The name is WEIR!
My name is Bill Weir. People sometimes ask about my last name. I'm not related to Bob Weir, vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the Grateful Dead, or to Peter Weir the great Australian film director of such films as Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously, and The Truman Show. I'm definetly not related to Danny DeVito, who played the part of Martin "Shorty" Weir in the movie Get Shorty. I wish I was as good a golfer as the Canadian pro Mike Weir, or as good a composer as Judith Weir!
It's not a common surname in the United States, with around 6,000 households named Weir. Though Bill is very common, I've only met two people with my name, and one is my cousin, a sheriff in Dade County, Florida. The other one doesn't exactly have the same name, but it's close enough. Willie Weir is a traveler extrordinaire who has ridden his bicycle over 40,000 miles on 5 continents. The name seems to be a little more common in Canada. Most Weirs can trace roots to Scotland. When my friend Paul Webb visited Scotland, he asked if it was a common name there. "Oh yes. Common as dut (dirt)," was the reply. As it turns out, the name WEIR has some very uncommon roots.
In fact, every time I turn around, I learn about another accomplished Weir somewhere around the world. But everyone named Weir shares one thing in common. We all get called 'weird' sometimes.
I can't tell you how many times I've had to say, "It's Weir...there's no 'd' on the end." No getting around it. The name is WEIR!
Since you have to face it, you either get a chip on your shoulder, or learn to laugh. I laugh a lot. And I tell myself that it builds charater.
I've also looked at the origins of the word 'weird'. I know there is a Scottish/Middle English connection. Shakespeare wrote about "the Weirds" who were either the Fates, or witches in old Scotland. "Weird" is tied to the concept of fate and the ability to control fate, or anything out of the ordinary.
The name is out of the ordinary, but in another sense. Since creating this page, I have been contacted by Weirs from all around the world with corrections, additional information and more questions about the history of the name. I also discovered some errors on my own. As a result, I decided to go back back and try to get as close as possible to the root of the name.
This gets long and involved, because I am had to go back nearly 1300 years in history, but please stay with me. It really is a good story, full of high adventure, bravery, honor and treachery, kings and queens, knights and ladies, fairies and even some real witches.
The name Weir is primarily derived from the word VER.
Here are three derivations that have been given for the name VER:
1. VER from a Latin perspective:
Ver: From the medieval given name "Ver" (Latin 'Verus') (~over the e) which means "True", which enjoyed some slight currency in honour of a 4th century bishop of Vienna.
2. VER from a Norse perspective:
Ver ancestral village from which they took their name, near Bayeaux and the River Vire, in Manche on the Normandy coast of present-day northern France. The name of the town itself came from the Norse word for "station", and referred to Viking staging points.
3. VER from a French perspective:
Habitation from which they took their name, from any of the numerous places named with the Gaulish element 'ver' or alder.
I'm not positive which is the real derivation, but I lean toward the first, from the Latin word meaning "True" for several reasons. Surnames were not commonly used in those times. I think it originated as a title for the Dukes of Anjou which would be a title of honor, not a reference to a village. Also, the official language was Latin. At any rate, the VER blood line is one of the largest and most widespread family line to ever come out of the English or European Noble Dynasty class. This lineage produced the Earls of Oxford (for 20 straight generations), Lord Chamberlains, Marquesses of Dublin, and Dukes of Ireland, and includes reformers, leaders, Prime Ministers, Presidents, and many other characters of historical interest.
We will start in the year 719 when Charles Martel defeated Rainfroi de VER, Duke of Anjou and Mayor of the Palace of Neustrie.
This victory brought back together key houses of the Franks under one rule and is considered an important date in European history. Rainfroi de VER (also known as Raymond) was married to another legendary character, Melusine.
Melusine de VER has also been known as Melusina, Melouziana de Scythes, Maelasanu, and The Dragon Princess. She entered literary history in the book Roman de Melusine written in 1393 by Jean d'Arras. The story is a mix of fiction and fact, commissioned by the Duke de Berry, a French noble who was brother to King Charles V, and uncle of King Charles VI. It was meant to be a family history and to uphold the proprietary claims to Lusignan and Anjou. In this story Melusine's mother was a Presine fairy who charmed Elinas, the king of Scotland. The result was their daughter Melusine. Half fairy and half princess, Melusine wandered over to the Continent and eventually met up with Rainfroi/Raymond in the forests Anjou. They met while he was out boar hunting. Overcome with her beauty, he took her hand in marriage, and many adventures ensued. As a result of this book, Melusine was subsequently featured in medieval tales across Europe, variously depicted as a mermaid, a water sprite, a fairy queen, a fairy princess, a dragon princess, and a forest nymph. She came to represent any magial creature who marries a mortal man. Most royal houses in Europe have claimed lineage to the real Melusine, so she has been the subject of great speculation. Legends about Melusine and Rainfroi (or Raymond) also often have a connection to boars and boar hunting.
