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«P.H.REANEY Litt.D., Ph.D., F.S.A. Third edition with corrections and additions by R.M.WILSON M.A. LONDON AND NEW YORK First published as A Dictionary ...»

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The surnames of 50 members of the Guild of Ayr (c1431)64 have all the appearance of modern surnames: 16 patronymics (Neil Neilsoun, Patrik McMartyn, Patrik Ahar, Patoun Dugald); 6 local; 12 occupational (Listar, Walkar) and 5 nicknames (Petit, Cambell, Broun, Lang).

The paucity of Gaelic names in these sources is noteworthy. They are from the Lowlands, from Ayr and from Aberdeen, which ‘was already predominantly Englishspeaking in the twelfth century’.65 The Lowland Scots dialects derive from Northern English, though they have developed their own pronunciations and characteristic vocabularies, and Lowland surnames developed on the same lines as those in England, though they were slower to become hereditary. At the end of the fifteenth century and later we find clear evidence that surnames were not generally fixed. In 1473 the son of Thomas Souter was named David Thomson and in 1481 Alexander Donaldson was the son of Donald Symonson. The frequent patronymics were not permanent. They changed with each succeeding generation and in the Highlands it was not until the eighteenth century that this custom was abandoned.

It was a common practice in Scotland for a laird to take his name from the estate, which itself was often named from its owner. The lands of Hugh de Paduinan (1165–73) were called from him villa Hugonis or Huwitston ‘the estate of Hewitf, a pet-form of Hugh. His descendants took hence their surname, Fynlawe de Hustone (1296 CalSc), now Houston. Similarly, the modern Symington derives from Symoundestone (now Symington, Lanarkshire), the barony once held by Symon Locard (c1160). Owing to the frequency of such territorial names, lairds and farmers were often called by the name of their estate or farm and signed their letters and documents by their farm-names. In the seventeenth century an Act was passed forbidding any except noblemen and clerics of high office so to sign themselves but such estate-names long persisted in speech.

In the Highlands, hereditary surnames developed late. The clan system resulted in large numbers of people with the same name, but no specific surname of their own. The desire for protection in unsettled times caused men to attach themselves to a powerful clan and to assume its name. Chiefs of clans and heads of landed families increased the number of their followers by conciliation or coercion, and all took the name of the clan. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the rapid increase in the Clan Mackenzie was due to the inclusion of the old native tenants on lands acquired from time to time by the chiefs.

‘Frasers of the boll of meal’ were poor Bissets who had changed their name to Fraser for a bribe. Oppressed people from the neighbouring districts sought the protection of Gilbert Cumin who adopted them as clansmen by baptizing them in the stone hen-trough at his castle door. Henceforth they were ‘Cumins of the hen-trough’ to distinguish them from Cumins of the true blood.66 In 1603 an Act was passed ordering the McGregors to renounce their name under pain of death. Some took the names of Johnestoun, Doyle, Menzies or Ramsay. For loyalty to Charles II the Act was repealed in 1661 but revived in 1693.67 In 1695 ‘Evan, formerly called M’Grigor’ was granted permission to resume his surname of McGregor for life, but only on condition that he gave his children a different surname, for which he chose Evanson.68 After the Battle of Culloden (1746), Gaelic names began to creep into the Lowlands and were often anglicized to overcome Lowland hostility. English or Lowland surnames were adopted. Names were translated, Johnson for Maciain, Livingstone for MacLevy, Cochrane for Maceachrain. Macdonald became Donald or was translated Donaldson. In the years after 1820, began a steady influx of Irishmen into south-west Scotland, especially into Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and Galloway, with further corruption of Gaelic names: Doyle for O’Toole, Swan for McSweeney, Graham for McGrimes and Cuming for McSkimming.69 The modern bearer of a clan surname, therefore, is not necessarily a member of the clan by blood or heredity. Nor does a Gaelic or English surname prove descent. A Celtic surname may be borne by one with very little Celtic blood in his veins, whilst a man with an Anglo-Saxon name may be almost a pure Celt.70


The varied origins of Scottish surnames is well illustrated by the names of the clans.

From Scottish places: Baird, Brodie, Buchanan, Chisholm, Cunningham, Douglas, Drummond, Erskine, Forbes, Gordon, Innes, Keith, Leslie, Livingstone, Murray, Ogilvie, Ramsay, Ross, Skene, Sutherland, Urquhart Gaelic: Cameron, Campbell, Clan Chattan, Duncan, Farquharson, Ferguson, Gow, Kennedy, Maclennan, Macalpine, Macarthur, Macbean, Maccallum, Maccoll, Macdonald, Macdonnell, Macdougall, Macduff, Macewen, Macfarlane, Macfie, MacGillivray, Macinnes, Macintosh, Macintyre, Mackay, Mackenzie, Mackinnon, Maclaren, Maclean, Maclaine, Macmillan, Macnab, Macnaughton, Macneill, Macpherson, Macquarrie, Macqueen, Macrae, Malcolm, Matheson, Munro, Rob Roy, Shaw French: Anderson, Bruce, Cumin, Davidson, Fletcher, Fraser, Grant, Hay, Henderson, Johnston, Macalister, MacGregor, MacNicol, Menzies, Montgomery, Morrison, Napier, Oliphant, Robertson, Sinclair English: Armstrong, Barclay, Elliot, Graham, Hamilton, Lindsay, Scott, Stewart, Wallace Scandinavian: Gunn, Kerr, Lamont, Macaulay, Maclvarr, MacLachlan, MacLeod


