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Origins of the Name

With the exception of the STERRI family of Norway (note 1 below), all STERRYs originated in England.

Published works on the origins of English surnames variously state that the name STERRY is derived from:

  • the Anglo-Saxon STER, STERR, STIR, STUR and STYR. STYR was evidently 'a thane at the court of Etheldred II' (H. Barber, "British Family Names", London, 1902)
  • the son of Sterre (note 2 below) Early examples: Henricus Sterre, 1379 (Poll Tax West Riding of Yorkshire, p.57, 109); Thomas Stere, 1379 (ibid); Richard Sterre, 1416, vicar of Happesburgh (History of Norfolk, Blomefield and Parish); John Sterre, 1465, vicar of Quidenham (ibid) (C W Bardsley, "A Dictionary of English & Welsh Surnames", Baltimore, 1980)
  • a nickname for 'star' or 'steer'. 'Sterre' in Middle English meant 'star'. 'Steer' or 'steor' in Old English meant 'bullock' (op.cit., Bardsley).
  • Reaney P.H., Dictionary of English Surnames (1977) references [for Starey, Starie; no Sterry listed] Aluric Stari, 1066, Doomsday Book Suffolk; John Starie 1275, Subsidy Rolls Worcestershire; Stari nickname from Old Norse 'stari' meaning starling; [for Sturrey, Sturry] Richard Sturry, 1392, Church in London 1375-92 London Record Society 13, 1977; from town of Sturry in Kent. Reaney also lists for 'Starr': Leuenot Sterre 1066 DB (Db); Simon Sterre 1130 Pipe Rolls (Norfolk); William Sturre, Sterre 1221 Assize Rolls GIoucestershire (Seldon  Soc. 59, 1940); John Sterre, Starre 1305-6 LLB B. OE steorra, ME sterre 'star', used, like the ON Stjarna, as a nickname, but also occasionally, as a personal name: Sterre 1066 DB (Hampshire) Occasionally a sign-name: Richard att Sterre 1322 LLB E [See note 7 below for source references used by Reaney.]
  • The Penguin Dictionary of British Surnames, John Titford [2009] connects Sterry to Steer amd says it's an occupational term for one who tended bullocks, 'perhaps with STERRY as a variant'; descriptive for strong as an ox or unpredicable. Notes further Sterry is a Gloucestershire/Suffolk surname and quotes Peter Sterry (1613-1672) son of Anthony Sterry (a cooper from Ruardean, Gloucesershire) and his wife Julia.
  • a nickname for 'big, strong, stout'. From 'Stere' in Middle English apparently from the comparative 'stoeri' from the Old English word 'storr' or Old High German 'stiuri' meaning 'big and powerful'. (H. Harrison, "Surnames of the United Kingdom", London, 1918, vol 2)
  • an early personal or baptismal name. Examples: Johannes le Ster (Hundreds Rolls, 1273, Oxfordshire), Robert le Ster (Hundreds Rolls, 1273, Sussex), Willam Ster (Hundreds Rolls, 1273, Cambridgeshire) (op.cit., Bardsley)
  • the place 'Sturry', a parish in Kent (M A Lower, "A Dictionary of the Family Names of the United Kingdom", London, 1860)

In the book "The rising in East Anglia 1381" [1896] the authors state that in the records of the trials of the insurgents, a 'Margaret Starre bedlam flung to the wind ashes of priceless documents' [p52] as reported in the Assize Roll No 106 Cambridgeshire 1381.

There was also a family named STURRY that belonged to the landed gentry of Shropshire but died out in the 1600s.

Historical records confuse the name STURRY and STERRY, suggesting that the two names shared a common origin or that the name STERRY derived from the name STURRY.

The STURRY family of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, acquired the estate of Rossall in Shropshire about 1380. Church records of Fitz, Shrewsbury St Chad's and Candover, Shropshire, in reference to the STURRY family of Rossall estate in the period 1569-1658, use the spellings STURYE, STYRRIE and STERRY (note 3 below).