Charles Martel went on to become Duke of all the Franks and founder of Carolinian line of Kings. Thirteen years later in 732 he defeated the Saracen Army at Poitiers in France, and saved Western Europe from complete invasion by the Moslems. As a result of this, his son Pepin III, became 1st King of the Franks. Pepin in turn was the father of Charlemagne and Berta. Charlemagne, 2nd King of the Franks, is the ancestor of every existing and former ruling house or dynasty in Europe. His sister Berta was joined in marriage to the son of Rainfroi de VER, Milo de VER in 800 AD, the same year her brother was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
Milo de Ver was the Duke of Anjou, Count of Angleria, and Duke Leader of Charlemagne's house. Milo and Berta had two sons, one being Roland (legendary Paladin for whom "Song of Roland" was written) and Milo de VER II. The de Ver line passed from Milo II through a succesion of Earls of Genney: Milo II 's son Nicasius de VER was father to Otho de VER, father to Amelius de VER, father to Gallus de VER, father to Mansses de VER, father to Alphonso de VERE (Alphonsus) . Alphonsus de VERE, Earl of Genney, was "Councilor to Edward the Confessor" King Edward III of England, who had both Norman and Flemish advisors. Alphonsus de VERE had a son Alberic de VERE, also known as Aubrey I. NOTE: Aubrey comes from the Teutonic name Alberic, or "elf-ruler."
Born sometime before 1040, Alberic de VERE (Aubrey I) came to England with William the Conqueror from Normandy in 1066, was one of King William's most favoured knights, and after the battle of Hastings, Alberic held land and lordships in many counties, including Middlesex where he owned Kensington and Earls Court. His wife was Beatrix, daughter of Henry Castellan, of Baurbough (some accounts say she was William the Conqueror's sister) by whom he had a daughter and five sons, Alberci (Aubrey de VERE II), Geffery, Roger, Robert an William. He used the motto,"Albri Comes" which which has been interpreted "Albery of truth cometh." He was alternately known as Alberic (Latin), Aubrey, Aberica Senior, Albri, Albertic, Albery, Aubri, Albury, and Alphonsus (in Greek). This Aubrey I, took the habit of a monk; and was buried in the church of Colne priory, which he had founded.
Alberic de VERE the Second (Aubrey II), born in 1062 and also known as "Ablecricus, Junior," was successor to his father and became so much in favor with King Henry I. that he was not only made great "Chamberlain of England" but also "Justiciar of England" or Justice of All England. Aubrey II built a huge castle at Hedingham c.1140 using the Archbishop of Canterbury as his architect. On May 15 in 1141, he was killed in London in a riot and buried in Colne Priory.
Alberic de VERE the Third (Aubrey III), born circa 1110, succeeded his father. During this time there was much turmoil in England, including a conflict between the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I and King Stephen. It was really a fight between Normans and Flemings for the English throne. Since Stephen's wife was the Flemish Matilda, Countess of Boulogne, those Flemings already in England naturally flocked to her side. Aubrey III with ties to both the Flemings and the Normans, seemed to have played both sides. Empress Matilda (Maude) frequently came to Hedingham Castle as a visitor and guest of de Vere, and it was here that she was cornered by King Stephen, escaping out of the castle by a rope. The other Matilda, Queen and wife of King Stephen, and Flemish, was another regular visitor to Hedingham, and she died there on the 3rd May 1152, and was later buriedat Faversham Abbey, Kent.
Eventually Aubrey III sided with the Norman Matilda/Maude and her son Henry II. Once Maude took control of the throne and became Empress, "in order to engage him to her interest" confirmed to Aubrey the office of great Chamberlain, all of his father's estates, along with other inheritances such as the earldom of Cambridge, Oxford, Berkshire, Wiltshire, and Doreseshire, which Maud's son, Henry II, confirmed this, constituting him Aubrey 1st Earl of Oxford.
Here is where our story takes a twist.
Not everyone in the de VERE family supported the Normans. Aubrey 1st Earl of Oxford had a son named Ralph de VERE (Ralph/Radulphus/Ralf/Baltredus) who defected to the Flemish side over succession in England and control of Brittany. He fled to Scotland in approximately 1165 and declared his allegiance to the Scottish Crown. Having opposed his father in these struggles, Ralph/Radulphus was disinherited. But he was subsequently rewarded with lands in Scotland.
