The family name Joyce has both ancient Irish and Norman antecedents. It comes from a Brehon penal name (the Brehon laws were the ancient laws of Ireland, before Christian times). The Brehon name Iodoc is a diminutive of iudh, which means lord. It was adopted by the Normans in the form Josse. The first Norman bearer of the name in Ireland was Thomas de Joise, a Welsh Norman who settled in Connacht on the borders of counties Galway and Mayo toward the end of the 12th century. The name may also have been derived from the Norman personal name Joie, which means joy.

The continuation of the Joyce name in the west of Ireland can be seen to this day in the area of Connemara known as Joyce's Country. Many people with the name still live there, and Renvyle House, now a luxury hotel, was once a Joyce stronghold. The most famous Joyce is, of course, James Joyce, born in Dublin in 1882, who died in Zurich in 1941. He is widely acclaimed as the leading writer in the English language in the 20th century.

The Joyce name has been deeply embedded in Connacht since they arrived there by sea in the wake of the Norman invaders. Joyce comes from the French personal name Joy. They quickly intermarried with strong local families like the O'Briens, Princes of Thomond.

A huge clan, they owned vast territory in the barony of Ross (Co. Galway), known today as Joyce's Country, and were admitted into the '14 Tribes of Galway'. There were Joyce bishops and cursaders to the Holy Land. One who was captured en route was shown buried treasure by an eagle. When he escaped with this wealth he used it to build the walls of Galway city.

A Joyce captured in the Middle East learned the art of gold and silver smithing. It is he who is credited with the origins of the Claddagh ring.

A family literary strain is epitomised in James Joyce, playwright, poet, musician and author of Ulysses.

During World War II the infamous William Joyce broadcast Nazi propoganda from Germany. Of mixed Irish-English-American background, his English affiliations caused him to be hanged for treason when he was captured after the war.