This interesting surname, recorded in the spellings of Mara, Maro, 0’Meara, and O’Mara, has a number of possible origins. Without the prefix ‘O’, it can be either English or Irish, and if English most name holders will derive from the biblical female name ‘Mara’ meaning bitter, and first recorded in the book of Ruth. This name was introduced into England by Crusaders returning from the various expeditions to free the Holy land in the 11th and 12th centuries. ‘Mara’ was very popular as a baptismal name with the early protestants and later puritans.
The second origin source is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic surname O’ Meadra. This translates as “The descendant of the merry one”, from the ancient word meadhar, meaning merry, and applying to the first chief of the clan. Who this was is not clear, but the clan originated from the town of Toomevara in County Tipperary, to which they gave their surname, and they are almost unique amongst the Irish surnames in never having lost the “O” prefix. To add to the confusion the name also came into England through the Huguenot refugees, one Jacques Maro for example, being recorded at the French Huguenot church, Threadneedle Street, London on October 17th 1683.
Other recordings of the surname include John Mara of the Pensioners Army Hospital, Chelsea on May 17th 1761, and Daniel Mara of Holborn on August 31st 1769. The first recorded spelling of the family name is believed to be that of Dermot O’Meara, a doctor and poet, and author of the first medical work to be printed in Dublin in 1619. His precise dates of birth and death are not known, but his son Edmund O’Meara, also a doctor died in Dublin in 1680. The name is also associated with Limerick, Joseph O’Mara of that city being the founder of the O’Mara Opera Company. Throughout the centuries surnames in every country have continued to “develop”, often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.
Courtesy of Surname Database