Back in England, upon the death of Aubrey de VERE 1st Earl of Oxford in 1194, the title of 2nd Earl of Oxford passed to Ralph's older brother Aubrey IV. Having died childless, the title passed to Ralph's younger brother Robert de VERE, who now became the 3rd Earl of Oxford. As Ralph de VERE was the second son, the title of 3rd Earl of Oxford should have passed to him, but because of the disinheritance, the title passed to Robert, the 3rd son.
When Ralph fled to Scotland in approximately 1165, he went with his liege, Conan IV Duke of Brittany. Conan IV besides being Duke of Brittany, laid claim to the throne of England as a great-grandson of King Henry I and grandson of Empress Maude. Henry II of England gained control of Brittany, which resulted in Conan fleeing to Scotland. Conan IV married the sister of the King William I, The Lion of Scotland, and Ralph de Vere in return for his allegiance, was given lands in Lanarkshire. In the 12th century, a number of land grants in the lowlands were awarded to Flemish noble families by the Scottish throne.
Some confusion has arisen over the centuries about Ralph de VERE. His given name has been recorded as Ralph, Ralf, Radulph, Ralfredus, Radelphus, and Baltredus. His surname has been recorded as de Vere, de Veir, and de Weir.
Ralph was a witness to a charter of King William (born in 1143 and died 1214, reigned from 1165 to 1214.) Ralph was captured along with King William after beseiging the Castle of Alnwick in Northumbria in 1174. As Radulphus de Weir, he witnessed a Charter of King William, somewhere between 1174 and 1184, and as Radulph de Veir he gave a bovate of land in Sprowston, Roxburgh, to Kelso Abbey. As Radalphus de Vere he witnessed another Charter by King William to the Abbey of Lindores.
The Weirs of Blackwood in Lanarkshire, the principal WEIR family, claim descent from Ralph de Vere.
Ralph was succeeded by his eldest son Walter de VERE (born circa 1130) who was succeeded by Radulphus de VERE (also known as Ralph), born circa 1154. Radulphus died at end of Alexander II's reign (that being 1214 - 1249)
Thomas de VERE, son of Radulphus was born by 1246. In 1266 he was witness to a charter of a donation to Kelso Monastery by Hemicus St Clan. His son was Richardus de VERE (also recorded as Richard WERE) who was proprietor of the lands and the barony of Blackwood, circa 1296; the baron of Blackwood is often called the ancestor of all Weirs and Wiers of Scotland.
Thomas de VERE (also recorded as Wer/Were), son of Richardus, died in the reign of David Bruce, followed by Buan de VERE (also recorded as Were) born in the beginning of Robert III's reign. Buan's son was Rotaldus de VERE (also known as WERE of Blackwood) who had a charter for Blackwood 1398/1400 and was recorded as Bailie of Lesmahagow, followed by Thomas WERE (also recorded as Weir) of Blackwood, father of Robert VEYR (also recorded as Vere/Weir) of Blackwood who was born circa 1430 and died circa 1479.
His son was Thomas WEIR of Blackwood, (born circa 1460, died circa 1531), the first in this direct line at Blackwood to use the WEIR spelling consistently. From this time forward, all Scottish Veres would eventually come be known as Weirs. It is recorded that three of the maternal forebears of Thomas Weir included a Buchannan, a McFarlane, and a MacNaughton.
In 1532, Alan Lockhart, 9th Laird of Lee, was sentenced to the chopping block for the murder of a David WEIR and a Ralph WEIR, on separate occasions. His sentence was revoked, and he received 'remission' in 1541. The Weir family seems to have had a long running feud with the Lockharts, who were accused of many murders during this time but, never punished due to their rank. Alan's grandson, James Lockhart, 11th Laird of Lee was accused by Gideon WEIR, Notary of Lanark, of murdering a Lee estate tenant for stealing his sheep. James later married Isobel Weir of Stonebyres, which may have calmed the feud.
Weirs/Veres of Stonebyres and Archtyfardle and Mossmynemion were branches of the Weirs of Blackwood. In the 1500s a century-old feud between the Weirs of Blackwood and their cousins the Veres of Stonebyres was supposedly ended when the Veres swore allegiance to Weir of Blackwood and acknowledged him as their chief. However contention continued, to a point where a James Weir of Stonebyres, changed the Stonebyres family name back to VERE in the 18th century.
