Griffin – clans of Ireland, Wales and Germany

History of the Irish name Griffin. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Griffin is one of the most common names in most English speaking countries around the world.

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It is inside the top 100 names in Ireland, and there are estimated to be more than 200,000 people named Griffin living in the United States. The name is also frequently found in the UK, Australia and elsewhere.

The name has a complicated background. There are three likely sources of origin, which have merged together over centuries

The name originated in Ireland, Germany and Wales, all independently of each other.

The Irish Griffin is from the Gaelic word gryphon. This was the word for a mythical Celtic creature, with the head of one animal and the body of another (normally an eagle and a lion but not always, snakes, horses and dogs could also appear as one half of a gryphon).

One powerful warrior was named Griobhan because he was feared in the same way as the gryphon. The name evolved into O’Griobhan in time as the clan leadership was passed down through generations. The ‘O’ prefix to a name meant ‘the descendant of’ in ancient Ireland.

The O’Griobhan clan was prominent in the South-West of Ireland, across the areas now known as County Clare and County Kerry.

The German Griffin is probably the oldest version of the name, dating back to before the 7th century. The word Grifan meant to snatch or seize, and was a name given to babies whose parents believed would grow up to be a fierce warrior.

One baby did, and became a ruthless tribe leader, gaining territories and spreading the name across Germany.

The Welsh Griffin comes from a given name Gruffydd, which is a composition of the words Griff, which meant dragon, and udd, which meant Lord. This name arrived in Ireland during the 16th century, when many Welsh Gruffydds moved to Ireland and were given land after Oliver Cromwell’s invasion.

The three versions of the name, Gruffydd, Grifan and O’Griobhtha, merged together over the centuries as invasions between countries spread people around Europe.

Kathy Griffin

The most used name became the anglicised form, Griffin, the name we know today. But there are also numerous variations with different spellings and prefixes. Griffiths, McGriffin, O’Griffin and Griffen are the most common.

The name became worldwide during the 19th century, when thousands of people left Ireland for America, Britain and Australia because of the ‘Great Famine’.

Famous Griffins around the world

Griffin has become such a popular name around the world in the last two hundred years, that there have been countless people of note in various fields.
Kathy Griffin is an American comedienne and actress.

She is most known for her Emmy Award winning reality TV show, My Life on the D-List, in which she mocked modern-day celebrity culture as she filmed her antics trying to climb the Hollywood ladder.

The Griffin Family of Peter, Lois, Meg, Chris, Stewie and Brian are the stars of the hit animated comedy Family Guy created by Seth McFarlane.

Blake Griffin is a professional basketballer who has featured in the NBA All Star game every year since 2011.

Angela Griffin is a British actress who has regularly featured in soaps and dramas since the early 1990s, including a five-year stint on Coronation Street.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings

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