The following pages are a demonstration of the origin of the patronymic Mercier written according from two possibilities. The first hypothesis was presented by the late Ernest Mercier and is coming from the kingdom of “Mercia”. It is a replay and it is developed in it volume “Mercier depuis des siècles” (Mercier for centuries) which he is the author.

The second hypothesis came from the French merchant established on the right shore of the Seine river in Paris at the beginning of the Xth century. The reader will find in these texts, that they maybe some redundancy and that some definitions or explications in both of the probabilities. It is intentional, to facilitate the comprehension.

Origin of the surname Mercier (Mercia Kingdom)

When tracing the origin of the name Mercier, we find that one of the seven kingdoms of England was called Mercia and existed along with Kent, Essex, Sussex, Northumbria and East Anglia.

The Kingdom of Mercia occupied the territory bounded by Wales and the Thames and Humber Rivers. The name of ‘Mierce‘ identified the population of Mercia living along the border with Wales. Before the third century BC, Celtic tribes moved towards Europe. They conquered territories along the Adriatic seaboard, including countries known as Greece and Italy, and they subsequently invaded Spain and France. Certain tribes crossed the English Channel and settled in the British Isles. Julius Caesar conquered the British Isles and ruled over that area as in the rest of the Roman Empire. Certain barbaric customs were tolerated, altough the army had to intervene on various occasions in order to quell rebellions and silence former rulers. According to historical sources, the Kingdom of Mercia was established in the middle of the VI th Century by tribes of East Anglia. During the VII th Century, there were some 12,000 families living in the kingdom.

The first Mercian king was Icel. The kingdom became important under the reign of Penda who ruled from 626 to 655, according to official records. It is intersting to note that the name of ‘penny’ as a monetary unit derived its name from ‘pending’, which was named after King Penda, then ruling in Mercia.

The most famous and influential Mercian king was Offa, who ruled from 757 to 796. He made a major contribution towards uniting English kingdoms, especially in the Southern portion of England.

After his death, the kingdom was attacked and suffered heavy losses as a result of invasions by the Danes and wars with neighboring kingdoms.

In 829, the Kingdom of Mercia was conquered by Wessex. Seven years later, it became independent again, but never regained its former power and influence. It was ultimately integrated into Wessex in 918.

The Mercian kings were converted to christianity and often fought to defend their land. After their defeat by the Vikings and ultimately the French, members of the Mercian court were given semi-royal positions as princes, earls and counts and occupied diplomatic posts. They were instrumental in bringing England and France together during the X th and XI th Centuries.

Why go so far back in history?

In the opinion of Mr. Ernest Mercier, Genealogist, Researcher and author, the origin of the name Mercier comes from the population of Mercia. The opinion is expressed in his book ‘Mercier depuis des Siècles‘ published in 1987.

When William the Conqueror ordered citizens to have surnames, it is believed that descendents from Mercian kings and other officials with diplomatic positions took the surname of Mercier. Other subjects of the Mercian Kingdom must have used the same surname.

Over the centuries. the Kingdom of Marcia dispappeared and borders were abolished between England and Normandy, and the population migrated South: in Normandy, the rest of France, Switzerland and Germany.

Some historian authors are of the opinion that the name Mercier comes from the occupation of merchants and dealers in silk and other fabrics, as well as spices and other goods, and who were generally involved in commercial operations.

These opinions are interesting, especially when we think of surnames derived from occupations, such as: baker, carpenter, etc.

However, it is in England and in Scotland that the oldest documents recorded the names of persons bearing the name Mercier, LeMercier, Mercer and LeMercer.

The name of Mercier appears in France at least one century later.

Origin of the surname Mercier (Merchant) 

Beside the hypothesis of the late Ernest Mercier, author of the volume “Mercier for centuries,” meaning that the name comes from Mercier kingdom of Mercia in England in the tenth century, another equally plausible hypothesis is that the name originated of France. Its apparition coincided with the establishment of shops on the right shore of the Seine river in Paris in the Xth century.