Many with the name Weir may also have roots in the Highlands, where it derives from other sources, some being descendants of one of the several MacNair families who anglicised their name to Weir. The MacNairs of Lennox are considered septs of the MacFarlanes, but some MacNuyers (MacAndeoirs), who became septs of the Buchanans are known to have become Weirs. In Buchanan parish in Lennox, the name 'MacAmhaoir' was once known, but such has now been extinct for over 200 years - possibly superceded by Weir. Some Perthshire MacNairs, or MacAndeoirs, followed the MacNabs. The Argyllshire family of MacNuyer of Evan Glas ('Gray Hugh's race') settled on Lochgoilside, while of the MacNairs in Cowal, many are said to have become Weirs - these last allied with the MacNaughtons.
These Scottish Weirs traveled far and wide. Some went across to Ireland where they established roots, many in County Antrim. In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries many Weirs emigrated from Scotland and Ireland to places like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
There are Weirs with other roots, but most often they somehow tie back to the name VER.
Though having a long history in Scotland the Weirs, as we have seen, are not one of the original Highland Clans. But the family has close ties to 3 different clans. According to R. R. McIan's "The Clans of the Scottish Highlands" first published 1845, the Weirs were recognized then as a sept of both clan Buchannan and clan MacNaughton (Mac Nachtan) At some later date they were recognized as a sept of the MacFarlane clan. Since the Weirs had their own land, they became a sept by way of marriage and alliance.
Besides being septs of three different Highland clans, the Weirs are what is known as an Armigerous Family in Scotland, meaning they have the right to bear their own heraldic arms. Their heraldic arms have been registered by, and are recognized by the Lyon Court and the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. And the Weirs have their own tartan.
The Weir Tartan
The Scottish Weir motto remains the same as the English de VERE motto: "Vero nihil verius" also written as "Vero nil Verius." This can be translated as "Nothing truer than truth" or alternately "Truth nothing but the truth." And the Weir crest is based on the de VERE coat, with the blue boar. This may date all the way back to Rainfroi de VER.
Here is the listing on the Weirs from the "The Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia" in the section of The Armigerous Clans and Families of Scotland:
Weir of Blackwood
Arms : Argent, on a fess Azure, three mollets of the first
Crest: (As Oxford) Upon a chapeau Gules furred Ermine a boar standant Azure armed Or.
Motto: (As Oxford) 'Vero Nihil Verius'
There have been many other Weirs, Weir relatives, and references to Weirs in more recent history.
Robert Louis Stevenson was working on his book Weir of Hermiston when he died. It's a dramatic story about the strong-willed Scottish Lord of Hermiston, Adam Weir, and his son Archie, whom he sentences to death. The book is somewhat autobiographical for Stevenson, and a sort of history of Scotland. Many critics consider it Stevenson's masterpiece.
The most notorious member of the family was Major Thomas Weir (1599 - 1670) known as the "Bowheaded Saint". Born in Lanarkshire, he was a lieutenant in the army sent by the Covenanters to protect the Ulster colonies in 1641. Later he was a major in Lanark's Regiment and was appointed to command the City Guard of Edinburgh. Outwardly he portrayed himself as a religious man, but was secretly practitioner of witchcraft, and addicted to various crimes and deviations. He confessed at the age of 70 and was burned alive for witchcraft in 1670, while his siter was hanged.
The company Weir of Cathcart was born from a partnership between the Scottish brothers George WEIR and James WEIR in 1871. James was one of the foremost engineers of his day and some of his innovations are still fundamental to all modern steam plant practice. The company then grew from a small machine shop, foundry and smithy in what was then the country village of Cathcart,outside Glasgow into a company whose pumps became vital in the expanding shipbuilding market. In time the business moved into many new areas of engineering, including oil pipelines, system-built houses, autogyros and early helicopters, the first Brittish jet engine, racing cars, metal casting and other entreprises. The Weir Group is now a world-wide conglomerate and traded on the London Stock Exchange. In 2001 the Weir Group had net revenue of 728 Million Pounds.
James and George were also great-grandsons of the Scottish poet and hero Robert Burns, through their maternal grandmother.
William Douglas WEIR, son of James, rose to national prominence in Great Britain during World War I. He became head of the family engineering business some time between 1910 and 1912, but during the 'Great War' he attracted the attention of the government as a successful manager. He was appointed Controller of Aeronautical Supplies at the Ministry of Munitions in London. In 1918 he became Secretary of State for Air in Lloyd Georgešs cabinet and was responsible for combining the naval and army air services into the Royal Air Force. He was made a Knight in 1917, a Baron in 1918, and Viscount Weir of Eastwood in 1938.
