Scottish Names—What Are They All About? – FamilySearch September 30, 2019

I saw this a little bit ago on FamilySearchScottish Names—What Are They All About?:

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.


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


  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.


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.


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!


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's
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