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Origin of The Geer Name

by Samuel Taylor Geer, July 24, 2010

First introduced from Normandy to medieval England after the year 1000, “bynames” or second names grew out of a need for better individual identification. By the end of the 12th century the hereditary designation of a family name was common among the English nobility. But, even as late as 1465, second names were not universally used and a large part of the population did not develop hereditary surnames until the 18th century, many not being formalized until the middle of the 19th century.

For the most part these early surnames were derived from a location, an occupation, a father’s name, some personal characteristic or a weapon. The Geer name, however, appears to be derived from several of these sources which are difficult to separate unless an individual knows their country of origin and, even then, uncertainties exist. In its many variations, the GEER name is most often seen as Geer, Gear, Geare, Gears, Geear, Geere, Geers, Gere, and Gier.

Place names indicate that the GEER surname has origins in northern France and Belgium. The village of Ger is found near the hill top town of Domfront, France in the administrative dèpartment of Orne in Lower Normandy, an area famous for its countryside beauty and calvados wine. The river Geer, located in southeastern Belgium, has been known since 57 B.C. when Caesar campaigned against the Belgae, a people of German and Roman heritage that occupied the northeastern lands of ancient Gaul, an area now shared by France, Belgium, western Switzerland and The Netherlands. In the Belgae’s native Walloon language (an early form of French) Geer is spelled Jaar.

Situated in this Wallonia region of southern Belgium, along the country’s border with The Netherlands, is the town of GEER. Home to just 2,946 inhabitants in 2007, this municipal district in the region of Hesbaye near the city of Liège is divided into the boroughs of Bolhe, Darion, Hollogne-sur-Geer, Lens-Saint-Servais, Ligney and Omal. Here, sixty miles north of the French border, the river Geer rises at Lens-Saint-Servais, flows north past Waremme and Tongres and winds some thirty-five miles until it enters the river Meuse at Maastricht in The Netherlands southeast of Rotterdam. A few miles to the west of the head of the river Geer is the battlefield of Ramillies, where in 1706 Sir John Churchill,1st Duke of Marborough, defeated the French army lead by François de Neufville, Duc de Villeroi, during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). About twenty miles further lies the famous field of Waterloo where the Allied victory over France on June 18, 1815 brought an end to The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). Back to the east is the city of Liège, where the Germans entered Belgium during World War I (1914-1919) bringing Great Britain into the conflict on August 4, 1914. Lambert de Geer (c1350-1398) of nearby Fize-le Marchal, is noted as an early ancestor of the Dutch born inventor Louis de Geer (1587-1652) who is know as the Father of Swedish Industry. His family later acceded into Swedish nobility as the Barons of Finspång, located in Östergötland, Sweden.

Eldson Smith notes the GEER surname as a shortened form of van den Geer, a topographic name from the Dutch word geer meaning “headland.” Leo Van der Geer, as cited by Jeremy Geere, indicates geer is a common Dutch name often referring to land and/or woods. The Van der Geer family, he says, traces its history back to a piece of marshy wetland near the river Drecht just south of Amsterdam. Various Dutch spelling of the name include: Gheerens, Gherns, Gherin, Geerns, Geers, Gerens, Geresmes and Gierens among others. Aart van der Geer (b. abt. 1742) is noted in Oud-Beijerland, The Netherlands. Elisabetha C. Zimmer Geris (1742) and Christian Giers (1748) are recorded as early settlers in Pennsylvania, while Joseph Giers came to New York in 1754.

In the American Heritage Dictionary the Middle English word gore, derived from the Old English gāra, is defined as “a small triangular piece of land.” Researchers have thus associated the surname GEER with a “dweller at, or near a triangular piece of land.”

Smith, however, defines the English origin of GEAR (GEARE, GEERS, GEER) as “the wild, changeful man; dweller near the fish trap; or near the hill fort or earthwork.” Two such “earth” locations, noted by Jeremy Geere, are found in St. Martin-in-Menage, county Cornwall on the south side of the Helford River where one of these gear’s is the largest single-banked enclosure in the county. The name gear, he relates from Tony Bayfield, is found all over Cornwall and its origin comes from the Cornish word ker, meaning “fort, a round or enclosed settlement” that are found in the place names car and gear where it usually refers to “a field near to or containing a round.”

These hilltop structures, dating to the Roman Conquest of Britain (43 AD), served as fortified enclosures and were situated to take advantage of the natural rise in land elevation in order to provide a defense against enemy invaders. These “forts” usually consisted of one or more circular or sub-circular earth walls, often of massive proportions, that followed the contours of the hill or cliff on which they were located. These ancient ruins are seen today in the “brochs” (round towers) of northern Scotland and “hill forts” that dot the countryside and nearby islands of western England.

