Brown – one of the 14 Tribes of Galway

History of the Irish name Brown. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The name Brown or Browne is one of the most common names in Ireland and in the UK and America.

It dates back to the 7th century in England. It comes from an old Anglo-Norman word ‘brun’, which referred to the colour of a person’s hair, skin or clothes.

It first arrived in Ireland in 1170, at the time of Strongbow’s rule. As the Normans invaded and gained control of much of Ireland, many of them settled.

The Le Bruns married into several powerful families across Galway and Mayo, and joined the ‘14 Tribes of Galway’, an alliance that controlled the political and trade links.

Over time the family name spread throughout Ireland and the pronunciation evolved into Brown or Browne.

Throughout history, thousands of Browns have emigrated from Ireland to find a better life around the world, most notably during the great famine in the 1800s.

One of the first Europeans to settle in America, was named Edward Browne, who was actually from London, but moved to Virginia in the 17th century.

Famous Browns throughout history

As the name Brown has such popularity around the world, there are literally hundreds of notable people named Brown in almost every field.

One of the most famous is James Brown, the soul singer who is often referred to as the Godfather of Soul. He had a music career that spanned six decades with I Feel Good, The Payback and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag among his most famous songs.

Dan Brown is an American author, who wrote The Da Vinci Code, which went on to sell millions of copies worldwide before being made into a Hollywood blockbuster starring Tom Hanks.

Browns in film and television

Photo copyright Ranko CC3
The name is also used by writers for the main characters of their stories on numerous occasions.

Some fictional Browns that have become household names over the years are Charlie Brown, who is the main character of the Peanuts series of cartoons, although Charlie’s pet dog Snoopy is possibly the more recognisable name worldwide.

Dr Emmett Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd, was the name of the eccentric scientist who helped Marty McFly travel back and forth across time to repeatedly save his family in the cult trilogy of Back to the Future movies.

Mrs Brown is the name of the traditional yet foul mouthed Irish woman played by comedic actor Brendan O’Carroll in the hit BBC sitcom Mrs Brown’ Boys.

History of Irish surnames