This article looks at how common Fitzgerald is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.
You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Fitzgerald surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.
I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.
How Common Is Fitzgerald As A Surname In Ireland?
Ireland does not disclose current statistics on surnames in much detail. The most that we get is the top ten last names in birth registrations for the previous year. Fitzgerald
Thankfully, an Irish genealogist named Seán Murphy studied the names in national phone books published in the 1990s. His estimates aren’t as accurate as a census, but they are still a good way to get an estimate of numbers.
Fitzgerald was ranked 43 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 15,500 entries.
This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:
Fitzgerald In The Early 1900s
The only complete Irish censuses that are available to the general public are those from the years 1901 and 1911. They offer two detailed snapshots of the population.
So, let’s focus on the early 1900s.
I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.
There were 12,800 residents named Fitzgerald on the island in 1911.
Ten years earlier, Fitzgerald had about 12,900 residents in the 1901 census.
Population Estimates In The 1890s
A study of Irish surnames was conducted in 1890 by the head of the Civil Registrations Office. It was published as a “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”
The survey estimated that there were about 14,700 people named Fitzgerald in the country.
Emigration To America After The Irish Famine
The Irish diaspora is large and widespread with a significant number of people emigrating to other parts of the globe. The destinations traditionally have been England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Emigrants were driven by various factors like political unrest, poverty, and food scarcity.
The Great Irish Famine, which happened from 1845 to 1852, caused the largest wave of emigration. The potato blight was a disaster for Ireland because it destroyed the main food source for a large proportion of the people.
I reviewed the Fitzgerald name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.
This picture shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine:
How Common Is Fitzgerald As A Last Name In The U.S.?
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Fitzgerald ranks about 430 among Irish names in America with 75,356 bearers.
Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…
Estimating Rank In The United States
Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.
As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.
I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.
Fitzgerald In Historic Times
In a country as young as the United States, tracking the popularity of a surname over time can be fascinating. This reflects other demographic shifts across the country in addition to immigration. Higher child mortality rates and longer life expectancy are just two factors.
The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.
But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.
This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:
These are the numbers in the graph:
- 1860: 10,700
- 1880: 23,050
- 1900: 33,100
- 1920: 39,750
- 1940: 46,950
Fitzgerald In World War II
Approximately 8.3 million men and women joined the United States Army during World War II. Many had Irish ancestry. Some had been born in Ireland before leaving the country.
There were registration records for 2,748 soldiers named Fitzgerald who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.
There were 43 who were born in Ireland.
Fitzgerald Surname: Meaning And Origin
The “Fitz” in Fitzpatrick indicates that this name is of Anglo-Norman origin. Several names beginning with Fitz were introduced into Ireland during the Norman invasion in the late 12th century.
“Fitz” means “son of” in Old French. The personal name Gerald comes from two words: “geri” means spear, while “wald” means “rule”.
When Strongbow led Norman knights into Ireland, Maurice Fitzgerald was one of his knights. His descendants became one of the strongest families in Leinster and Munster.
Famous Or Historic People Named Fitzgerald
Here are some notable people with the family name:
- John Francis Fitzgerald (1863 – 1950): the son of immigrants from Limerick and Cavan, John. F. Fitzgerald was a mayor of Boston and a congressman. He was the grandfather of President John F. Kennedy.
- Alice Fitzgerald (1875-1962): an American nurse who was head of nursing at Bellevue Hospital before the First World War. After the war, she was Chief Nurse of the American Red Cross in Europe and organized refugee hospitals and nursing schools. She was awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal for her work.
- Francis Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940): F. Scott Fitzgerald set his novels during the Jazz Age. His third novel, The Great Gatsby, is considered one of the great modern works of literature.
The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.
The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.
The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.
The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives
I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).