French Family Association
The Official Website of the Surname French
Last updated by Mara French on 11/8/08. Send corrections or additions to Mara French. Revised 1989, 2008.
This family goes back to Rognvald, a lieutenant to King Harold of Norway, who was a Viking. His son was Rollo, the Strong, 1st Duke of Normandy, France, 860-931 a.d. Rollo was a notable Viking who became short of meat on a cruise and, ignoring the law that Norway itself must not be raided, landed on the coast and ‘‘lifted’’ some cattle. He was outlawed and fled to France, where he and several newcomers founded the Kingdom of Normandy.
From Normandy, France, in 1066, Sir Theophilus ffrench, a most valiant knight, accompanied William the Conqueror into England in 1066 and was present with him at the Battle of Hastings. Sir Theophilus ffrench arrived in Essex, England. He was referred to as “de Freyne” or “from France”, similarly as some surnames are Carpenter or Taylor after their occupation. It is not known if all these men with the “de Freyne” attached to their Christian names were of the same family, or were several men who just happened to “come from France”.
The Frenches migrated throughout England, but most of them remained in Essex, Suffolk, or in London. After the Battle of Hastings, some members of the family accompanied the Anglo-Norman nobleman, Strongbow, to County Wexford, Ireland, in the 12th century. Strongbow married the daughter of the King of Leinster, and eventually became king himself. He rewarded his loyal men with lands of their own, the Ffrenches settling in County Wexford, Ireland.
The settlement of the family in Ireland dates from the English invastion, and, like it, took place in the Co. Wexford, where the line of Frynshe of Ballintory, has left several descents in the Irish records. The founder in Ireland was Sir Humphrey De Ffreygne, said in different accounts to have had several sons. His first son Patrick inherited his wealth and remained in Co. Wexford. His second son, not inheriting much, migrated to Galway where the same scenario took place. The eldest son remained, and the other sons migrated to other areas: Co. Galway, Co. Sligo, Co. Mayo, and Co. Roscommon.
From England and Ireland, the migration encompassed further areas to include Australia, Canada, and America.
Originally Norman (from Normandy, France), the name was de Freynes for De Ffreygne or De Frignes (pronounced in the Norman tongue de Freen) from Latin fraxinus meaning an ash tree. The ancestor of the family now under consideration went to France to England with William the Conquerer in the person of Theophilus de Ffrench to Ireland. The name is on the third list of William the Conqueror’s companions, given in Stowe’s Chronicle, p. 107.
The name de Freyne is of the same origin as Ffrench. There is an Irish peerage of the de Freyne extant today, as well as one of ffrench which still exists.
Use of the surname ffrench: The two small f’s represent the appearance of the capital “F” in Old English script, which has two vertical bars with one horizontal cross over both of them, looking like two lowercase f’s, as below. This was the way in which the 16th and 17th century calligraphy appeared. When the typewriter was invented, the family chose to keep the two lowercase f’s. There are many families in the U.S. who have kept this tradition – search for them on Google.
Some spellings, particularly in County Wexford, Ireland, spell the name Ffrench.
 Irish Families by Edward Maclysaght; Doublin; Hedges Figgis, 1957.