Hundreds of years ago, the Gaelic name used by the Murphy family in Ireland was O Murchadha or Mac Murchadha, which are both derived from the word murchadh, meaning sea warrior.
The present generation of the Murphy family is only the latest in a line that descends from Heremon, one of the ancient Kings of Ireland. After conquering the island with his brother Heber, Heremon slew Heber and took the throne for himself. Other noble descendants of Heremon include the great King Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Originally, Irish people were known by only a single Gaelic name. Eventually they were forced to assume surnames to distinguish themselves as the population grew and they began to encounter others with the same name. This happened earlier in Ireland than in most other European countries, and surnames were common there by the 11th century.
Most ancient Irish surnames were formed by adding the prefix Mc, meaning son of, to the name of the father, or the prefix O, meaning grandson of, to the name of the grandfather of the initial bearer. These types of patronymic surnames can also be formed by adding the same prefixes to a descriptive word relating to the male relative in question. This less common type of surname is known as a nickname surname. Murphy is such a nickname surname.
People who were accounted for by scribes and church officials often had their name recorded many different ways because pronunciation was the only guide those scribes and church officials had to go by. This resulted in the problem of one person's name being recorded under several different variations, creating the illusion of more than one person. Among the many spelling variations of the surname Murphy that are preserved in archival documents are Curphey, O'Murphy, MacMurphy, Morchoe, Murrphy, Murphy, Murphie, Murphey, Murfree, Curphy, Morphy, Morfie, Morcho, Morchow, Morchoh, Morchough, Morchowe, McMurphey, McMurphy, Morfey and many more.
When the British effectively subjugated Ireland in the early 17th century, the Irish were forced to Anglicize their names. This process involved the renunciation of the distinctively Irish prefixes to make them more like English names. With the establishment of the Gaelic League in 1893, the revival of the discarded prefixes began. However, the prefixes were sometimes restored improperly, and Mc was reactivated far less often than O.
Resources used to research the name Murphy included baptismal and parish records, ancient land grants, the Four Masters, and books by O'Hart, McLysaght, and O'Brien. The earliest records of the name Murphy were found in several places in Ireland, where distinct septs arose. Septs called Murphy were found in the counties of Tyrone and Sligo, and are now also common in Armagh and other parts of Ulster. However, the most important Murphy sept held a family seat in the county of Wexford in Leinster, where the Chief of the Name was styled O'Morchoe. Murphy continues to be the most common name in Wexford and in the adjacent county of Carlow. However, the number of Murphys presently in living Munster exceeds that who live in Leinster. These Munster Murphys are associated with the counties of Cork and Kerry, and are particularly numerous in the barony of Muskerry in Cork. This sept is traditionally a branch of the Kinsellas of Wexford.
The Murphys have produced many notable ecclesiastics, scholars, bards, and soldiers. Two of the most famous were the Catholic priests Rev. John Murphy and Rev. Michael Murphy, both of whom were slain in the 1798 uprising. Also remarkable was the giant Patrick Murphy (1834-1862), who stood an amazing eight feet, one inch.
The prefix O has been completely dropped from the name in the modern era and the prefix Mac is only rarely seen. With about 55,000 bearers of the name, Murphy is by far the most common surname in Ireland.
Orders over $85 qualify for Free Shipping within the U.S. (Use coupon code: FREESHIP).