Scottish Names—What Are They All About?

September 30, 2019  - by 
a scottish brother and sister wave a scottish flag.

Scottish names are rich with history—both surnames and given names.

The most wealthy and high nobility first started using surnames, but it wasn’t long before merchants and townspeople started using them as well because it was an easy way to identify one another. But the process to adopt and adapt surnames took centuries. In the 13th century, about 30 percent of men in Scotland’s were named William, John, or Richard. But surnames have been complicated over time because of the Scottish Highlands, Lowlands, and the clan system. Even though surnames started to be used with regularity as early as the 10th or 12th centuries, there wasn’t a lot of consistency with surnames until the 16th century. This is helpful when searching your own family records.

a scottish coat of arms

Scottish Surnames

Scottish surnames are based on many things—occupations, geography, patronymics (based on a person’s father’s name), and descriptions (based on a nickname, hair color, complexion, or so on).

In 1746, after the Battle of Culloden, many people changed their surnames from clan names to less Gaelic-sounding names so they would not be punished by the British government. If someone’s name was clan-like, he or she could be associated with disfavoring the crown. But after a few generations, some changed their names back to the clan name.

 Some surnames were also translated into English. Surnames like “Mac a’ Bhrataich” and “MacGhilledhuinn” were sometimes changed to “Bannerman” and “Brown” or “Broun.” There were even times when names were changed by authorities, sometimes without the bearer’s knowledge.

Scottish surnames were often taken from Gaelic Scottish given names with a “Mc” or “Mac” added to the beginning. This naming convention is patronymic, and the prefix means “son”. This naming trait was used most often in the Highlands. One in 8 surnames in Scotland begin with “Mc” or “Mac,” with one of the most common names being “MacDonald.” Surnames can be different based on regions, but below are some of the most common surnames in Scotland.

20 Common Scottish Surnames

a scottish couple.
  1. Smith
  2. Brown
  3. Wilson
  4. Stewart
  5. Thomson
  6. Robertson
  7. Campbell
  8. Anderson
  9. Murray
  10. MacDonald
  11. Taylor
  12. Scott
  13. Reid
  14. Clark
  15. Young
  16. Morrison
  17. Walker
  18. Ross
  19. Watson
  20. Graham

Scottish Boy Names

Many Scottish given names are of Gaelic origins, and many are intertwined with Irish origins as well. The Scottish also used naming patterns for given names. For example, the first son was often named after the father’s father, the second son named after the mother’s father, and the third son named after the father. It was not uncommon after a child died for the next child of the same sex to be given the name of the deceased child.

Young scottish boys.

Here are some popular Scottish boy names:

  • Adair
  • Alastair
  • Alban
  • Alexander
  • Baldwin
  • Cameron
  • Donald
  • Duncan
  • Gavin
  • Graham
  • Hamish
  • Leslie
  • Muir
  • Mungo
  • Rory
  • Stuart
  • Tamhas

Scottish Girl Names

Given names for girls follow much the same pattern as used for boys, if families chose to use the naming pattern. The first daughter was often named after the mother’s mother, the second daughter after the father’s mother, and the third daughter after the mother. Scottish variants of common English names are also common. For example, for Elizabeth, Elspeth might be used, or Catrina, Caitriona, or Ceitedh might be used for Katherine. The suffix “ina” is also popular for Scottish girl names.

Young scottish girls.

 Here are some other common Scottish girl names:

  • Adamina
  • Agnes
  • Annis
  • Bridget
  • Blair
  • Catriona
  • Davina
  • Elspeth
  • Fiona
  • Gavina
  • Isla
  • Kirstine
  • Morag
  • Sorcha
  • Una

Search Your Family Tree for Scottish Ancestors

Now that you’re armed with both Scottish surnames and Scottish given names, try searching your family tree for a few. You may have some Scottish ancestors that you didn’t know about, and you may also find some names that you could add to your own family tree!

Your Scottish Heritage

a scottish man plays bagpipes

Rachel Trotter

Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer and editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com, FamilySearch.org, and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.

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Comments

    1. Could be from the French Colbert. In the 12-17th centuries, Scots & French were allies in chasing the English out of France, fighting for Joan of Arc, as French kings’ Scots Archers eg., The Auld Alliance is why the English-fighting all Scotland’s allies- were desperate for a union with Scotland.
      Best place to check is Scottish Records in Edinburgh, Online http://www.ancestry.co.uk

  1. I know my family tree coming forward out of Scotland, but I have always wondered if there are still relatives there that I am unaware of.

    1. Hi. My mum’s family name was Munro, out of Glasgow in the 1830’s to Ontario. Ithe name is found in the Inverness area and possibly goes back to Northern Ireland and the Ro River, originating as Man o’Ro. They have their own tartan and coat of arms. There is a little Munro museum – Storehouse of Foulis – a few miles north east of Inverness.

    2. There were blackSMITHS, silverSMITHS, goldSMITHS etc in every country of the world.
      Schmidt in German, Forgeron in French, Hererra in Spanish…

      1. Just checked Scottish Records. Only two people named Keppoch were ever born in Scotland: twins Clare and Alice Keppoch, born to ANGUS MACDONALD KEPPOCH & CRISTINA MACNAB on 31/1/1855 in Roybridge St Margarets. Scotland

    1. They were possibly the legitimate métis offspring of a Scots-Native American union, such as Gerry Potts, the scout.
      In Canada, the Scottish North-West Company encouraged its men in remote location to marry, while the rival English Hudson’s Bay Co actually discouraged marriage with locals. However, as many of the trading posts were manned by Highland Scots in BOTH companies, there were many marriages.
      The other possibility in the US, is that was easier to adopt a surname that white settler were comfortable with, so one was adopted.

  2. on 1 side of my family is Glasgow the other side is Daugherty….. it is said the Glasgow name was from Glascock which means glass cutter, true or not

    1. Sorry, both are a NO. That is merely a different spelling of the Irish name Docherty.
      And no, as a Glaswegian , I can assure you that Glasgow is the English spelling f its original Scottish Gaelic name Glaschu, and is still pronounced Glass-kuh
      which means dear green place

  3. Just a reminder that volunteers are ALTERING many Scottish BM and Deaths pre-1707 as occurring in the “United Kingdom of Great Britain” which DID NOT EXIST until 1707 when it was CREATED by the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England)