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About the study

I am carrying out a One-Name Study of the three names Hollyer, Holyer and Hollier worldwide. I am keen to hear from anyone with these names in their families and will try to help provide information where I can. I can probably provide many short-cuts to your research from data already collected. Most individuals alive in the 19th century and many from the 20th, have been assembled into extensive pedigrees. In some cases, I may be prepared to do some extra research on your behalf. I would also welcome offers of assistance with research!

As you would expect with a Guild-registered study, this is a true One-Name Study - I am interested in any Hollyer, Holyer or Hollier anywhere in the world and irrespective of whether they relate to my own Hollyer line (which in fact started out as Holyer).

This page summarizes my study. I have a more extensive web site at which I recommend you visit.

Variant names

I systematically collect data on the three variants Hollyer, Holyer and Hollier. However, many other 'deviant' spellings can be found throughout history, which may be caused by hearing or transcription errors. Hence one can find Holier, Hollyor, Halliar, Halyer and even the odd variants Holliard and Hollyard. It is not clear what pronunciation led to the final d being added.

An important consideration when searching censuses is the possibility of enumeration and transcription errors. The following incorrect 'names' have been found: Hollyee, Holler, Hollger, Holger, Hallier, Holllier, Hollin, Hollow, Holles, Hollies, Holier, Hollyar, Holyar, Halyer, Helier, Hellier, Helliar, Ollier and Olliar. In the reverse direction, many of the Cambridgeshire Hullyer and Hulyer families have been transcribed as Hollyer and Holyer. The same can happen with the separate surnames of Hallier mainly a Gloucestershire name), Hillier (A Wiltshire name) and Hellier (A Devon name).

Some people with the quite separate Cheshire name of Ollier became Holliers in the 19th century.

Name origin

The surname dictionaries usually reference a link between Hollyer and Hollier and variously describe its meaning as relating to Old English or Old French words meaning 'Dweller by the holly tree' - hardly surprising - or 'Whoremonger' which most of us would prefer to pass over quickly. Such dictionaries rarely give any proof of such assertions and so must be considered as speculative.

However, Gustav Fransson in his book Middle English Surnames of Occupation 1100-1350, with an excursion on toponymical surnames (1935) mentions that names ending in -ere or -iere denote someone who lives by a particular topographical feature, eg Bechere denotes someone who lives by a beech tree. He cites 4 examples of early names as follows:-

  • Adam le Holyer, 1319, Subsidy Roll, Essex
  • Adam Holier, 1332, Subsidy Roll, Essex
  • Robert le Holare, 1275, Subsidy Roll, Worcs
  • John Holere, 1295, Gaol Delivery Roll, Norfolk

and explains that these names mean 'dweller by the hole, cavity or hollow place'. I understand that names of this form are actually most frequent in Sussex and the adjoining counties. They are also found in Somerset and Worcestershire and occasionally in the East Midlands. I am grateful to Peter McClure for this information.

This may help explain why the name seems to be evenly and randomly spread across the southern counties of England and is never found in the northern counties. In contrast, if the name had originated only in the stronghold of North Warwickshire, a more even distribution of the name spreading out in time from Warks would have been expected. If true, it means that while the Warwickshire families seem to come from a common root in Shustoke, those in Southern counties probably arose independently.

It should noted that the names Hollier and Ollier are found in France today and are probably indigenous.

Historical occurrences of the name

Down through history, several notable people have carried the names Hollyer, Holyer and Hollier and these are described here. They include the surgeon Thomas Hollier (1609-1690) who famously removed a large bladder stone from Samuel Pepys. Also notable was Frederick Hollyer (1837-1933), an innovative photographer of 19th century works of art, as well as producing portraits of the 'good and great' of the time.