John Downing notes the Old Welsh word caer, meaning “fort” or “fortified place,” formed the surnames CAIR, GARE, and GEAR. He identifies the Middle English word gere, meaning “sudden fit of passion” or “wild or changeful mood” formed the descriptive nicknames GEAR(E), GEEAR, and GEER(E), that later became surnames. Early English Geer’s are noted as: Albert Gere (1133) in Suffolk, Anschetillo de Gere(1151) in the records of Quarr Abbey, Isle of Wight; Jocelin Gere (1221) in Worcestershire; Stephens de la Gare (1273) in Kent; Richard Geer (1385) in Sussex; Walter Gere (aft. 1450) in Devon; John Geere (1485) in Kent; John Geere/Ger (1520) in Wivelsfield, Sussex and John Geare (d. 1696) Exeter, Devon. Burke’s General Armory also describes the English surname as GEARE and GEERE.

Early American emigrants who landed in Boston include: George Geer [ID #1] and brother Thomas in 1635 and Solomon Gear, an “emigrant in bondage,” in 1720. County records in Virginia note emigrants, Francis Geere (1638) in Charles City; Frederick Geer (1638) in New Upper Norfolk; John Geers (1640) in Accomack; William Geer (1674) in Isle of Wight and William Gear (1678) in Old Rappahannock.  Charles W., John J. and Eli Gear/Geer of Northamptonshire, England settled in Brandon, Vermont before 1850.  Others in New England include Samuel Gear [ID #57] (b. 1731) in Preston, Connecticut and Jean DeGeer (b. 1747) in Montgomery Co., NY.  The Southern United States was also home to John Geer (d. 1769) of Orange Co., North Carolina and William Geer (d. 1770) in Brunswick Co., Virginia.  David Geer (b. c1745) of North Carolina and Ransom Erastus Geer (b. 1802) in Orange Co., NC later settled in White Co., Tennessee.

The United States, as well, has its own Geer place names. However, these locations represent Geer’s rather than giving Geer’s their name. Geer, Oregon, once a train station town, is located in Marion county just east of Salem. The town was named for Theodore Thurston Geer [ID# 1504] who served as Governor of Oregon from 1899 to 1903. Gov. Geer was the 5th great-grandson of emigrant George Geer [ID #1] mentioned above.

Geer, Virginia, located on Route 810 in Greene County, 3.7 miles from the county seat of Stanardsville, was established in 1903 as a relocation settlement during the early effort, begun in 1901, to establish a national park in the southern Appalachian Mountains. The culmination of these efforts resulted in the establishment of The Shenandoah National Park in 1935. The Geer settlement received its name from the community’s first postmaster Elijah S. Geer (b. abt. 1778) and consisted of twenty small houses, a school, community house, general store and a few other buildings. Geer families were early settlers in the area as Joshua Geer (b. abt. 1776, d. bef. 1850), son of Nathaniel Gear/Geer (b. 8 Jun 1732, d. 22 Sep 1815) and grandfather of Elijah S. Geer, was listed as a head of household in Greene County in the 1840 U.S. Federal Census, just after its formation from Orange County in 1838.

But, while location formed many Geer surnames, Robert Ferguson says that in an age when war was the main business of man, names taken from weapons were common; and directly or indirectly this source derived more surnames than all other sources combined. One of the most common weapons of the day was the spear, and naturally one of the most common root words of the time was the Anglo-Saxon gār, meaning spear, from which are derived the surnames GEERE and GEARY.

Mark Lower and William Arthur note that in medieval times fighting men employed officers to superintend their equipment, and as all sorts of arms were called gere or gear, meaning “wearing apparel and equipment for horses and men,” this person acquired the name John-of-the-GearJohn-o-GearJohn O’Gear and at length John Gear; giving rise to the occupational origin of the name. Quite possibly the GEER surname is derived from the Saxon word gearrian, meaning “to make ready,” which was applied to the superintendent in charge of the gear. Thomas Gentry gives a slightly different derivation as “riches or goods of any kind.”

In Scotland, the Gaelic word gearr, meaning “short”, formed the descriptive nickname GAIR and GEAR which later became surnames. These names became associated with Clan Gregor in the early 16th century through outlaw John dhu Gearr MacGregor. Richard MacGregor, notes Jeremy Geere, indicates this association likely comes from confusion on the nature of surnames and the descriptive words gearr, meaning “short” and dhu, meaning “black,” used to describe the “short black John,” presumably because he was only about five feet tall and dark haired.