Smith (note 4 below) offers his personal opinion on the origins of the name STERRY.

'Of all possible words from which the English name Sterry may have originated, perhaps the best two candidates are (1) the Middle English word "sterre" meaning "star" or celestial body ... and (2) the Anglo-Saxon word "stor," sometimes spelled "steor," meaning "large" ... common practice of adding "-y" to words making them into personal names, having the effect of "son of".'

Smith (note 5 below) discusses the possibility that the name Sterry may have more than one origin in England rather than a single origin but concludes that current evidence suggests more than one origin.

Smith states that 'the origin and meaning of the name Sterry can probably never be established ... it has been constantly confused with such names as Steer, Starr and Storey - a confusion which in fact dates back to the Middle Ages." (note 6 below)

The Earliest Sterry Family Lines

The earliest STERRYs to establish a clear family line were undoubtedly the Sterrys from the Forest of Dean area of Gloucestershire.

The progenitors of the so-called Ruardean, Gloucestershire line were John Sterry and his wife Ann Bailey who married at the parish church of St John the Baptist, Ruardean on 24 Nov 1539. This line almost certainly links to the Longhope, Gloucestershire line (Longhope being also in the Forest of Dean area) and certainly to the Southwark, Surrey line in London. Ruardean Sterrys first moved to Southwark in Surrey as early as 1603.

The spelling of the surname in the Forest of Dean area in the sixteenth century had several variants including Stirrie, Stirri, Sterrie, Sterry, Sterri and Stirry. However, only the form Sterry and a 19th century variant Sterrey survive into modern times.

There is also an early Sterry presence in the adjoining county of Herefordshire, probably related to the Ruardean line. John Stirrie and his wife Alice were baptising children in Shobden, Herefordshire between 1571 and 1582.

Apparently quite unrelated to the Gloucestershire/Herefordshire Sterrys is the early Lowestoft, Suffolk line.

A Daniel Sterry was baptising children in Mutford, Suffolk between 1585 and 1606. This line became firmly established in the Lowestoft area for the next 400 years and direct descendants still live in the area.

There was also a significant early Sterry presence in Devon and Cornwall but no link has been made to other Sterry lines to date.

Smith(5) suggests that these early Devon/Cornwall Sterrys may have travelled down the Severn River and the Bristol Channel from Gloucestershire.

Sadly, by the mid-1600s, Sterrys had all but disappeared from both Devon and Cornwell and the line may have died out.

There are scattered examples of Sterry-like names in other counties of England in the sixteenth century, especially in Shropshire, but none of these produced Sterry family lines as far as we know.


  1. Although not related at all to the English Sterrys, during the nineteeth century there was a very large migration of people from Norway to America, including a number of Sterri. Most changed the spelling of their names in America to Sterry or Sterrie. One of these lines has been traced and appears as the Hafslo, Norway line. This line starts about 1785.
  2. The analysis of surname origins frequently uses a classification system similar to the following:
    • personal or baptismal names eg Robert of Locksley
    • place names eg Robert Bristol
    • occupational names eg Robert Forester
    • nicknames eg Robert the large, Robert Large
    • surnames describing relationships eg son of Robert, Robertson
  3. W. B. Smith, "The Sterry Family of America 1670-1970," (Israel, 1973), p184-85
  4. Smith, op.cit., pp 179ff
  5. Smith, op.cit., p 191-92
  6. Smith, op.cit., p 179
  7. References in Reaney
    • Pipe Rolls: Record Commission, 3 vols, London, 1833-44; Pipe Roll Society (in progress); The Great  Roll for the Pipe for the twenty-sixth year of Henry the Third, ed. H.L. Cannon, Yale Hist. Pub., 1918. (Unclear what the letters B and E after the LLB  mean.)
    • LLB: Calendar of Letter Books ... of the City of London, 11vols, London, 1899-1912
    • Subsidy Rolls Worcs (Worcs Hist. Soc., 4 vols, 1893-1900)