Carter is a surname which originally meant a person who hauls goods in a cart. It comes from the Gaelic and Celtic word cairt (cart). Being of Gaelic and Celtic origins the name originated in Ireland and Scotland and later migrated to England where it was reduced to its English pronunciation and form. However, this name stems from a few common surnames, the names being McCarthy, McArthur and McCarter.
People with this surname may trace their ancestors back to Ireland, many of these name holders ancestors escaped Ireland during the Irish diaspora heading to Great Britain, the American colonies typically the colonies of New York, Massachusetts, Georgia and Virginia. Other immigrants entered the United States later during the Great Famine of Ireland in the 1840s and later. The Irish counties with the highest amount of families having this surname are Laois, Galway, Meath and Leitrim; Laois seems to be the place where most Carters settled or where the name began in origin. Within the past 150 to 200 years, the Carter surname has been adopted widely by the African American community, either with ethnic black and Irish mixing or taken from slavemasters by former slaves. This name is common among African Americans capable of tracing their roots back to the southern United States from the early 20th century onward.