is noted in Oud-Beijerland, The Netherlands. Elisabetha C. Zimmer Geris (1742) and Christian Giers (1748) are recorded as early settlers in Pennsylvania, while Joseph Giers came to New York in 1754.
In the American Heritage Dictionary the Middle English word gore, derived from the Old English g'āra, is defined as “a small triangular piece of land.” Researchers have thus associated the surname GEER with a “dweller at, or near a triangular piece of land.”
Smith, however, defines the English origin of GEAR (GEARE, GEERS, GEER) as “the wild, changeful man; dweller near the fish trap; or near the hill fort or earthwork.” Two such “earth” locations, noted by Jeremy Geere, are found in St. Martin-in-Menage, county Cornwall on the south side of the Helford River where one of these gear’s is the largest single-banked enclosure in the county. The name gear, he relates from Tony Bayfield, is found all over Cornwall and its origin comes from the Cornish word ker, meaning “fort, a round or enclosed settlement” that are found in the place names car and gear where it usually refers to “a field near to or containing a round.”
These hilltop structures, dating to the Roman Conquest of Britain (43 AD), served as fortified enclosures and were situated to take advantage of the natural rise in land elevation in order to provide a defense against enemy invaders. These “forts” usually consisted of one or more circular or sub-circular earth walls, often of massive proportions, that followed the contours of the hill or cliff on which they were located. These ancient ruins are seen today in the “brochs” (round towers) of northern Scotland and “hill forts” that dot the countryside and nearby islands of western England.
John Downing notes the Old Welsh word caer, meaning “fort” or “fortified place,” formed the surnames CAIR, GARE, and GEAR. He identifies the Middle English word gere, meaning “sudden fit of passion” or “wild or changeful mood” formed the descriptive nicknames GEAR(E), GEEAR, and GEER(E), that later became surnames. Early English Geer’s are noted as: Albert Gere (1133) in Suffolk, Anschetillo de Gere (1151) in the records of Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight; Jocelin Gere (1221) in Worcestershire; Stephens de la Gare (1273) in Kent; Richard Geer (1385) in Sussex; Walter Gere (aft. 1450) in Devon; John Geere (1485) in Kent; John Geere/Ger (1520) in Wivelsfield, Sussex and John Geare (d. 1696) Exeter, Devon. Burke’s General Armory also describes the English surname as GEARE and GEERE.
Early American emigrants who landed in Boston include: George Geer [ID #1] and brother Thomas in 1635 and Solomon Gear, an “emigrant in bondage,” in 1720. County records in Virginia note emigrants, Francis Geere (1638) in Charles City; Frederick Geer (1638) in New Upper Norfolk; John Geers (1640) in Accomack; William Geer (1674) in Isle of Wight and William Gear (1678) in Old Rappahannock. Charles W., John J. and Eli Gear/Geer of Northamptonshire, England settled in Brandon, Vermont before 1850. Other Geer/Gear’s in New England include Samuel Geer [ID #57] (b. 1731) in Preston, Connecticut, Jean DeGeer (b. 1747) in Montgomery Co., NY. The Southern United States was also home to John Geer (d. 1769) of Orange Co., North Carolina and William Geer (d. 1770) in Brunswick Co., Virginia. David Geer (b. c1745) of North Carolina and Ransom Erastus Geer (b. 1802) in Orange Co., NC later settled in White Co., Tennessee.
The United States, as well, has its own Geer place names. However, these locations represent Geer’s rather than giving Geer’s their name. Geer, Oregon, once a train station town, is located in Marion county just east of Salem. The town was named for Theodore Thurston Geer [ID# 1504] who served as Governor of Oregon from 1899 to 1903. Gov. Geer was the 5th great-grandson of emigrant George Geer [ID #1] mentioned above.
Geer, Virginia, located on Route 810 in Greene County, 3.7 miles from the county seat of Stanardsville, was established in 1903 as a relocation settlement during the early effort, begun in 1901, to establish a national park in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The culmination of these efforts resulted in the establishment of The Shenandoah National Park in 1935. The Geer settlement received its name from the community’s first postmaster Elijah S. Geer (b. c1778) and consisted of twenty small houses, a school, community house, general store and a few other buildings. Geer families were early settlers in the area as Joshua Geer (c1776 - bef. 1850), son of Nathaniel Gear/Geer (1732-1815) and grandfather of Elijah S. Geer, was listed as a head of household in Greene County in the 1840 U.S. Federal Census, just after its formation from Orange County in 1838.
But, while location formed many GEER surnames, Robert Ferguson says that in an age when war was the main business of man, names taken from weapons were common; and directly or indirectly this source derived more surnames than all other sources combined. One of the most common weapons of the day was the spear, and naturally one of the most common root words of the time was the Anglo-Saxon g'ār, and the old Saxon g'ēr, meaning spear, from which are derived the surnames GEERE and GEARY.
Mark Lower and William Arthur note that in medieval times fighting men employed officers to superintend their equipment, and as all sorts of arms were called gere or gear, meaning “wearing apparel and equipment for horses and men,” this person acquired the name John-of-the-Gear, John-o-Gear, John O’Gear and at length John Gear; giving rise to the occupational origin of the name. Quite possibly the GEER surname is derived from the Saxon word gearrian, meaning “to make ready,” which was applied to the superintendent in charge of the gear. Thomas Gentry gives a slightly different derivation as “riches or goods of any kind.”
