Clarke – Ancient Roman clergymen

History of the Irish name Clarke. Image copyright Ireland Calling
History of the Irish name Clarke. Image copyright Ireland Calling

The name Clarke originated in the Middle Ages in Ireland and England, but its routes can be traced right back to time of the Roman Empire.

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The Latin word clericus meaning a man of the clergy, would have been brought to Britain by the Romans, and over time the pronunciation evolved into cleric.

History of the Irish name Clarke. Image copyright Ireland CallingMen of the church were one of the few people who could read and write in medieval Britain, so the meaning of the word changed from a religious man, to a literate man.

British ‘Clerks’ settled in Co Galway

As the British invaded Ireland, many people named Clerk settled in and around Co Galway and interspersed with the Irish people. The ancient Gaelic name MacChlerich means the son of a cleric, and the name spread throughout Ireland, most notably across Co Donegal and Dublin.

When Britain gained full control over Ireland, many families dropped the Irish Mac and O precursors of their name to make it easier to find work, so the MacChlerich name and its variations disappeared.

Both in England and Ireland the name was mis-spelt and mis-pronounced over time resulting of the several versions of the name that we know today, such as Clarke, Clark, Clerk and Clerke.

As thousands of Brits and Irish emigrated to the ‘new world’ in search of a better life in the 1600s, Clarke became one of the most popular names in America.

Since then people from Ireland, Britain and America have moved all over the world and Clarke is amongst the most common names in all English speaking countries.
Gilby Clarke. Photo copyright Toglenn CC3

Open winner, rock star and Superman

As the name has become so popular worldwide, there are numerous people named Clarke or Clark that have achieved success in almost every industry.

Some of the more notable ones are Darren Clarke who is a professional golfer from Northern Ireland. He famously won the Open in 2011, his only major to date, and dedicated the victory to his two children and his late wife who had died from cancer years earlier.

Gilby Clarke is an American musician who is a guitarist for global rock band Guns’n’Roses, most famous for their classic hit Welcome to the Jungle.

Clark Kent is also the alter ego of the most famous superhero of them all, Superman. The character has been a favourite amongst comic book lovers for decades and been portrayed on the big screen by Christopher Reeve, Brandon Routh and most recently Henry Cavill in the 2013 film Man of Steel.


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