The Old Irish name Mac an Ghirr found in county Armagh and Tyrone as the surnames MacGIRR and MacGEER, notes Edward MacLysaght, likely comes from the Irish form of the Old Norse geirr (earlier giorr) meaning “son of a short or low sized man.” The early Scottish variant of this name was seen as Mac an Gheairr, notes George Black and Patrick Woulfe. First found in Kircudbrightshire in southern Scotland, descendants are believed to be descended from one of the 350 clan chiefs who accompanied the banished King Colla da Crioch, who left Ireland for the Hebrides and south west Scotland in 327 A.D. These surname variants are found as: McGIRRMcGEERMcGEARMacGIRRMacGEER and McGHIRR. Both the Irish and Scottish name origins were anglicized as GEAR and GEER. Emigrant Jane McGear settled in Delaware in 1772, while Felix McGirr (1827); Patrick McGirr (1830); Robert McGirr (1853) and Bernard McGirr (1858) are noted as settlers in Philadelphia, PA and Peter Franklin Marion Geer (b. c1838) in New York City, New York was of Irish descent.

The Germanic name GEHR, noted by Smith and Downing, as a pet form of names beginning with ger- (meaning spear or javelin), was first found in Hamburg in the names GERWIG (spear-victory), GERULF (spearwolf), GERHRIG (descendant of Gerwig) and GEHRING (descendant of Gerulf; one who came from wedge-shaped place) which were Anglicized as GEER(E). Numerous cities throughout Germany carry Gehr as part of their names inlcuding: Gehrde, Gehrden, Gehren, Gehrener-Sielwende, Gehrenrode, Gehring, Gehrsricht, Gehrenberg, Gehrhof, Gehringswalde, Gehrendorf, Gehringsdorf, Gehrum, Gehrsweilerholf, and Gehrweiler. The Germanic names geergier and gore, denoting a “wedged-shape of land,” also formed surnames which could be intermixed. Early American emigrants with this surname or variant include: Christian Gehr (1731); Simon Gehres (1739); Adam Gehrich (1751) and Dietrich Gercken (1775).

Sources:Arthur, William. , (New York: Sheldon, Blake, Bleeker & Co., 1857); Barber, Henry. , (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1968); Black, George Fraser. , (New York: The New York Public Library, 1946); Burke, Bernard. , (London: Harrison and Sons, 1878); “Coat of Arms & Surname Histories,” House of Names Webpage, (Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Swyrich Corp., 2005); Downing, John. “Know Your Name,” The Atlanta Constitution, Sunday, July 30, 1978; Engle, Reed. “Creating A Park: An Historical Overview,” Shenandoah National Park Webpage; Ferguson, Robert. , (London: G. Routledge, 1858); Geer, Ethan. “Orange County Family Folders: Geer Family,” The Orange County, North Carolina USGenWeb Project; Geer, George E. “Geer Family Tree,” The Geer Times Webpage; Geere, Jeremy. “Origins & Legends: Myth, Legend or Fact” and “Geer Topography,” The Geer Times Webpage; Gentry, Thomas G. , (Philadelphia: Burk-McFetridge, 1892); Lower, Mark A. , (Detroit: Gale Research, 1968); “MacGREGOR Septs and Associated Names,” An Authentic History of the Clan Gregor Webpage, (Merrickville, Canada:, 2005); Morris, Nancy H. “Greene County Postmasters, 1832-1964,” Greene County Magazine, Vol. 1, April 1979, p. 34; Online Highways Guide to Travel, Leisure and Recreation in North American and Beyond Webpage, (Florence, Oregon: Online Highways, 2005); Smith, Elsdon C.  (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1973); Woulfe, Rev. Patrick. , (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Co., 1993); Pickett, Joseph P. et al. , Fourth Edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000); Peter Christian. “The Relevance of Surnames In Genealogy,” Society of Genealogists Information Leaflet No. 7, (London: Society of Genealogists, 1998).


There are several ways to join the GEER DNA Project:

  • If you have not been DNA tested yet:
    • Ordering a test through the project will automatically make you a member of the project,
    • and tests at Family Tree DNA cost $50 to $80 less when you order them through a surname project.