Note that this surname is very common in French-speaking Europe including Belgium, Switzerland and especially in France where they are found in regions of Loiret and the Gironde, in Vendée, in Bourgogne and Savoy, in the Deux-Sèvres, in the Lot-et-Garonne, Marne, Haute-Marne, Normandy and Ain.

In Europe, this surname has several derivatives, diminutives and variants: Mercereau, Merceron, Marceron, Marcheret, Lemercier, Demersseman, Marcé, Merchier, Merceur, Merceret, Mercer, Mercher, Merchez, Merchié, Merchiers, Merchiez, Merser, Mersour, Marcé. Some of these names have varied and evolved according to the region and the local language if it is Breton, Flemish or Occitan.

Of course, Canada and the United States are no exception to this spin. Quebec (Canada), is where this family name took root in North America in 1647 with the arrival of the 1st Mercier, Jullien, followed by several others until 1793 and several others thereafter until the 20th century. These are the descendants of those individuals bearing the surname, from several towns and villages of France and Belgium who have proliferated and invaded, so to say, almost all corners of North America. First and foremost Quebec but also in New England, Louisiana, Oregon and Illinois.

In addition to this theory, still another possibility for the origin of the surname. In medieval times it was said: “Mercers, any merchant, makers of nothing,” the definition of the profession at the time. Each artisan originally sold its own products only. All craftsmen or merchant did not exist in large number and varied in importance from one city to another. It was therefore essential that there were people to take charge of collecting varied goods and put them under one roof, available to buyers and the public.

These merchants, who served in the Middle Age as intermediaries between the public and manufacturers, were called “merciers”. However, the word “mercerie” had more scope, it comes from the Latin word merx, which means everything is sold and the old ax word merz which means merchandise.

mercer was originally a wholesaler. There are two kinds of “merciers”. First, those who went off seeking the precious commodities were they went into these curious fairs, where merchants from all countries regroup themselves for a few weeks and then returned to their homeland with mules laden with bales. There were also the sedentary merciers, who received expensive goods and objects they needed from the regular manufacturers of the city.

At one time, these merchants came together for a purpose which even for that time period was obvious, to have more powers with the royal authorities. The guild of the mercers was created and is one of the oldest, in the XIIth century, in 1137, we see in an act where they conceded a right place in the halls of Champeaux.

Like all businesses holding some way to fashion, clothing or armor, the Merciers had at this period an exceptional importance: the balance was probably because the Merciers used a little of all the precious materials, the gold, silver in orphreys and borders, pearls and jewels in embroidery. They could not produce any work at first hand, but only embellishment, as, for example, garnish gloves, attach trimmings (stripes) to clothes made, unlike other corporations that could both sell and manufacture.

The Parisian drapers were grouped on the right bank in the Middle Ages, most estimates were in the twelfth century,  on the Quincampoix street, and then, they approached the Halles, where since the reign of Louis VII, they had a fixed place. Later, some moved across the Seine, many of them took place at the courthouse, in the gallery that faced the courtyard.

In the thirteenth century, they manufacture and sell themselves the cloths. Women can work in the art, there are masters, mistresses and apprentices. The production focuses on the decorations, the application of embroidery on silk, on the easier borders, money bags, socks, small articles of dress embroidered and decorated. This production is closely watched. The Merciers can embroider on parchment or canvas, silk alone is permitted. The products from the East in general, were not considered of good quality and gold from that region was prohibited. The mixing of old and new, of iron with gold was prohibited. The court guards of trade had been ordered to destroy on the spot, any work that was a blend of material of low and good quality.

The “Dit” of the mercier, poem especially composed for this job, tells the long lists of items for sale by the masters, and were generally wonders of wealth and splendor. Some statues of cathedrals in France demonstrate the reality of these descriptions, those of the west portal of Chartres, for example, give an idea of the perfect work of the “mercerize”. Sometimes these decorations were squared, dressed in colorful, checkered like a chessboard, sometimes they were spotted with cabochons, pearls and sapphires set in lace.

It was the clergy and not the laity who were employing most of these rich ornaments. Few seculars sewed to the neck of their gowns because it was heavy and difficult to fold the light materials, but it remains that the enormous consumption of these items had given a particular situation to mercers in the working field.