In the United States, a distant cousin of mine, (he was my grandfather's second cousin) named Ernest WEIR became one of the greatest steel men in the world. The photo below is from the cover of Life magazine in 1937.
Ernest WEIR is a classic example of American enterprise. A son of immigrants with only an eighth- grade education, Ernest rose through the ranks of U.S. Steel Corporation, where he started as an office boy. In 1905, at age 28, he left his job as general manager of the Monessen tin plate mill near his hometown of Pittsburgh, and and bought a tin mill in Clarksburg, W.Va. with partner James Phillips. In 1909 in the name of Phillips Sheet and Tin Company, Ernest bought 105 acres in West Virginia on land that would become home to the steel company. By the end of the year, with ten mills operating on the site, a boomtown called Weirton began to grow up near the mills. By 1915, Weir was operating 50 hot mills in three locations and the second largest tin plate producer in the world. In 1919 Phillips Sheet and Tin changes its name to Weirton Steel Company. In 1929 Ernest merged Weirton Steel with Michigan Steel and M.A. Hanna Steel to form National Steel Corporation. National Steel was among the nation's largest steel producers. Ernest passed away in 1958, and later the company name reverted back to Weirton Steal. Now employee-owned it remains one of the largest steel companies in the United States.
When I was young, the only information I could ever find in reference books on my name was in regard to the family of painters Robert Walker Weir, and his sons John Ferguson Weir and Julian Alden Weir.
Robert Walker WEIR (1803-1889), American portrait and historical painter, was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1829, was teacher of drawing at the United States Military Academy at West Point 1834-1846, and professor of drawing at west Point 1846-1876. He died in New York City on the 1st of May 1889. Among his better-known works are: "The Embarkation of the Pilgrims" (in the rotunda of the United States Capitol at Washington, D.C.); "Landing of Hendrik Hudson", "Evening of the Crucifixion"; "Columbus before the Council of Salamanca "; "Our Lord on the Mount of Olives";" Virgil and Dante crossing the Styx," and several portraits, now at West Point, and "Peace and War" in the Chapel there. The painting above is "View From West Point" from 1863.
John Feruson WEIR (1841-1926) was a painter and sculptor, became a Member of the National Academy of Design in 1866, and was made director of the Yale University Art School in 1868. He was also an author, noted for his biography of John Trumbull. His paiting above is called "Japanese Iris - Six Varieties."
Julian Alden WEIR (1852-1919) was the youngest son out of sixteen children. Though a number of the siblings became painters, J. Alden is best known. He was one of the earliest American impressionist painters. Subtle gradations of light and tone characterize his work. He studied at the National Academy of Design in New York before traveling to Paris to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1873. Returning to America he became a distinguished portrait, figure and landscape painter. He was one of the founders of the Society of American Artists in 1877, a member of the National Academy of Design, and a founder of the Ten American Painters group in New York. His works hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Corcoran Gallery, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Art, Cleveland Museum of Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Peabody Gallery of Art, the Portland Art Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The painting above is called "Alex Webb Weir."
J. Alden's country retreat, The Weir Farm in Wilton, Connecticut, is now National Historic site.
Some further notes on the name VERE:
The de Vere name has been recorded, with and without the use of "DE" or "de." This family has been recorded over the centuries with the following spellings: Ver, Vear, Veare, Veer, Vere, Veir, Vire, Weir, Wier, Wear, Were, Wyer, Spear, Speare, Spere, ˇvear, Fear, Fere and Revere.
Many famous Vere's can be found throughout English history. The owner of the Shakespearean Company and the Globe Theater, was the"Great" Lord Chamberlain of England, 17th Earl of Oxford, EO. Edward de Vere. There have been claims by academics that Edward was actually the author of the plays. One basis of this is that there are more than 300 references to "ver" in the plays, and the character of "Oberon" or "Auberon" in "Midsummer Night's Dream" is thought to be based on Aubrey de VERE - see above. Sir Francis Vere (1560-1609) and Sir Horace Vere, Baron Vere of Tilbury, known as "The Fighting Veres" who both distinguished themselves as military leaders and are buried at Westminster. And through their mother Diana Spencer (from the marriage in 1762 of Charles Spencer to Lady Mary Vere of St. Albans) the current heirs to the British throne, Prince William Arthur Philip Louis (born 1982) and Prince Henry Charles Albert David "Harry" (born 1984) are both descendants of the VERE line.
Thank you for your patience. And a special thanks to the many helpful Weirs and honorary Weirs from around the world for their support! Please feel free to create a link to this page.
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