They’re not like those jaunty Irish surnames that kind of jump out and hit you in the face–no way you could see Finnegan or Donovan as anything else. But Scottish surnames, somewhat more subtly, have affected American nomenclature to a surprising degree.
Many that could pass for Irish or English are actually old Scottish clan names, and several have long been accepted as first names in this country–a list that includes Allan, Bruce, Douglas, Leslie, Mitchell, Murray, Stewart, Gordon, Lindsay, and, of course, Scott.
Scottish surnames are divided into two groups: Highland and Lowland. Highlanders didn’t use fixed family names until relatively late–until the 1700′s a man was often designated by his father’s name or would adopt the last name of a laird to curry his favor. It was the Gaelic Highlanders who used the prefix ‘Mac‘ to denote ‘son of”.
Back when there was a very limited stockpot of names, and there might be, for example, two Roberts in a village who had to be distinguished from one another, they began to be identified by nicknames and by the names of their fathers: one would be known as Robert Will’s son, the other Robert John’s son, and soon an elaborate system evolved based on the names of grandfathers and great-grandfathers.
Similar patronymic systems, with names meaning “son of,” took root in most cultures. In Danish, the suffix added was sen, in Swedish son, in French de, in Armenian ian, in Basque ez, in Norman fitz, in Scotland Mac or Mc, in Ireland O’, Mac or Mc, and in Wales, simply the letter s–Jones meaning John‘s son.
Though all these surname names relate to paternal lineage, in these days of last-name-first and boys-for-girls, there are a lot of patronymics that can work for girls as well: Mackenzie and Madison are good examples that have already been totally accepted. Some of the many other possible “son of” names follow–those that have been used for girls are starred.