In the XVIIth century, when communications became easier, and that more products could add into the shop or store,  it was divided into twenty specialties. There were merchants and jewelers, hardware store, the stationers shops, merchants bimbelotiers selling children’s toys. All these traders had to precede their first name, the name of the business they sold.  The word “merchant” was to remember that they did not produce anything themselves, and set them free them from the industrial lawsuit by the producers.

In the eighteenth century, the most famous of dry goods stores in Paris was the “Petit Dunkerque”, which was at the waterfront at the corner of the Quai Conti and Dauphine Street. In the XVIVth century equivalent of the old dry goods were the major news outlets. While furnishings before 1789 usually were dark shops, new stores were real palace. Restoration, under Louis Philippe, were still small, but with the end of the Second Empire, they widened; houses like the “Louvre” or the “Bon Marche”, became famous around the world, through constant renewal of their goods, and their applications of quality measures and change in fashion style became a real permanent exhibitions.

The King of Merciers – Before their union with the drapers in 1703, the merciers had a particular administration, subject to status obtained in 1545. They had what was called the king of the Merciers to head the corporation. After a long period, the burden of King of Merciers, was temporarily removed by King François 1st, then restored by Henry III. Charlemagne is credited with the institution of the king of the Mercers, an office which existed until 1597 when it was finally set aside by order of Henry IV. You can view these articles, taken in Etienne Boileau and published in the mid eighteenth century. The king of theMercers were also responsible for inspection of weights and measures and delivered certificates of learning and mastery of the letters he watched the quality of goods it was receiving high fees and lieutenants represented in the provinces.

The streets “ Mercier” of La Rochelle – During fall and winter, La Rochelle’ habitants succeed to Spring and Summer tourists in the streets of the city. They can, if they want to, relive the life of the people of centuries ago, where coaches with horses are now replaced with cars the streets.

The layout of these roads has suffered little change, with some alignments. The village of Cougnes was the strain of La Rochelle, but it was precisely surrounded by fortification walls that build the Duc Guillaume X of Aquitaine around the year 1100. Which would follow today the Rambaud, Minage and des Dames’ streets pattern

This portion of land had a peak at 8 meters above the ocean (site of the cathedral) and the streets that went to it would join those parallel to the wall of the fortification: Merciers Street, du Temple and Chef de Ville.

The “rue des Merciers” was first in the XIIIth century the main street. It is likely that its location, just outside the port made her a unique place to settle shops and manufactured goods (sheets of Flanders, of England and Poitou) and other items related.
A chart from 1286 tells us that the street market that sells sheets, towels, etc. So she took the street name of Merciers and in the XVIIth century, the name of Drapiers. Goods placed in its stores had the right of franchise. Then it became the Grande rue des Merciers, words that were carved in stone in 1815 and that   still possible to read.

Changes have been made since, and most arches have disappeared during the eighteenth century. Those that remain give us an idea of what this street used to look like. Now this artery gives La Rochelle and visitors, houses decorated with Renaissance and contemporary styles. Arches also have different designs.

The Rochelais can see many more delightful details in the street of Merciers, who keeps to this day, the history of the mercers of long ago.


Sources: History of the former arts and crafts corporations and fraternities

Historical dictionary of institutions, customs and customs of France

La Rochelle – story of Merciers Street

wikipedia – Mercier – Haberdashery

Revue l’Ancêtre, Quebec Genealogical Society, volumes 31 and 32, surnames in the world

Halbert family inheritance







[1] Période historique commençant à la chute de l’Empire d’occident (476) et se terminant à l’aurore des grandes découvertes (1492) Larousse classique

[2] en l’honneur de Guillaume de Champeaux, philosophe français (1068-1122) Larousse classique

[3] pièce de vers sur un sujet familier, au Moyen-Age  Larousse

[4] marchands de bibelots Larousse classique

[5] régime politique français de 1814 à 1830 Larousse

[6] régime politique français de 1852 à 1870 Larousse