In Scotland, the Gaelic word gearr, meaning “short”, formed the descriptive nickname GAIR and GEAR which later became surnames. These names became associated with Clan Gregor in the early 16th century through outlaw John dhu Gearr MacGregor. Richard MacGregor, notes Jeremy Geere, indicates this association likely comes from confusion on the nature of surnames and the descriptive words gearr, meaning “short” and dhu, meaning “black,” used to describe the “short black John,” presumably because he was only about five feet tall and dark haired.
The Old Irish name Mac an Ghirr found in county Armagh and Tyrone as the surnames MacGIRR and MacGEER, notes Edward MacLysaght, likely comes from the Irish form of the Old Norse geirr (earlier giorr) meaning “son of a short or low sized man.” The early Scottish variant of this name was seen as Mac an Gheairr, notes George Black and Patrick Woulfe. First found in Kircudbrightshire in southern Scotland, descendants are believed to be descended from one of the 350 clan chiefs who accompanied the banished King Colla da Crioch, who left Ireland for the Hebrides and south west Scotland in 327 A.D. These surname variants are found as: McGIRR, McGEER, McGEAR, MacGIRR, MacGEER and McGhirr. Both the Irish and Scottish name origins were anglicized as GEAR and GEER. Emigrant Jane McGear settled in Delaware in 1772, while Felix McGirr (1827); Patrick McGirr (1830); Robert McGirr (1853) and Bernard McGirr (1858) are noted as settlers in Philadelphia, PA and Peter Franklin Marion Geer (b. c1838) in New York City, New York was of Irish descent.
The Germanic name GEHR, noted by Smith and Downing, as a pet form of names beginning with ger- (meaning spear or javelin), was first found in Hamburg in the names GERWIG (spear-victory), GERULF (spearwolf), GERHRIG (descendant of Gerwig) and GEHRING (descendant of Gerulf; one who came from wedge-shaped place) which were Anglicized as GEER(E). Numerous cities throughout Germany carry Gehr as part of their names inlcuding: Gehrde, Gehrden, Gehren, Gehrener-Sielwende, Gehrenrode, Gehring, Gehrsricht, Gehrenberg, Gehrhof, Gehringswalde, Gehrendorf, Gehringsdorf, Gehrum, Gehrsweilerholf, and Gehrweiler. The Germanic names GEER, GIER and GORE, denoting a “wedged-shape of land,” also formed surnames which could be intermixed. Early American emigrants with this surname or variant include: Christian Gehr (1731); Simon Gehres (1739); Adam Gehrich (1751) and Dietrich Gercken (1775).
Arthur, William. An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names With an Essay on their Derivation and Import, (New York: Sheldon, Blake, Bleeker & Co., 1857).
Barber, Henry. British Family Names; Their Origin and Meaning, with lists of Scandinavian, Frisian, Anglo-Saxon, and Norman names, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968).
Black, George Fraser. The surnames of Scotland; their origin, meaning and history, (New York: The New York Public Library, 1946).
Burke, Bernard. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales: Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearing from the Earliest to the Present Time, (London: Harrison and Sons, 1878).
“Coat of Arms & Surname Histories,” House of Names Webpage, (Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Swyrich Corp., 2005), http://www.houseofnames.com/xq/asp.fc/qx/mcgirr-family-crest.htm ; http://www.houseofnames.com/coatofarms_details.asp?sId=&s=geer ; and http://www.houseofnames.com/coatofarms_details.asp?sId=&s=geers .
Collins, Ron. “The Origins of Family Names,” http://www.rootscomputing.com/howto/names/names.htm .
Downing, John. “Know Your Name,” The Atlanta Constitution, Sunday, July 30, 1978.
Engle, Reed. “Creating A Park: An Historical Overview,” Shenandoah National Park Webpage, http://www.nps.gov/shen/3b2e.htm .
Ferguson, Robert. English surnames, and their place in the Teutonic family, (London: G. Routledge, 1858).
Geer, Ethan. “Orange County Family Folders: Geer Family,” The Orange County, North Carolina USGenWeb Project,
Geer, George E. “Geer Family Tree,” The Geer Times Webpage, http://www.geocities.com/geer_family .
Geere, Jeremy. “Origins & Legends: Myth, Legend or Fact” and “Geer Topography,” The Geer Times Webpage, http://www.geocities.com/geer_family/originsandlegends.html and http://www.geocities.com/geer_family/geertopography.html .
Gentry, Thomas G. Family names from the Irish, Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman and Scotch: Considered in relation to their etymology, with brief remarks on the history and languages, (Philadelphia: Burk & McFetridge, 1892).
Lower, Mark A. English surnames; an essay on family nomenclature, historical, etymological, and humorous, (Detroit: Gale Research, 1968).
“MacGREGOR Septs and Associated Names,” An Authentic History of the Clan Gregor Webpage, (Merrickville, Canada: firstname.lastname@example.org, 2005), http://hal_macgregor.tripod.com/gregor/disguise.html .
MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland, (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1991).
Morris, Nancy H. “Greene County Postmasters, 1832-1964,” Greene County Magazine, Vol. 1, April 1979, p. 34.
Online Highways Guide to Travel, Leisure and Recreation in North American and Beyond Webpage, (Florence, Oregon: Online Highways, 2005), http://www.ohwy.com/be/g/geer.htm .
Peter Christian. “The Relevance of Surnames In Genealogy,” Society of Genealogists Information Leaflet No. 7, (London: Society of Genealogists, 1998), http://www.sog.org.uk/leaflets/surnames.html .
Smith, Elsdon C. New Dictionary of American Family Names (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973).
Pickett, Joseph P. et al. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company,
2000), online at www.bartleby.com/61/ .
Woulfe, Rev. Patrick. Irish Names and Surnames, (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993).
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