Browne is one of the most common surnames in the British Isles, and is among the forty commonest in Ireland. It can derive, as a nickname, from the Old English Brun, referring to hair, complexion or clothes, or from the Norman name Le Brun, similarly meaning "the Brown". In the three southern provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connacht, where the name is usually spelt with the final "e", it is almost invariably of Norman or English origin, and was borne by some of the most important of Norman-Irish and Anglo-Irish families, notably the Earls of Kenmare in Kerry and Lord Oranmore and Browne and the Earls of Altamont in Connacht. The assimilation of the Connacht family into Gaelic life is seen in their inclusion as one of the "Tribes" of Galway.
In Ulster, where it is more often plain "Brown", the surname can be an anglicisation of the Scots Gaelic Mac a' Bhruithin ("son of the judge") or Mac Ghille Dhuinn ("son of the brown boy"). The largest concentrations of the name in this province are in counties Derry, Down and Antrim.