The name Collier (also seen as Colyer, Collear, Colleer and Colliar) seems to have two different origins. Although the initial one is certainly correct for many UK Colliers, the latter may also be possible.

The most common origin is that the name derives from the old English word 'Col' (coal) meaning charcoal burner. A collier was someone who would make or sell charcoal for burning, and later a miner who would dig for coal, coke and such. The term seems to stretch back in this form to pre-Elizbeth I times when charcoal burning became common. Certainly in the case of my family, charcoal burning was a known trade in the area of Devon which they originate from.

A second possible origin is that the name comes from the French word Colliere (? spelling) meaning 'Necklace'. I don't know so much else about this. There are a lot of Colliers in France today and my earliest memory was of my Father telling me that someone had traced our family back to a Baron Collier in France. I have since found this to not be true as such, however the earliest records of Colliers in Britain are around the Doomsday book (1080-1180AD) where 'de Colliere' does appear.

I also had further information on this variation from a Mike Collier I met through the web. He said "Some years back I saw a image of a Sir Guy de Collier (or similar) in a stained glass window in church/chapel in Mont St Michael in Normandy." Additionally, several of the French people I have worked with over the years have said 'Ah, you have a French surname, do you know what this name means?'.

Most recently, I found this text on the Collier forum of The credit for posting it goes to Robert E Collier......

We may properly credit the Romans with originating our modern system of names, but we may equally blame the demise of this intelligent practice on the barbarians who swept across western Europe between the third and fifth centuries AD. During the Dark Ages (following the fall of Rome) most Europeans were known first only by their given name, and later occasionally by their given name prefixed to their place of birth.

The advent of the eleventh century, however, saw the cultural, social, and economic conditions in Europe grow more complex. Populations increased dramatically; the rise of feudalism and the early stirring of mercantilism supplanted the simple communal life of the country village. All these developments forced people into ever-growing towns and cities. Communications, the handmaid of commerce, became more efficient. Under such conditions, the use of a single name caused increasing confusion, and soon, the hereditary surname (a last name, bequeathed to each generation of children in the same or similar (form) found growing acceptance.

Perhaps the most notable instance of this development was the introduction of feudalism into England with the Norman Invasion of 1066. Within the space of three generations, the French worked an almost total transformation of English culture. In particular, the Anglo-Saxon and Celtic language was merged with and in some cases was replaced by the native tongue of the new Norman rulers. In the course of time other modifications followed and hereditary surnames achieved a clearly defined order previously unknown. Beginning in the seventeenth century this system was transferred virtually intact to the American colonies.

The family name COLLIER is a good example of the evolutionary nature of this system. It derives from the occupation of coal mining, and as a term is still in use in Britain. "Coleman" was another name for the miner or seller of coal and still survived as a modern surname. Prior to the "machine age" coal mining involved the labour of many men for a small output. It was tedious, dirty, and dangerous and probably attracted young men without other skills and few prospects of getting them. Where several generations of a family worked in coal, the secondary name "the Collier" would become readily associated with them.

Many surnames, like the family name COLLIER, evolved directly or indirectly from the occupational titles. Those possessing a trade were well respected by their neighbors and consequently were usual identified by a personal name followed by their occupation. Alternately, other descriptive "tags" might be used to convey information about the person being named. Since few other forms of communication were available to the medieval British, "word of mouth" was an important source of information.

Other surname types derived in a similar manner from place of residence, relationship, and nicknames. Occupational surnames comprise the third largest of the four classes of surname origin. The remaining three in order of size are: place names (Fields, Stones), relationships (Williamson, Williams), and nicknames (Short, Black). Because of the evolutionary nature of name development, it is virtually impossible to pinpoint the exact date of the formation of any new name. COLLIER, of course, is no exception. However, some of the ancient records of early forms of the name and show usage as early as 1273.

