Etymology of the Surname Nurse

The surname Nurse is derived from the same origins as the related names Nursey, Nourse, Norrish, Nurrish, Nowers, Norreys, Norrie and Norris, with the last being the form most common in recent times. The earliest mention of the variant Nurse appears to be in the early 16th century.1,2 There appears to be four different origins for this family of names.3,4

The first origin is derived from the Old French word "norreis" which means "northerner" or "northman". This version of the name was found all over the country but particularly in the Midlands and the South. Some examples are;

  • Robert Noreis, who lived in Hampshire in 1148, 3
  • William Le Norreis who lived in Gloucestershire between 1163 and 1200, 3
  • Robert Le Norais who lived in Yorkshire in 1170, 3
  • Robert Le Norreis who witnessed a charter by Earl Gospatric to the Priory of Coldingham in Scotland in 1166,5 and
  • William Norrensis6 who witnessed a charter by Malcolm, Earl of Fife in 1228. 5

A second related, but far less common derivation is derived from the Old English words "noro" (north) and "hus" (house) meaning someone who dwelt in the north house or someone who lived on the north side of the estate, e.g.

  • Adam de Northus who lived in Essex in 1206. 3

The third origin of the name, which is again quite common, is from the Old French word "norice", or "nurice" and the Latin "nutrix"/"nutricis" meaning wet nurse or foster parent. Again this version of the name is widespread throughout the country. Examples of people with the name with this origin are:

  • John "Le Norreys" who was one of an inquisition to inquire if Walter Biset was seized in the manor of Ulvington, Scotland at his death in 1251, 5
  • Richard Norreys of Berwickshire who rendered homage to the King in 1296, 5
  • Robert Le Noris of Yorkshire in 1297, 3 Alice La Norisse in Essex in 1310, 3 and
  • John Norice in Kent in 1317. 3

The last origin of this family of names is derived from a family that came from Normandy with William the Conqueror; de Noers (and its variations, de Noiers, de Nuers). It is this last variation that most closely resembles the name Nurse, requiring only one letter to be moved.

At least one soldier named "de Noers" came with William the Conqueror and is on the Roll of Battle Abbey, in the Domesday Book. 4 The actual derivation of this name seems to be “de Noyers” after the name of a place –“Noyers”- in Normandy. As discussed earlier, surnames were only just beginning to be used in the 11th and 12th centuries; most people were referred to as John from some town (de Noyers in Norman French) or John the Smith (blacksmith).

There are records from Normandy to support the view that the family had its origins there. Here are a few:

  • Gilbert de Noyers witnessed a charter of Duke Richard to Fontanelles in 1024 A.D.
  • Richard, Gerald, and Gervase de Noiers, 1180-95 in Normandy
  • Andomar and William Norensis, 1180-95 in Normandy

While there is no evidence to suggest any connection to my ancestors, it is interesting to look at some of the people through the ages who have carried the name Noers, Norreys, Norris or Nurse. In a separate article I tell the story of William de Noers, Steward of King William I (The Conqueror). It is possible that William de Noers was a descendant of Gilbert de Noyers, listed above, but we have no proof that this is the case.

Bibliography and Notes

  1. International Genealogical Index, Rev. Jan 1988, Gloucestershire County, Page 16,867..

  2. Boyd's Marriage Index for Somerset, Society of Genalogists (

  3. A Dictionary of British Surnames, P. H. Reaney, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958.

  4. An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names, William Arthur, Shilds Blakeman and Co, 1857.

  5. Norensis is the Latin variation of the name Noreis

  6. Surnames of Scotland, George Black, New York Public Library, 1946.


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