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2,405 study surnames with us
and a further 6,120 variant names.

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About the study

The Spearin Surname Project seeks to ascertain:speringe coat of arms

  • The origin of the Spearin name and its variants
  • The name's meaning: is it patronymic, topographical, toponymic, occupational, etc? Or a mix of these?
  • Relative frequency and distribution in time and place
  • Patterns of immigration and emigration
  • It also seeks to reconstruct the genealogy of the lines bearing the surname

We use the spelling Spearin but there are many variants including Spearing, Speiran, Speerin, Speirin, Spierin, Sperin, Sperring, Spiering, Spearman, etc. There are even McSpeerins.

Several researchers are actively involved in researching the surname Spearin and its variants, and there is an associated DNA Project which has proved very helpful. Links to our DNA Project, Facebook Group, blog, and dedicated website can be found in the Links section below.

Variant names

Speiran, Spierin, Spiering, Spearing, Sperring

Name origin

The different variants are likely to be multi-origin in nature.

In Irish surname dictionaries, the surname and its variants are absent from MacLysaght [1] but mentioned briefly in Woulfe [2] - the Gaelic version, with the fada on the e, followed by the English versions, without further explanation:

Spéiring, Spearing, Spearin

In English surname dictionaries, the following is found:

This unusual surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a patronymic form of the surname Spear, which derives from the Olde English pre 7th Century personal byname "Spere", originally denoting either a tall, thin person, or one skilled in the use of the hunting spear. In part it may also have been a metonymic occupational name for a maker of spears ... In the modern idiom the patronymic forms of the name appear as: Spiring, Spering, Sperring and Spearing. [3]

European variants include Spiering & Spierings.

  • Spiering is the Dutch & German word for smelt, a small trout-like fish that lives in saltwater but spawns in freshwater. It is also called Sparling (especially in Scotland), which is a potential variant of Spiering, and a name common among the Palatine population of Limerick.
  • It is a German habitational name for someone from any of several places called Spier (named with the old element spir ‘(muddy) water’), notably Speyer or Spier.
  • It is also a German metonymic occupational name for a fisherman, from Middle Low German spiring denoting a small salt-water fish; in some instances the surname may have arisen as a nickname for someone thought to resemble the fish. [4,5,6,7]

The name Spier may also be related Spiering:

  • Last name origins & meanings [8]

    1. English: from an agent derivative of Middle English (e)spi(en) ‘to watch’, hence an occupational name for a lookout or watchman, or a nickname for a nosy person.
    2. Scottish: variant spelling of Spear.
    3. German: nickname for a small person, from Middle Low German spīr ‘trifle’, ‘small piece’.
    4. German: habitational name from any of several places named Spier, notably the city in the Palatinate, now spelled Speyer (see Speyer, Spiering).
    5. Jewish (Ashkenazic): variant of Spiro.


[1] MacLysaght, Edward. The Surnames of Ireland. 1957 (sixth edition 1991) - available free of charge online from Library Ireland here

[2] Woulfe, Patrick. Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames, collected and edited with explanatory and historical notes (1923).







Historical occurrences of the name

Nicholas Spierinck (c1470-1546)

Nicholas came from a large family "with a disconcertingly limited choice of Christian names".[1] He was primarily a bookbinder and a bookseller, and his family had numerous connections in the book trade. His father was Claes, and the family came from a village called Zwijndrecht on the Scheldt near Antwerp. 

Nicholas left the Netherlands prior to 1500 and went first to Lille France and then to Cambridge England about 1501 (citation needed). He was an archer in King Henry's court (citation needed).

He first appears in the records of Cambridge University in 1505-06. In 1505, Nicholas leased a tenement beside King's College (see below footnotes).[2] He probably lived in (what is now) Kings Parade (then the High Street),[3] but over the years also leased properties elsewhere.

As well as being a bookbinder/stationer, he was also a beer brewer. He owned a 'beerebruehouse' (the Cross Keys, in Magdalene Street/Bridge Street).[4],[5] It appears that many 'aliens' from the Low Countries settled in Cambridge to escape political instability and religious persecution and brought brewing skills with them.

There are no examples of his binding work after 1533 and it may be that he switched his attention more towards his brewing and pub, which he left to his grandson 'Nycholas Spyrynke' in his will (see end of this page).[6] If this was the Nicholas who later became a goldsmith in London, he would only have been about 3 years old at the time!

In 1534 Henry VIII granted the University the right to nominate three printers and sellers of books to print books approved by the Chancellor and to sell them in the University and elsewhere. Nicholas, along with Garrett Godfrey and Segar Nicholson, became one of the first three printers of what later became the Cambridge University Press, one of the oldest printers in history.[7] However, no one in the University thought to actually print books for another 50 years.

The spelling of his name varied considerably as did so many of his contemporaries - Gray quotes the following variants: Speryng, Spieryncke, Sperynk, Speyryncke, Speyrincke, Speyrinck, Spiring, and Sperynge. Whether this was a conscious attempt to anglicise his name or the inevitable result of the medieval penchant for reckless spelling is difficult to say. His colleague Garrett Godfrey (another Dutchman) did have an anglicised name,[8] possibly to avoid being identified as a Dutchman during a time when Dutch ships attacked English ones in the Thames estuary or to avoid ingrained xenophobia in Cambridge (citation needed).