The names listed below are excerpts from these records:

Henri le Colyer - County Buchinghamshire - Hundred Rolls, 1273
Robert le Coliere - County Bedfordshire - Hundred Rolls, 1273
Thomas le Colier - Country Huntingdonshire - Hundred Rolls, 1273
Adam Colier - Yorkshire Poll Tax, 1379
Benedictus Colier - Yorkshire Poll Tax, 1379

The surname COLLIER is found in the English counties of Surrey, Cheshire, Berkshire, Devon and Staffordshire. By the time of the first census in America in 1790, many COLLIER families had settled in this country. The average COLLIER household had 5.5 members and census records indicate that many more COLLIER head-of-households living in Virginia, North Carolina, and Kentucky than in any other part of America. Official United States records compiled in 1974 indicate that in that year COLLIER was the 487th most frequently occurring surname in the nation. In 1978 there were approximately 56,200 adult Americans named COLLIER. The first immigrants were the English, who were to lead all other nationalities in immigration until the first half of the nineteen century, when Irish and German immigrants began to arrive in large numbers. Early English immigrants consisted, basically, of two different groups who settled in two different place: the Puritans in Massachusetts and the Cavaliers in Virginia.

[Source: AMERICAN GENEALOGICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE, 1235 Kenilworth Ave, N. E., Washington, D. C. 20019.]

Who are the earliest Colliers/Colyers/ etc known in the the records that have come down to us? Where were they from?

The origin of the family name COLLIER was probably the village of Caulieres in France, and the first recorded use of the name was in a cartulary of Selincourt Abbey in 1217, when one of the witnesses was "Frater Johannes de Caoulieres" [Source: ANTIQUARIES DEPICARDIE, Vol 40. Amiens; grant by Godefrid deMianny.]

Johannes de Liestes was born in the village of Liestre, 44 km south-east of Boulogne, Department of Pas-de-Calais, north-east France. He was the younger son of a baronial family who, as a young man was apparently transferred, by the mother abbey to Selincourt Abbey, which assigned him as a bailiff or magistrate to the management of the village of Caulieres. The evidence indicates that he was not a member of the clergy and the designation "Frater" was probably a courtesy title he because of his duties in connection with the village of Caulieres. Johannes adopted the name of the village of his emplyoyment, Caulieres, as his surname and became the founder of a prolific family. He did not possess a feudal estate since the entire village belonged to the abbey, so each of his sons had to acquire his own estate through purchase, marriage, military service, or other means. As a result. the Caulieres family spread widely over ancient picardy and Arthos, but disappeared from the village whose name they bore: A variety of coats-of-arms arose among the various family branches. The forename Robert occurred repeatedly throughout the Department of Pas-de-Calais in this region that our ancestor Robert Coleire was born about 1453.

Robert was born near the end of the Hundred Year War (1337-1437) between France and England The English kings controlled much of France. William the conqueror was also was Duke of Normandy so his heirs continued to rule that important part of France. Eleanor of Aquintain, heiress of that vast feudal estate that included most south-western France, was divorced by King Louis VII of France and married an English prince who became King Henry II of England.

The English kings held their French lands as vassals of the King of France while ruling England in their own right. In theory their lands were part of the French kingdom, but in practice they belonged to England. Fighting over feudal claims went on for several centuries, but in the 14th centuries the trouble blazed into a national war that lasted over a hundred years. For a time war went badly for the French. Then Joan of Arc changed the course of events, leading the French in the defense of Orleans. She also recaptured the city of Reins where the French kings were crowned, making possible the coronation of the Dauphin, heir to the crown. The new King was lazy and did not follow up on the victories and later, the English captured Joan and burned her at the stake. According to legend, one of English soldiers who had come rejoice at the death was heard to cry out, "We are lost; we have burned a saint!" The English cause was indeed lost. In the next few years, the French slowly drove back the invaders until only Calais. France remained in English hands. Calais, France was controlled by England until 1558.

ROBERT COLEIRE de DARLASTON (c.1453- c.1505)

Robert Coleire was born in France about 1453 and died in Staffordshire, England about 1505. He married lsabella Doddington, daughter of Sir John Doddington, about 1483. Robert Colleire came to England about 1482, long preceeding the arrival of other members of his family in England and Ireland. He settled in the market town of Stone Manor, in Straffordshire County, England. The town stands on the river Trent and Trent Mersey Canal, 7 miles north nortwest of Strafford, 7 miles south of Stoke-upon-Trent, and 137 miles from London. He was a taylor (tailor), draper (a dealer in cloth or in (clothes), then a woolbuyer. Some of these staplers (dealers in staple goods) grew to great wealth. In the year 1503, two years before his death, Robert and Isabella moved to Darlaston Manor. Robert and his son Thurston leased Darlaston Manor, in the county of Staffordshire, from Thomas Whally, then in 1537, Robert's son, James purchased the manor from Richard Whalley.