Surnames appear in Ireland in the middle of the tenth century. These were patronymics formed by prefixing O or Ua to the grandfather’s name or Mac to the father’s, whether a personal or an occupation name. Of these, the Mac-names are the later. It has been claimed that these surnames became hereditary by an ordinance of Brian Boru (1002–14) but neither Brian himself nor his sons had hereditary surnames. It was only in the time of his grandsons that O’Brien first came into existence. The development of such surnames was slow and spread over several centuries. Definite evidence is lacking and patronymics have been confused with hereditary family names. Woulfe considers that by the end of the twelfth century surnames were universal in Ireland but admits that they were not at first of a lasting character, and in some instances were laid aside after a generation or two in favour of new surnames taken from less remote ancestors. He admits, too, that some surnames are not older than the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries, whilst a few originated in the sixteenth century.71 The Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland had a similar effect to that of the Norman Conquest in England. New personal names were introduced, and a new type of surname.

Some Normans took names from Irish places: John de Athy, Adam de Trim, both now rare surnames in Ireland. Burke, Birmingham and London derive from Anglo-Normans, as do Bassett, Bissett, Savage; Hammond, Hewlett, Sampson.

A list of about 1,500 Dublin surnames of the end of the twelfth century contains very few that could not appear in an English list of the same period. The personal names are mostly French, with a fair sprinkling of English and Scandinavian (Godwin, Ailward, Cristraid, Edwacer; Torsten, Swein, Toki, Turchetel). Of the few Celtic names, Bricius, Samsun and Cradok are found in England. Only Padin, Cullin and Gillamorus are pure Irish. So, too, with the surnames: local names from Colchester, Leominster and Worcester; common occupational names, lorimer, turnur, etc.; nicknames as Holega, Litalprud, le Crespe, le Gentil, Prudfot, Unred, Philip Unnithing, etc. Walter palmer was the son of David de Tokesburi. There is no hint of hereditary surnames. Two similar lists of some 550 free citizens (1225–50) and of about 200 members of the Dublin Guild Merchant (1256–7) are similar in nature.72 The names are Anglo-Norman names established in Ireland.

At Limerick and Cork, in 1295, surnames were Irish:73 O’Kynnedy, Ofechan, Omoriharthy, Maccloni, Maccarthen. Irishmen were beginning to use French christian names: Reginald, Maurice, Thomas, Walter.

One result of the Anglo-Norman settlement was that names acquired two forms, one Irish, one English. Some English settlers adopted Irish names. The Birminghams took the surname of MacFeeter from Peter de Bermingham and the Stauntons that of Mac an Mhiliadha (MacEvilly) from Milo de Staunton. After the murder of William de Burgo, third earl of Ulster, in 1333 and the lessening of English power in Ireland, many AngloNorman families in Connaught and Munster adopted the Irish language and assumed Irish surnames (MacWilliam, MacGibbin, etc.) and became so thoroughly hibernicized that in 1366 an Act was passed ordering that ‘every Englishman use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming by the Irish’.74 In 1465 an attempt was made to stamp out the use of Irish names among the Irish themselves. Every Irishman living in the counties of Dublin, Meath, Louth, and Kildare was ordered to assume ‘an English surname of a town, as Sutton, Chester, Trim, Skreen, Cork, Kinsale; or a colour, as White, Black, Brown; or an art, as Smith or Carpenter; or an office, as Cook, Butler’. The name so selected was to be used also by his issue under penalty for failure so to do.75 After the revolution of 1688 the change of Irish into English names increased. This process of anglicization followed very much the same course as in Scotland. Ó Cobhthaigh became Coffey, Cowie or Cowhey, whilst Coffey may represent Ó Cobhthaigh, Ó Cathbhadha, Ó Cathbhuadhaigh or Ó Cathmhogha. O’ and Mac were frequently dropped. Ryan may be for O’Mulryan. Names might be translated (Badger for Ó Bruic; Johnson for MacSeáin); or attracted to a better-known surname (Ó Blathmhaic, anglicized as Blawick and attracted to Blake), or assimilated to a foreign name (Summerville for Ó Somachain; De Moleyns for Ó Maolain; Harrington for Ó hArrachtáin); or by substitution (Clifford for Ó Clumhain; Loftus for O Lachtnáin).76 Such surnames were carried by Irish immigrants to England, Scotland and America where they were often further corrupted in pronunciation and spelling, thus adding endless complications to the difficulties of tracing their origin.