Nicholas (like Garret Godfrey) was very active in the local church. At Great St Mary's, he served as a churchwarden (1517, 1522), Elector (1521, 1524, 1525, 1528, 1538, 1542), and both Elector & Auditor (1530, 1531).[9] He died in late 1545 or early 1546 and was buried in St Mary's Church. From the transcript of his will (proved in the University Court of Cambridge), it is clear that Nicholas was married to Agnes and seemingly had an only son, William, who in turn had a son Nicholas. There was also a Kateryn Spyrnyke, who may have been a daughter.[10]

Other Occurrences

On December 18th 1552, Richard Spering, an infant, was christened in Whittington, Gloucestershire, and on September 8th 1677, Mary, daughter of Thomas Spearing, was christened in Evenlode, Gloucestershire. A Coat of Arms granted to the Spearing family is a silver shield with three pellets in fess between two red bars dancettee, the Crest being a ship under sail proper on a globe. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Agnes Spiryng or Spiring, which was dated October 31st 1539, marriage to Nicholas Bowerman, at Trull, Somerset, during the reign of King Henry V111, known as "Bluff King Hal", 1509 - 1547.


[1,7] A History of Cambridge University Press: Printing and the book trade in Cambridge, 1534-1698 by David McKitterick. Cambridge University Press, 1992 - 524 pages at

[2] From

[3] The earliest Cambridge stationers & bookbinders, and the first Cambridge printer (1904), by George John Gray, at, p43-53. The references to Foster presumably relate to St Mary's Parish Book, by J. E. Foster, 1904. 

[4,6,8,9,10] Gray

[5] See also Cambridge and its economic region, 1450-1560, by John S. Lee p80, at which in turn cites CBD pp83, 155

Name frequency

In Ireland, people with the surname Spearin, Speerin, Spierin, Speirin, or Speiran numbered 51 in the 1901 census, and 37 in the 1911 census. People called Spearing numbered 13 and 26 in 1901 and 1911 respectively, and people called Sperring numbered 7 and 2 respectively. [1]

In the UK, there are approximately 1,460 people named Spearing. That makes it the 5,644th most common surname overall. Out of every million people in the UK, approximately 23 are named Spearing. In 1881, 575 people named Spearing appeared in the census.

There are approximately 300 people named Sperring in the UK. That makes it the 12,975th most common surname overall. Out of every million people in the UK, approximately 5 are named Sperring. In 1881, 475 people named Sperring appeared in the census.

Spiering is most frequent in Holland (54 FPM*) & Germany (14 FPM), Spierings most frequent in Holland (151 FPM).

*FPM, Frequency Per Million population




Distribution of the name

In Ireland the name Spearin was historically located in and around Limerick, but it is now most common in Dublin.

In England, the names Spearing & Sperring are the most frequent variants and historically were concentrated in the southwest, particularly in Somerset. 

Spiering is a more common variant in Germany, and Spierings in southern Holland.

See the Spearin Surname Project website for a full account of the distribution of the name -


hartwell coat of armsDocumentary evidence suggests that many Spearin's who can trace their family tree back to Ireland, originated in Limerick. They seem to have arrived there about 1660 to 1680, and owned extensive tracts of land in places like Adare, Beabus, Bohernakeilly (Boherquill) and Cappagh. They were landed gentry, at least when they first got there, and had close ties with the Hartwell family, who in turn were English soldiers in the Army of Charles I. What the exact relationship was between these two families remains to be elucidated and is the subject of ongoing research. However, the families intermarried and many of the Spearin children bore the name Hartwell as a first or middle name. It is the survival through the ages of this unusual name combination in the family trees of many present-day Spearin's that allows us to make a direct link to the Spierin family who settled in Limerick in the late 1600s.

Prior to this, a shred of evidence from Sir William Betham (Chief Herald of Ireland) links these early Limerick Spierin's with a family of goldsmiths from London. These goldsmiths were a wealthy, influential family. They bore a Coat of Arms, and used the name Spering (also spelt Speringe or Sperynge). But then something happened. They abandoned London and ended up in Limerick. Was it the plague that drove them out? Or the Great Fire of 1666? Or the promise of land and wealth in Ireland? This remains one of the most tantalising unsolved mysteries of the Spearin family.

We are also exploring the origins of Spearin/Spearing variants in England and from continental Europe. It is suspected that the Spearin's from Ireland originated from London and before that from the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands, northern Germany). It is also suspected that many English Spearing/Sperring families share a similar origin. So this raises the question: are all three groups (Irish Spearin's, English Sperring's, and European Spiering's) related to each other? 


We are a group of researchers, located in New Jersey, Canada, Australia, London, Dublin, Limerick, Cork and elsewhere, who have been researching our own individual Spearin lines for many years (even going back to the 1970s). But some of us came together in Jan 2011 to collaborate on a Y-DNA project in the hope that it will confirm what we have come to suspect ... that all our various lines are related. And we were right. 

The DNA project has shown that most people who can trace their family tree back to Ireland are all closely genetically related and originate from Limerick. This by far the largest "Genetic Family" within the group.

Several English Spearing's and Sperring's have tested and other unrelated Genetic Families have been identified. Several European members called Spiering and Spierings have joined the project but so far have not matched each other or any of the existing Genetic Families. 

Recruitment to the DNA Project is ongoing and anyone (man or woman) bearing a Spearin variant surname is more than welcome to join (see link below).


Our Facebook Group -

Our DNA Project -

Our Blog (for project updates) -

Our Spearin Surname Project website -

Click here to JOIN the DNA Project - (click on JOIN at the right of the picture at the top)