Fitz (pronounced "fits") is an Old French noun meaning "son of", ultimately from Latin filius (son), plus genitive case of the father's forename.[1] Whilst Fitz is now the standard form used in Anglo-Norman followed by modern historians the word appears in ancient documents with various spellings such as fiz, filz, etc. The word has developed in modern French to fils de, with which it is thus cognate.


Norman gentry and noble families under feudal society held one or more manors from an overlord, who himself held directly from the Duke of Normandy, the sovereign. Such families took their surnames from their principal manor on which they resided and which formed their seat. This was the case for example with William the Conqueror's great noble adviser Roger de Beaumont (c. 1015–1094), ("Roger from Beaumont"), who took his surname from his manor of Beaumont in a place known nowadays as Beaumont-le-Roger in Normandy. His eldest son was called Robert de Beaumont, again after the family seat.

However, where a distinguished Norman warrior perhaps held no land, and thus was not an established member of feudal society, or was from an obscure family, such a naming convention was unavailable. In such families therefore the word Fitz was preposed to the fore name of the warrior's father to give the warrior and his further descendants a surname by which they could be known. Thus Fitz Gilbert, meaning "son of Gilbert" would be adopted as a surname by the warrior christened "Baldwin", giving "Baldwin Fitz Gilbert". If we assume Baldwin's son was christened "William", his name would become "William Fitz Baldwin Fitz Gilbert. However it is rare to find this naming practice extending beyond two generations and eventually the family name became "Fitz Gilbert" alone, the name of the patriarch, with the name of the patriarch's son being dropped. When it is asked why the father, in this case Gilbert, was not himself Fitz of his own father, the answer seems unclear. The Domesday Book of 1086, written in Latin, names a few examples such as Turstin filius Rolf,[2] who was known in Norman-French documents as Turstin fitz Rolf (cp. Old Norse Þorsteinn Hrólfsson).

Norse origins

The Norman noblemen partly descended from Norsemen or Vikings and the usage appears to reflect the Scandinavian tradition of adding -son after (usually) the father's name, e.g. Þorgilsson = Fitz Turgis > English surnames Sturgis, Sturges cf. Norman surname Turgis, Tourgis or Ásbjǫrnson = Fitz Osbern cf. Old Norman given names Osbern / Osberne (until 16th century) > Auber. There are, however, exceptions in which the name of a more noteworthy mother (Fitz Wymarch) or a parent's title (Fitz Count, Fitz Empress) was used instead. Such surnames were later created for illegitimate children of royal princes.[3] Other names were Anglo-Normanized from another language, such as FitzPatrick (from the original Gaelic Mac Giolla Phádraig) or FitzDermot (from Mac Gilla Mo-Cholmóc), but are not of Norman or Norse descent.


The Devon historian Tristram Risdon (d. 1640) wrote: "From the Conquest unto the time of King Edward the First [reigned 1272–1307] the addition of 'Fitz' was so frequent with the Anglo-Normans that to avoid confusion in that kind men were commanded to assume unto themselves local names."[4] Thus for example the ancient Anglo-Norman Devonshire family of "FitzBarnard" assumed the surname "de Speccot", from the name of their Devon seat,[5] Speccot in the parish of Merton.


From the Stuart era (1603–1714) and later, a pseudo usage of Fitz was adopted for younger sons of the British royal family who lacked a legal surname, and particularly for illegitimate children of kings, princes, or general upper class men, for example Fitzroy, (meaning "son of the king", from the French fils du roy); Fitzjames, son of king James II (1685–1688); FitzClarence, son of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV (1830–1837); and FitzGeorge, son of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge (1819–1904). More generally, in literature the prefix Fitz has been used to connote nobility, for example in Anthony Trollope's 1862 novel Orley Farm which features the fictional rakishly aristocratic figure Lord John Fitzjoly.

Irish usage

The Irish surname FitzGerald is thought to derive from Gerald de Windsor, a Cambro-Norman nobleman whose son and grandson were involved in the Norman invasion of Ireland.

The Irish name Fitzpatrick does not indicate an Anglo-Norman origin of the family; it is the translation into English of the Gaelic surname Mac Giolla Phádraig. Other surnames beginning "Mac Giolla" were made into "McGilli-" (e.g. McGillicuddy), but the Fitzpatricks had their name changed by monarchical decree of Henry VIII as part of their submission under the Crown's surrender and regrant policy in the 1530–40's.


Historic persons


Prominent families

(Names are variously spelled with or without capital letter after "Fitz-")

Other uses

Fitz is also a stand-alone German surname originating in the Palatinate region of Germany.


  1. Thus Robertus, latinised form in the nominative case of the father's forename suggests his son's name in Latin as Filius Roberti ("son of Robert")
  2. Thorn, Caroline & Frank, (eds.) Domesday Book, (Morris, John, gen.ed.) Vol. 9, Devon, Parts 1 & 2, Phillimore Press, Chichester, 1985, part 1, chapter 37
  3. Oxford English Dictionary, "Fitz", sense a. Retrieved 2013-10-26.
  4. Risdon, Tristram (d. 1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p. 249
  5. Risdon, Tristram (d. 1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions, p. 249

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. Missing or empty |title= (help)

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