Show ContentsBirk History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The surname is one of the Anglo-Norman names that came to Ireland in the 12th century. The surname Birk is derived from the Old English word "burh," which is derived from the Old German word "burg," the common Germanic word for a fortification. It seems likely that the first family to bear this surname would have lived in or near a prehistoric fort situated on a hill. In the Norman fashion, surnames created from place names or geographic locations were prefixed by "de," which means "from" in French.

Early Origins of the Birk family

The surname Birk was first found in County Galway (Irish: Gaillimh) part of the province of Connacht, located on the west coast of the Island, where the family name is descended from the Norman noble William Fitzadelm de Burgo who went to Ireland in the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland and was the succeeded Strongbow as Chief Governor.

"Robert de Burgh, Earl of Moreton in Normandy, son of Harlowen de Burgh, by Arlotta, his wife, mother of William the Conqueror, participated with his half-brother in the triumph at Hastings, was created Earl of Cornwall, and received, as a further recompense, grants of seven hundred and ninety-three manors. His son, William Earl of Cornwall, who, rebelling against the Henry I., joined Robert of Normandy, and led the van at the battle of Tenchebray. He fell into the hands of his opponents and was sent prisoner to England, where he was treated with much cruelty, and detaining him in captivity for life. He left two sons: I. Adelm, from whom descended the Burghs, Earls of Ulster, the noble House of Clanricarde, and the various families of Burke, so widely scattered over the south west district of Ireland; and II. John, whose son, Hubert de Burgh, Earl of Kent, was Justiciary of England, temp. Henry III., and one of the greatest subjects in England." 1

Great stretches of land were given to this family in the year 1177. Richard Oge de Burc, son of William, became the "Lord Justice of Ireland" under King Henry II in 1177 and was regranted the lands of his father the following year. 2

Richard Mor de Burc, the older son of William, was the ancestor of the family name Bourke or Burke. They formed several septs, the two most important having been the MacWilliam Uachtar sept of county Galway, and the MacWilliam Lochtar sept of county Mayo.

It should be noted that not all of the family were in Ireland as some were found in Knaresborough, in the West Riding of Yorkshire in ancient times. "At the time of the Domesday Survey it formed part of the royal demesnes, and was given by the Conqueror to Serlo de Burgh, Baron of Tonsburg, in Normandy, who had accompanied that monarch into England, and by whom its stately castle, now a ruin, was originally built, on the rocky heights north of the river Nidd." 3

Another noted source confirms Knaresborough as a point of origin, but has a different Norman baron: " 'Burgh' must here stand for Serlo de Burgh, a powerful Northern baron in the time of the Conqueror, who built Knaresborough Castle, and appears to have taken his name from the manor of Burgh, in Yorkshire. " 4

Early History of the Birk family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Birk research. Another 140 words (10 lines of text) covering the years 1227, 1503, 1544, 1572, 1582, 1590, 1598, 1601, 1604, 1629, 1635, 1642, 1647, 1657, 1666, 1667, 1672 and 1722 are included under the topic Early Birk History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Birk Spelling Variations

A single person's name was often spelt simply as it sounded by medieval scribes and church officials. An investigation into the specific origins the name Birk has revealed that such a practice has resulted in many spelling variations over the years. A few of its variants include: de Burgh, Burke, Bourke, Burk, Bourk, Gillick and many more.

Early Notables of the Birk family

Notable amongst the family up to this time was Theobald Bourke, 8th Mac William Iochtar and lord of Lower (North) Connacht, died 1503; Ulick Ceann Burke (died 1544), 12th Clanricarde and 1st Earl of Clanricarde; Richard Sassanach Burke, 2nd Earl of Clanricarde (died 1582); Ulick Burke, 3rd Earl of Clanricarde, (died 1601), Irish peer; Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde (1572-1635), an Irish nobleman; Ulick Burke, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde (1604-1657), was an...
Another 73 words (5 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Birk Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Birk Ranking

In the United States, the name Birk is the 11,408th most popular surname with an estimated 2,487 people with that name. 5

United States Birk migration to the United States +

In the 1840s, Ireland experienced a mass exodus to North America due to the Great Potato Famine. These families wanted to escape from hunger and disease that was ravaging their homeland. With the promise of work, freedom and land overseas, the Irish looked upon British North America and the United States as a means of hope and prosperity. Those that survived the journey were able to achieve this through much hard work and perseverance. Early immigration and passenger lists revealed many bearing the name Birk:

Birk Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • Edmund Birk, who arrived in Maryland in 1679 6
Birk Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • Lys Birk, who landed in New York in 1709 6
  • Mattys Birk, who landed in New York in 1709 6
  • Richard Birk, who arrived in Virginia in 1715 6
  • Samuel Birk, who landed in Virginia in 1715 6
  • Wolfgang Birk, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1732 6
Birk Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Eliza Birk, who landed in New York, NY in 1811 6
  • John Birk, who landed in New York, NY in 1811 6
  • John Birk, who arrived in New York, NY in 1815 6
  • John Birk, who landed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1815 6
  • Peter Birk, aged 29, who arrived in Galveston, Tex in 1845 aboard the ship "Neptune" 6
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Canada Birk migration to Canada +

Some of the first settlers of this family name were:

Birk Settlers in Canada in the 19th Century
  • Eliza Birk, who arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1811
  • John Birk, who landed in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1811

Contemporary Notables of the name Birk (post 1700) +

  • Sandow Birk (b. 1962), American illustrator and graphic artist
  • Raye Birk (b. 1943), American film and television actor, best known for his role as Papshmir in the first and last of the Naked Gun movies
  • Matthew Robert "Matt" Birk (b. 1976), former American football center. who played from 1998 to 2012
  • Alma Lillian Birk (1917-1996), née Wilson, Baroness Birk, a British journalist, Labour Party politician and Government minister
  • Ado Birk (1883-1942), Estonian politician, 3rd Prime Minister of Estonia in 1920
  • Thomas Birk (b. 1988), German footballer
  • John Birk Stevenson (1868-1925), American Democratic Party politician, Mayor of Huntington, West Virginia, 1908-09; Delegate to Democratic National Convention from West Virginia, 1916 7
  • Birk S. Stathers, American Republican politician, Alternate Delegate to Republican National Convention from West Virginia, 1920

The Birk Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Ung roy, ung foy, ung loy
Motto Translation: One king, one faith, one law.

  1. Burke, John Bernard, The Roll of Battle Abbey. London: Edward Churton, 26, Holles Street, 1848, Print.
  2. O'Hart, John, Irish Pedigrees 5th Edition in 2 Volumes. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1976. Print. (ISBN 0-8063-0737-4)
  3. Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of England. Institute of Historical Research, 1848, Print.
  4. Cleveland, Dutchess of The Battle Abbey Roll with some Account of the Norman Lineages. London: John Murray, Abermarle Street, 1889. Print. Volume 1 of 3
  5. "What are the 5,000 Most Common Last Names in the U.S.?".,
  6. Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8)
  7. The Political Graveyard: Alphabetical Name Index. (Retrieved 2016, January 25) . Retrieved from on Facebook