Name frequency

The frequency of the names has been studied for the UK. Today, there are probably around 1200 people with the name, while in 1881 is was around 800. The present-day ranking of the three names are Hollier 8103; Hollyer 21877 and Holyer 26873. Historically, the Hollier variant has been about 4 times more common that Hollyer and Holyer, although these latter spellings made a come-back in the 20th century.

Distribution of the name

That Shustoke is the original source of many of the Hollyer and Hollier families is supported by the distribution of events from the IGI which radiate in density and time from that area.

By the start of parish registration, the name had however migrated to many surrounding counties and to London. But also by this time, the name occurs in several other areas and it is quite possible that the name arose separately in these instances. In particular, there is a very large group of Holliers in Somerset that flourishes after the mid 18th century in places such as Cheddar, Draycott, Burrington, and Blagdon. There was also a significant group using both the Hollyer and Hollier spelling in the Fordingbridge and New Forest area of Hampshire and across the Solent on the Isle of Wight. The main Holyer name arose in Kent after 1737, but there are earlier records from the 15th century to the name in both Kent and Sussex.

Despite these groups that might have arisen separately, the main group of Hollier/Hollyers started in North Warwickshire and spread out to nearby Staffordshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Worcestershire, westwards to Shropshire and then southwards to Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and maybe Berkshire. Northamptonshire is very poorly covered by the IGI, but there were Holliers at Weedon Bec and Aynho.

Other Hollier/Hollyers in places such as Wiltshire and Gloucestershire might have come from the north or the Somerset Holliers in the south. The Somerset group probably also spread into Dorset and Devon. In Gloucestershire, there was some name migration from the separate Hallier family at Wickwar.

By the 19th century, the big cities of London and Birmingham became magnets for the Holliers as with so many others. Analysing the births of the Hollier name variant between 1837 and 1899 shows that the 1025 births were concentrated into just 145 Registration Districts (RDs). Click here to see the distribution maps. The largest single group is the Somerset Holliers with 131 births in the Axbridge RD, 30 in Bedminster RD and 18 in Barton Regis, as they migrated towards Bristol. After that, the Birmingham and surrounding area accounts for 168 and the London area for another 160.

There are major groups at Hinckley, LEI (49) (the Sharnford and Hinckley families), Thame, OXF (44) (the Sydenham family), Shipston on Stour, WAR/WOR (21) (the Moreton in the Marsh family).

Other large RDs are: Highworth, WIL (28)(three families drawn from Somerset & Bristol towards the railway town of Swindon); Stourbridge, WOR (19)(George Hollier/Julia Spencer and descendants); Alcester, WAR (18)(the Studley families); Daventry, NTH (16)(the Weedon families); Woodstock OXF (13) and Banbury, OXF (11) (the Deddington group).

Prior to the 19th century, there was also a major group of Hollier/Hollyers in Berkshire at Reading, Binfield and Shinfield.

There are a number of Hollier families in Wales in the 19th century. Some descend from Henry Hollier of Cardiff, the Steward to the Marquess of Bute, whose family origins were from Barton under Needwood in Staffs, while others were migrants from the Somerset group of Holliers. One Hallier family in Wales (itself from their home county of Gloucestershire) was often recorded as Hollier.

Some of the Holliers in the Cheshire area (Nantwich RD) are connected with Olliers who changed their name.

Members of the Hollyer, Holyer and Hollier families have emigrated to many countries of the world. The earliest emigrants were enforced transportees to the USA in the mid 17th century. During the 19th century, families started to emigrate to seek a better life. Destinations include the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Tanganika, India and even, for a while, Paraguay. In the USA, the names also arrived from other countries, in particular the Southern states Holliers are from France. Sometimes, foreign names were 'anglicised' to Hollyer, Holyer or Hollier on arrival.


I have amassed a very large quantity of data about the names. You can see the BMDs for England & Wales in the Guild Archive here.

A fuller description of data sources can be found here.


I have now commenced a DNA study for the names Hollyer, Hollier and Holyer (also accepting Hallier and Ollier). Details can be found here