A Short History of the Vance Surname

Different origins of the Vance name

Around the world today the surname "Vance" is found mainly in English-speaking countries like Australia, the UK and Ireland, Canada, and the United States.  The global spread of the Vance surname from the 1600s through to modern times has been documented through maps in our blog in a post from October 2013.

The paper document trails of these Vance family lines suggest that their family name came from one of two main origins:

1.  The Wentz/Wantz origins

Many of these families have traced their surname origins to original immigrants in the 18th or 19th century from Germany or Switzerland whose last name was Wentz or a variant like Wantz.  In their new English-speaking home, the last name sounded like "Vance", and either through regular usage or by the pen of a government official the new spelling stuck.

Several books (see Online Books of Interest) describe the origin of the Wentz surname as a diminutive of "Wenceslaus" or the German variant "Wenzo", and track the name's association with a Saint Wendelin and of course several kings named Wenceslaus, with variants "Wenzelo" from 1198 through "Wenzel" in the 1300s.  "Wentz" and "Wenz" were later variants appearing in the 1300s and 1400s near Basel in Switzerland and several locations in Germany.  Other sources cite Slavic variants like Vaclav but agree on the same basic timeline. 

The stories say an original Wentz family came out of Bohemia (part of the current Czech republic) or Pomerania (now part of Germany and Poland on the south Baltic Sea) and migrated into Bavaria in western Germany and to the city of Basel in Switzerland some 700 years ago.  These stories have so far not been verified.  In the 1700s and 1800s, however, several German and Swiss Wentz families immigrated to the US where the name became written as Vance.   
           

2.  The de Vaux/Vans origins

The majority of the Vances today, these families are either Irish or trace their surname to immigrants from Ireland, where "Vance" has been a Protestant name in Ulster since the 1600s.  The generally accepted origin of Vance in Ireland is from Scotland where the name was Vaus or Vans.  In 1860, a Scottish genealogist named William Balbirnie published a book that tied the Irish Vances back to a Rev. John Vans/Vance who lived in Kilmacrenan in county Donegal in Ireland from about 1617 onward, and connected him to a Vans family of minor nobility in Barnbarroch, Scotland.  The Vans of Barnbarroch have ties to the Vaux family of Dirleton near Edinburgh and from there back to the medieval de Vaux family who came over to England from Normandy with William the Conqueror around 1066. 

"de Vaux" was a Norman French place-name meaning "of the valleys", and although their exact origin in Normandy is unknown, the story of the de Vaux family in England and Scotland is fairly well-documented from the 11th century onward.  Legend ties the de Vaux family to the French/Italian de Baux family who themselves claimed a family tie back to Balthazar, one of the Magi Kings, but there remains no proof of any of those connections. 

The legends and facts surrounding the Vance origins from the de Vaux are covered in the book Path of a Family, which can be found under Online Books of Interest in our Useful Information section.

Modern DNA testing has suggested that the origins of the Irish Vances is not as simple as that proposed by Balbirnie, although one group of modern Vances has confirmed ties through DNA to the Vans of Barnbarroch and so to this general ancestry.  Whether the story is completely accurate, and whether other Vance family groups who trace their lines to Ireland have the same surname ancestry (as opposed to genetic ancestry) is unknown at this time.

3.  Other possible origins

Modern DNA testing has identified at least 9 different genetic origins (within the timeframe that surnames have been in common use) for the Vance families who have been tested so far.  While certainly some of those groups may still have derived their last names from the same origin, it is also very possible that some origins of the Vance name remain unknown. 

There is a town in Belgium named Vance and a local family of minor nobility named "de Vance" who lived there at least from the 11th through the 17th century.  However, the family name seems to have died out after that and no modern Vances trace their ancestry to this area.

Other towns in France have similar names, like VancĂ© in Sarthe and Vence on the Mediterranean, but these have different origins and no families with those names or anything similar to "Vance" are known to have come from those areas.

The Irish author John O'Hart proposed that the "Vance" name was derived from the Gaelic O'Uain, meaning lamb, but no evidence for this origin has been found.

Edward MacLysaght's book The Surnames of Ireland, a major reference work on Irish surnames, agrees that "Vance" first appeared in Ireland in the 17th century but says it came from Old English fenn meaning dweller by a fen (marsh) - an interesting idea, but then why did "Vance" only originate in Ireland and not also in England?  Mr. MacLysaght includes William Balbirnie's book in his bibliography but it is still unknown why he proposed this completely different theory (and offered no supporting evidence).  As far as is known today there is still no evidence of this origin from Old English.

Do you have other family stories for how your Vance ancestors got their last name?  Post them here - you may add another piece to this complicated puzzle!

5 comments:

  1. I'm a Vance my family is Irish, Scottish, German and the Dutch.

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  2. Hannah, welcome. How much do you know about your Vance ancestry?

    Sincerely,

    Dave

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  3. I'm a Vance as well, I'm related to the Hatfield clan. My grandfather was the great great grandson of Jim Vance.

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  4. Welcome as well! Out latest blog post is about Jim Vance, but you probably saw that. Enjoy the Vance History Online blog and if we can help with your research please let me know.

    Sincerely,

    Dave

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  5. Hi..my maternal line is Vance. I'm in the early beginnings of searching genealogy trails in memory of my mom, Irma Jean Vance, her father, Claude Nelson Vance who is the son of Chance, Chancy or Charly Vance son of William Vance and Eliza Redmond. My grandpa always said he was one half maternal Cherokee (I can not find that) and I can not find little to nothing on him. TY for the site! Very nice.

    ReplyDelete