Manx surnames reflect the history of the island. Orosius tells us that in the fifth century both Ireland and the Isle of Man were inhabited by Scoti—Gaels, of the same name as those from whom Scotland derived its name. In the ninth century Norsemen subdued the island which was mainly ruled by Norwegians from Dublin. In 1266 Norway ceded Man to Scotland who held it about a hundred years, though it was frequently in the hands of the English. The Scandinavian settlers, already partly celticized, intermarried with the native Gaels and added Norse to the Celtic personal-names in common use. Patronymics were formed by prefixing Mac to the father’s name. The Irish O’ never took root.

Of modern surnames, Moore estimates that 68 per cent are pure Celtic, 9 per cent pure Scandinavian, 6 per cent Celtic-Scandinavian, 5.4 per cent pure English, 3.3 per cent English-Celtic and 1.3 per cent English-Scandinavian.77 Early in the sixteenth century the prefix Mac was almost universal; a hundred years later it had almost disappeared.78 In pronunciation, the Mac was unstressed and the final consonant tended to coalesce with the first consonant of the following personal-name and became the initial consonant of the surname when the Mac was lost. Hence the characteristic Manx surnames beginning with C, K, or Q: Caine (MacCathain), Curphey (MacMurchadha), Kay (MacAedha), Kermode (MacDermot), Kneen (MacCianain), Quine (MacCuinn); Corkhill (MacThorketill), Cowley (MacAmhlaibh, Macaulay, from ON Óláfr), Crennell (Macraghnaill, ON Rögnvaldr). Some names of this type are from Anglo-Norman personal-names: Clucas (MacLucas), Costain (MacAustin), Kissack (Maclsaac), Quail (MacPhail, Paul), Qualtrough (MacWalter), Quilliam (MacWilliam).


1 cf. Groups, 75.

2 For other examples, v. MESO21 (1275–1533).

3 For a full discussion, v. Ekwall, Variation and Two Early London Subsidy Rolls (notes, passim).

4 v. OEByn 31ff, 121ff.

5 ibid., 59 ff.

6 Holme 231.

7 For the light thrown by these surnames on immigration from the provinces into thirteenth- and fourteenth-century London, v. Ekwall, Two Early London Subsidy Rolls, 49–71.

8 Groups, 92.

9 MESO 25.

10 OEByn 125–30, 137–8.

11 FrY, p. xvi.

12 v. Mawer and Stenton, Place-names of Sussex 35, MESO 192–208.

13 OEByn 146–66.

14 ELPN 127–8.

15 OEByn 228, 232.

16 Ewen 56, MESO 26, A.H.Smith, Saga Book XI (1934), 17.

17 OEByn 147.

18 OEByn 209 ff.

19 ibid., 209(with references).

20 Namn och Bygd, vol. 27 (1939), p. 128.

21 OEByn 210–11.

22 Reaney, Essex Review, vol. 61, pp. 135–8.

23 ibid., pp. 142, 202–4, 209–11.

24 von Feilitzen, Namn och Bygd, vol. 33, pp. 69–98 (1945).

25 v. Reaney, Survival of OE Personal Namesin ME (Studier i modern språkvetenskap, vol. 18, pp. 84–112), 1953; Pedigrees of Villeins and Freemen (NQ, vol. 197, pp.

222–5), 1952; Three Unrecorded OE Personal Names of a late type (Modern Language Review, vol. 47, p. 374), 1952.

26 For details, v. Reaney, Pedigrees of Villeins and Freemen.

27 Stenton, Danelaw Charters, pp. cxii ff.

28 v. Douglas, Feudal Documents…of Bury Sl Edmunds, cxvii-cxx.

29 v. also Whitelock, Scandinavian Personal Names in the Liber Vitae of Thorney Abbey (Saga Book, vol. 12 (1940), pp. 127–53), and, for Norfolk, West, St Benet of Holme, vol. 2, pp. 258–60.

30 Stenton, English Feudalism, 24–6.

31 Essex Review, vol. 61, p. 140.

32 v. Ekwall, Scandinavians and Celts: A.H.Smith, Irish Influence in Yorkshire (Revue Celtique, vol. 44, pp. 34–58), Danes and Norwegians in Yorkshire (Saga Book, vol. 10); Armstrong, Mawer, Stenton and Dickins, Place-names of Cumberland, vol. 3, pp. xxii-xxv.

33 Surnames, p. 71, n. 1.

34 Keal occurs as Keles 12th DC.

35 There was never any such place in Essex. Berle is probably Barley (Herts).

36 Romance of Names, 90.

37 And, from personal names, in Hitches, Hodges, Riches.

38 MESO 27.

39 History of Surnames, 120, 246–8.

40 ibid., 120.

41 ibid., 247.

42 ibid., 247.

43 ibid., 252.

44 OEByn 207–9.

45 Variation, 44.

46 For a similar genitival formation in -en, v. Geffen.

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