  • If you have already been tested at Family Tree DNA:
    • FTDNA makes it easy for you to join the project (there is no charge to join):
      • Go to Family Tree DNA and sign in using the kit number and password that they gave you.
      • Select the surname of the project you wish to join.
      • Then select a second gray join button which is lower on the page.
      • When you have joined the project, the Project Administrator will be notified by FTDNA, and your results will be available for posting on the Project's Results Page.
      • Or, you can email FTDNA and ask them to transfer you into the project:
  • If you were tested at the National Geographic Genographic Project (NGGP):
    • You can transfer yourself, your results and your retained sample to Family Tree DNA.
    • Go to your National Geographic Genographic Project page.
      • Log in using your kit number.
      • On the next page, click on "I acknowledge".
      • On the next page, scroll all the way down to the bottom.  You will see "learn more" in small blue letters near the bottom of the page.  Click on it.
      • Check "I agree".
      • Fill out the FTDNA form "Adding Your Record to FTDNA" and click "Continue"
      • You should be able to finish it from there.
      • Once you have been transferred into FamilyTreeDNA, you will be given access to a "personal page". 
        • In your FTDNA page is a blue button labeled "join".
        • Click on that button, then select the surname, then select a second gray join button which is lower on the page.
        • Or, you can call or email FTDNA and ask them to transfer you into the project (713) 868-1438 or
        • When you have joined the project, the Project Administrator will be notified by FTDNA, and your results will be available for posting on the Project's Results Page.
  • If you were tested at another company:
    • It is up to the Project Administrator to decide whether to add your results to the project's Results Page.
    • For the project that are administered by World Families, we are happy to post your results on the project's Results Page, if you will place the results in a table which we will provide.  We require that you provide your earliest known ancestor.
    • Contact the Project Administrator to find out if your results can be included in the project, and to receive a copy of the table.
    • We encourage you to post your family pedigree on the project's Pedigree Forum for display on the Patriarchs Page.
    • In addition, Family Tree DNA now allows those who have previously tested at another company to retest at FTDNA at a reduced price.  This offer gives you many benefits:
      • Full privileges in your Surname Project
      • Only way to be included in FTDNA’s internal database
      • Facilitates membership in multiple projects (you have direct comparison in each with no additional testing and at no extra charge.)
      • Guaranteed retention of your test sample for 25 years
      • Other Important Features--see our full explanation of retesting at FTDNA here.
      • FTDNA has put their special order page back up.
  • If you want to join a Y-Haplogroup Project:
    • In your FTDNA personal page is a blue button labeled "join".
    • Click on that button, then scroll down to the Y-Haplogroups listing.
    • Then, locate and click on the letter of the alphabet for your Y-Haplogroup.
    • Then, select the Y-Haplogroup project which best serves you
    • (Note: you cannot join a Y-Haplogroup project if you have not done a yDNA test.)
  • If you want to join an mtDNA Haplogroup Project:
    • In your FTDNA personal page is a blue button labeled "join".
    • Click on that button, then scroll down to the mt-Haplogroups listing.
    • Then, locate and click on the letter of the alphabet for your mt-Haplogroup.
    • Then, select the mt-Haplogroup project which best serves you
    • (Note: you cannot join an mt-Haplogroup project if you have not done a mtDNA test.)
  • If you want to join a Geographic Project:
    • In your FTDNA personal page is a blue button labeled "join". Click on that button, then scroll down to the Geographic Project listings. Note - some Geographic projects are for both yDNA and mtDNA, while others are for only yDNA or only for mtDNA. Also - the Ethnic projects are included in the Geographic Projects categories.
    • Then, locate and click on the letter of the alphabet for your desired Geographic Project.
    • Then, select the project which best serves you.
  • If you've been tested at FTDNA and want to join the National Geographic Genographic Project:
    • Go to your FTDNA Personal page (or go to Family Tree DNA and then enter your kit number and password)
    • Open "Genographic Project"
    • Click "I agree" and then "Continue"
    • Confirm your personal details and submit your request by clicking "continue" 
  • If you want to join more than one project:
    • FTDNA allows each participant to belong to as many as five projects:
      • 2 surname projects
      • 1 geographic project
      • y-haplogroupi project (if you have been yDNA tested)
      • mt-haplogroup (if you have been  tested)
  • Which Surname (yDNA) Test?
    • With FTDNA's current pricing, the 37 marker test for $149 (plus $4-$6 for s/h) is an excellent choice.
    • If you are trying to match to a different surname without a paper trail - 37 markers is the minimum.   67 will be helpful in most cases.  (you'll save time if you order the 67 markers all at once)
    • If you know the surname you should match, you may get by with 25 markers, but many folks will need 37 or even 67 to get clear insight.
    • If you are only interested in your "deep ancestry" (haplotype) or in proving that you don't share a common ancestor with a specific family, 12 markers will be adequate.   12 markers are usually sufficient to confirm solid paper trails.  (for any other research application - 12 markers is almost never enough)
    • If you are serious about your genealogy - you'll probably end up with at least 67 markers.
    • If you order the 12 or 25 marker tests, you'll pay less initially, but the cost of the upgrades make the 37 marker test an overall more cost effective choice.

  • What are the specifics?

The test will be conducted by Family Tree DNA, of Houston TX, the World's leading testing company for Surname DNA Projects.  All tests include an estimate of the "Haplogroup" (an indication of deep ancestry).

We personally recommend the largest number of markers that you can afford.   We expect that most serious researchers will eventually upgrade to 37 or 67 markers - if they don't start there.

The test is a simple cheek swab.  The kit will arrive and leave your house by mail.  You simply follow the instructions.  (You'll rub the inside of your cheek a number of times with a special scraper, put the kit back into the envelope, sign the release and put the completed sample in the mail. )