Scottish Last Names
History of Scottish Last Names
Scotland. A land of adventure, romance, mysticism, and underdog kings and queens. Many North Americans have Scottish ancestors, particularly people from Nova Scotia (New Scotland), the east coast of the United States, and the American south.
Like the English, the people of Scotland didn't really use last names until they were introduced by the Normans in 1066. Like many cultures, Scottish surnames were passed from father to son, but each generation usually had its own moniker.
Families added Mc or Mac, which means "son of," to a first name to create a family name. For example, a McDonald or Macdonald was the son of Donald; however, his son may have a different last name altogether depending on the father’s first name.
Other last names are derived from one's occupation, region, physical characteristics, and clan names. For example, the famed hero from Braveheart, William Wallace, was a member of the Wallace clan, a subgroup of the Lowlands Scottish Clan.
Some Scottish last names were taken from Gaelic words and names. This method was predominantly used in the Highlands.
If you’re interested in knowing whether your surname is a Gaelic name or patronymic name, one passed down from father to son, or something altogether different; we’ve gathered together the origins of some of Scotland's most popular and prominent last names!
Use the list below to find your last name and learn all about its meaning and origins.
Image: Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeen, Scotland
Scottish Gaelic Surnames
Scottish Gaelic is a Goidelic language. Goidelic or Celtic languages native to England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Some Gaelic last names are Anglicised versions of Gaelic words, whereas others are Gaelicised versions of English words.
- Craig - Galeic for craeg or cliff
- Cameron - It means crooked nose from the Gaelic words cam and sron
- Campbell - Campbell is a name meaning crooked mouth.
- Cunningham - Cunningham was adopted from the Irish Gaelic word for chief or leader
- Creel - Gaelic for a fish basket or weave.
- Duff - Duff is the Scots Gaelic word for dark.
- Fraiser - It means strawberry. Could indicate the Fraser clan who lived near strawberry fields.
- Graham - The origins of this last name means gravelly homestead.
- Gordon - Gordon is an Anglicised version of the Irish word for beloved.
- Murray - Murray is a surname that means lord and master.
Scottish Clan Surnames
When people think of Scotland, they often think of kilts, bagpipes, and clans. Scots tend to hold their clan in pride, so it makes sense that some of the most common surnames are derivatives of the original Scottish clans.
- Campbell - The Campbell clan was one of the most powerful highland clans.
- Douglas - The Douglas clan is from the Scottish lowlands and is one of the most ancient clans.
- MacGregor - The MacGregor clan was one of the first families to begin playing the Scottish bagpipes in the 17th century.
- Martin - A derivative of MacMairtain, which in turn was derived from Latin from Mars, the god of war.
- Wallace - The Wallace clan is famous primarily for the legendary ancestor William Wallace.
Like many cultures, some Scottish last names originate from a family’s profession. Knowing what your surname means may give you a glimpse at the job of your ancestors.
Some surnames are not as straightforward as others; for example, the last name Walker was common for fullers, individuals who walked on a damp cloth to shrink it; yes, that was an actual job! On the other hand, Smith became the last name for any type of smith; blacksmith, silversmith, locksmith, gunsmith, etc.
- Clark - Priest or a cleric.
- Falconer - A derivative of a French occupational name for the keeper or trainer of hawks.
- Murphy - A descendent of a sea warrior.
- Patrick - Old English and stood for the son of a noble father or a member of the patrician class.
- Stewart - A Stewart, or as Mary Queen of Scots spelled it, Stuart was the official or officer who controlled the affairs of a royal household.
Regional or Place Surnames
Like much of the world at the time, Ancient Scotland was divvied into tribes, clans, and regions. Some people used a surname that indicated their clan, while others may have chosen or assigned a given name, particularly if they moved to a new area that referenced where they came from.
Place names are quite common in Scotland, and many may have their origins in other languages.
- Argyll - From the region of Argyll. Alternative spelling Argyle.
- Burns - Burns is derived from a burnt house, a dwelling near burn or stream.
- Crawford - A person from the settlement of Crawford in Lanarkshire.
- Findlay - Findlay is a county in Scotland. Alternate spellings include Findley, Finley, and Finlay.
- Galbraith - Britons who lived in Scotland; there was an influx of Britons to Scotland after the Anglo-Saxon conquest of 1066.
- Hamilton - From the mountain town.
- Kelly - Wood. Could indicate someone who lived near the woods or worked with wood.
- Moray - Moray is a surname that originates from the area near the Moray Sea. Moray is sometimes used as a first name for boys.
- Ross - This last name indicates a person from the region of Ross.
- Shaw - A person who lives near a copse or thicket.
Physical Characteristic Surnames
- Allan - Allan means fair or handsome. Alternate spellings include Allen, Alan, and Allanach.
- Duncan - Brown warrior.
- Kerr - Small and dark-skinned.
- Mackenzie - Comely. Mackenzie is quite commonly found on lists of baby names for girls.
- Reid - A red or ruddy face.
- Anderson - Son of Anders.
- Donaldson - Son of Donald.
- Ferguson - Son of Fergus.
- Gibson - Son of Gilbert. Gilbert means bright, noble youth.
- Hughes - Welsh in origin, means descendant of Adoh or Fire “MacAdoh” son of fire. Last names that originate from the same meaning include McKay, Makey, Mackay, and MacHugh.
- Mclean - Servant of John.
- Macleod - Son of Leod.
- Robertson - Son of Robert.
- Watson - Son of Walter. Watt or Watts was a nickname for people named Walter.
- Williamson - Son of William.
The Ten Most Common Scottish Last Names
Below are the ten most common names according to the National Records of Scotland reported in 2014.
Use the list below to find your last name and learn about its meaning and origins.
Most Popular Scottish Last Names on FamilyEducation: Abernathy, Abercrombie, Wallace
About L. Elizabeth Forry
L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with 15 years of classroom experience.