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Scottish Surnames - Meanings & Origins

What Does Your Scottish Last Name Mean?

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Scottish Pipe.
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Scottish surnames** as we know them today -- family names passed down intact from father to son to grandson -- were first introduced into Scotland by the Normans about the year 1100. Such hereditary names were not universally prevalent and settled, however. The use of fixed Scottish surnames (last names that didn't change with each generation) wasn't really in prevalent use until the 16th century, and it was well into the late 18th century before surnames were common in the Highlands and northern isles.

** See meanings and origins of Top 100 Scottish Surnames below

Origins of Scottish Last Names

Surnames in Scotland generally developed from four major sources:

  • Geographical or Local Surnames - These are names derived from the location of the homestead from which the first bearer and his family lived, and are generally the most common origin of Scottish surnames. Most of the earliest people in Scotland to adopt fixed surnames were the nobles and great landowners, who were often called by the land they possessed (e.g. William de Buchan from Buchan, Scotland). Eventually, even those who did not own significant land started to use place names to identify themselves from others of the same name, adopting the name of the village or even the street where the family originated. Tenants often took their name from the estate where they lived. Thus, most of the earliest surnames in Scotland were derived from place names.

  • Patronymic Surnames - These are surnames derived from baptismal or Christian names to indicate family relationship or descent. Some baptismal or given names have become surnames without any change in form. Others added a prefix or an ending. The use of Mac and Mc was prevalent throughout Scotland, but especially in the Highlands, to indicate "son of" (e.g. Mackenzie, son of Coinneach/Kenneth). In lowland Scotland, the suffix -son was more commonly added to the father's given name to form a patronymic surname. These true patronymic surnames changed with each successive generation. Thus, Robert's son, John, might become known as John Robertson. John's son, Mangus, would then be called Mangus Johnson, and so on. This true patronymic naming practice continued in most families until at least the fifteenth or sixteenth century before a family name was eventually adopted that passed down unchanged from father to son.

  • Occupational Surnames - Many Scottish surnames developed from a person's job or trade. Three common Scottish surnames -- Smith (blacksmith), Stewart (steward) and Taylor (tailor) -- are excellent examples of this. Offices associated with the king's lands and/or hunting are another common source of Scottish occupational names - names such as Woodward, Hunt and Forest.

  • Descriptive Surnames - Based on a unique quality or physical feature of the individual, these surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names. Most refer to an individual's appearance - color, complexion, or physical shape - such as Campbell (from caimbeul, meaning "crooked mouth") and . A descriptive surname may also refer to an individual's personal or moral characteristics, such as Goodchild, Puttock (greedy) or Wise.


Scottish Clan Names

Scottish clans, from the Gaelic clann, meaning "family," provided a formal structure for extended families of shared descent. Clans each identified with a geographical area, usually an ancestral castle, and were originally controlled by a Clan Chief, officially registered with the court of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms which controls heraldry and Coat of Arms registration in Scotland. Historically, a clan was made up of everyone who lived on the chief's territory, people for which he was responsible and who, in turn, owed allegiance to the chief. Thus, not everyone in a clan was genetically related to one another, nor did all members of a clan bear a single surname.


Scottish Surnames - Meanings & Origins

Anderson, Campbell, MacDonald, Scott, Smith, Stewart... Are you one of the millions of people sporting one of these top 100 common Scottish last names? If so, then you'll want to check out our list of the most commonly occurring surnames in Scotland*, including details on each name's origin, meaning, and alternate spellings. Plus, links to genealogy resources and family trees for each Scottish surname, and search techniques for correctly identifying ancestors with common last names.


TOP 100 COMMON SCOTTISH SURNAMES & THEIR MEANINGS

1. SMITH 51. MARSHALL
2. BROWN 52. STEVENSON
3. WILSON 53. WOOD
4. THOMSON 54. SUTHERLAND
5. ROBERTSON 55. CRAIG
6. CAMPBELL 56. WRIGHT
7. STEWART 57. MCKENZIE
8. ANDERSON 58. KENNEDY
9. MACDONALD 59. JONES
10. SCOTT 60. BURNS
11. REID 61. WHITE
12. MURRAY 62. MUIR
13. TAYLOR 63. MURPHY
14. CLARK 64. JOHNSTONE
15. MITCHELL 65. HUGHES
16. ROSS 66. WATT
17. WALKER 67. MCMILLAN
18. PATERSON 68. MCINTOSH
19. YOUNG 69. MILNE
20. WATSON 70. MUNRO
21. MORRISON 71. RITCHIE
22. MILLER 72. DICKSON
23. FRASER 73. BRUCE
24. DAVIDSON 74. KING
25. GRAY 75. CRAWFORD
26. MCDONALD 76. DOCHERTY
27. HENDERSON 77. MILLAR
28. JOHNSTON 78. CUNNINGHAM
29. HAMILTON 79. SINCLAIR
30. GRAHAM 80. WILLIAMSON
31. KERR 81. HILL
32. SIMPSON 82. MCGREGOR
33. MARTIN 83. MCKAY
34. FERGUSON 84. BOYLE
35. CAMERON 85. SHAW
36. DUNCAN 86. FLEMING
37. HUNTER 87. MOORE
38. KELLY 88. CHRISTIE
39. BELL 89. DOUGLAS
40. GRANT 90. DONALDSON
41. MACKENZIE 91. ANDERSON
42. MACKAY 92. MACLEAN
43. ALLAN 93. FORBES
44. BLACK 94. MCINTYRE
45. MACLEOD 95. FINDLAY
46. MCLEAN 96. JAMIESON
47. RUSSELL 97. AITKEN
48. GIBSON 98. REILLY
49. WALLACE 99. THOMPSON
50. GORDON 100. HAY
 

Source: General Register Office for Scotland - 100 Most Common Surnames

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