Except for a brief time Robert's great grandson, James Collier, sold the manor to his father-in-law in 1597 and until his son Francis re-purchased it from his grandfather in 1597, there was a Collier (Coleire) as Lord of Darlaston over 180 years, until a great-great-great-great-grandson, James Collier (Coleire) sold it to William Jervis in 1685.

[Source: Anne Laidley Collier, 210 West Main Street , Uniontown, PA Chapter did an genealogy study of relatives that served in the Revolutionary War for the DAR Chapter GREAT MEADOWS and it was forward to: Daughters of the American Revolution, Washington, D. C. It was based on Col. Charles Swan service during the Revolutionary War.]

Additionally, there was also this information posted to the same forum from Donna Colyer Hunt:

The Dictionary of English Surnames gives us the following: COLIAR, COLIER, COLIERE, COLLIAR, COLLIER, COLLEER, COLLYER, COLYEAR, COLYEAR, COLYER formed from "col" a derivative of coal, a maker or seller of charcoal in ancient times (a1375 MED).
[Source - Dictionary of English Surnames 1995 pub Oxford Press by P H Reaney. ]
[a1375 MED - Middle English Dictionary ed H Kurah, SM Kuhn and J Reidy, Ann Arbor 1954]

Notes -
1.Being a referred to by your occupation was a common practice in early times, This was a migratory occupation, workers moved along with their jobs, much like many of us today, Movement from one coal producing area to another, perhaps leaving relatives along the way, created pockets of surname. Many of these pockets survived, multiplied and give us the origins of our personal lines today.

2.From research done by Ronald Collier, (Appalachian Genealogist, Cumberland, KY) England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland certainly had coal producing areas. The names survive in many modern families, particularily in England. COLYEAR was the most common in Scotland where the family was a branch of the powerful and famous Robertson Clan.

Some examples from the Dictionary of English Surnames with sources and notes from the editors.-

RANUFF COLLIER at 1150 (L) found in Lincolnshire
[Source: FM Stenton, Documents illustrative of the Social and Economic History of the Danelaw, London England 1920]

[Source: (P) Pipe Rolls: Record Commission. 3 vol, London 1833-44: Pipe Roll Soc (in progress); The Great Roll of the Pipe for the 26th year of Henry the Third, ed. H L Cannon, Yale Hist, Pub 1918.]

In Ireland, the first appearance of the name COLLIER is for Colliertown in County Meath 1305. The name also extended into Carlow Kilkenny and Wexford Counties.

In France: COLLIER developed fram a place name CAULLIERS and the noble French family of COLYEAR DE PORTMORE of Ecosse had a Scottish heritage.

The German version KOHLER, KOLLAR and KOLLER developed also from the place of Kohler.

The earliest COLLIER in America appears to be WILLIAM, appearing on tax records 1633 and SARAH COLLIER married Love Brewster in 1634 in Plymouth, MA. Love Brewsters' father was William, the Captain of the Mayflower which landed at Plymouth Rock, MA 1620.

From 1620 until today, COLLIER remains an active surname. Colyer is less active with approximately 1000 hits in the 1990 (US) census. COLLYER is even more rare.

The Collier Coat of Arms

Coats of Arms were developed in the Middle Ages as a means of identifying warriors in battle and tournaments. The present function of the Coat of Arms (although still one of identity) serves more to preserve the traditions that arose from its earlier use.

Heraldic artists of old developed their own unique language to describe an individual Coat of Arms. The Coat of Arms was drawn by an heraldic artist from information recorded in ancient heraldic archives. Our research indicates that there are often times a number of different Coats of Arms recorded for a specific surname. When possible we select and translate the Coat of Arms most representative of your surname or its variant for illustration.

The COLLIER coats of arms here is officially documented in Rietstap's armorial general. The original description of the arms (shield) is as follows:


When translated the blazon also describes the original colours of the Collier arms as:


If anyone has further information on the name, please do mail me and we will include the information here for everyone.

  (c) Pete Collier, 2001