Scottish Boys’ Names: Fresh choices beyond Keith and Kyle

By Linda Rosenkrantz

There are many Scottish names for boys that have become so familiar that we don’t even recognize their roots—names like Malcolm and Cameron and Gavin and Gordon and Keith and Kyle. But there are others that have never reached our shores and that might be worth considering, and here are some prime examples.

Bear in mind, that most of these names are not currently popular in Scotland; only one of them, Struan, appears in the current Top 100 Scottish Names (at Number 99)—a list headed by Jack, James and Lewis, with just a smattering of old Gaelic names like Euan, Arran, and Ruaridh.

AdairMore commonly heard as a surname, this airy choice probably originated as a more euphoneous Scottish pronunciation of Edgar. It has also been used for girls, as in the TV soap Search for Tomorrow character called Adair McCleary.

Alpin– A most unusual Al name which has been used in Scotland since earliest recorded times and probably derives from the Latin meaning ‘white, fair’. It was borne by at least two Pictish kings and is reflected in the surname MacAlpin.

Artair— Yes, as you probably guessed, this is the Gaelic form of Arthur, except that the pronunciation is more like AHR-shtuhr.

Aulay– A form of a Gaelic name that goes back to the Norse name Olof/Olaf but is more familiar in its surname form, Macaulay. In fact, Aulay Macaulay was the seventeenth century English inventor of a system of shorthand.

BairdMeaning bard, this calls up a poetic, Shakespearean image. The Scottish inventor of the world’s first practical television system was John Logie Baird.

DougalA Scottish name that also appears as Dugald, Dougall and Dugal. Meaning ‘black stranger’, it was first used as a nickname for the dark-haired Danes who settled in their land, as compared to the blond Norwegians. There was a character named Dougal in the British sitcom Father Ted, and Dougal is responsible for the nickname Dougie (as in Howser).

DuffAnother surname name that arose from a nickname for someone with dark hair, Duff has a charmingly cheery, rough-hewn image. Duff McKagan of Guns ‘N’ Roses was born Michael. Duffy is the logical, equally lively, extension

FifeThis name comes from a surname derived from that of an ancient kingdom in eastern Scotland; some say it derives from Fib, the name of one of the seven sons of Cruithne, the legendary ancestor of the Pictish race. With its musical resonance, it could make a great middle name; Patrick Dempsey chose the alternate Fyfe spelling for his daughter Tallulah’s middle.

FingalIf you want to move beyond Finn, Finlay and Finnegan, there’s this name created by 18th century writer James MacPherson in his Ossianic poems for a Scottish king, supposedly based on Finn McCool. Fingal’s Cave on the Inner Hebrides island of Staffa was named after Macpherson’s poem, and is the name of an overture by Felix Mendelssohn. Fingal was one of the three middle names of Oscar Wilde.

ForbesWith preppy s-ending surname names like Brooks coming into fashion, this might be another one to consider. It was long associated with Malcolm Forbes, founder of the business magazine that bears his name and so has a rich-family vibe. Forbes is an Aberdeenshire place name meaning ‘field’.

Garden This is a fairly unusual Scottish surname—there was a famous Scottish opera singer called Mary Garden—that is occasionally used as a first. We can also see it as a pretty floral middle name for a girl or a boy.

Gowan– From the Gaelic gobha, meaning ‘a smith’; blacksmiths were considered very important personages in early Celtic culture, having an aura of magic about them. It is also from a Scots name for the daisy—Robert Burns’ poem “To a Mountain Daisy” was originally called “The Gowan.” A young Gowan would work and play well with a Rowan or Owen.

InnesThe name of an island—the word actually meaning ‘island’ in Gaelic—this is occasionally used as a first—and even more occasionally for girls. Surprisingly enough, the surname MacInnes means ‘son of Angus’.

KeirA Scottish clan name that probably relates to the Gaelic word ciar, meaning swarthy, dusky. Most Americans first heard it via the actor Keir Dullea, star of 2001: A Space Odyssey.   Kerr is a similar surname sometimes heard as a first.

MuirA surname that originated for someone living near a moor; it also means ‘sea’ in Scottish Gaelic. The founder of the Sierra Club was John Muir, namesake of Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County, California.

NinianSt. Ninian was a fifth century missionary who exercised considerable influence on the Celts in the fifth century and was credited with numerous miracles. Though it shares the nice ‘inian’ sound with cousin Finian, there is that ninny nickname possibility which could lead to dire playground problems.

ParlanThis is the Gaelic form of –believe it or not—the biblical Bartholomew, the meaning of which is ‘farmer’. A more distinctive possible substitute for Harlan?

SholtoThis is from the Gaelic, meaning ‘propagator’, and is traditional in the Douglas family. Sir Walter Scott used it in two of his novels, The Bride of Lammermoor and Castle Dangerous, and there is a character named Sholto in the Elizabeth Gaskell novel North and South.

StruanThe name Struan originated from a Scottish place name—that of a small village on the island of Skye— it’s the Anglicized form of the Scottish Gaelic word sruthan, meaning ‘small stream’. Currently popular in Scotland, Struan is strong and distinctive..

TorquilThis comes from a Norse name related to the god Thor, one of several brought by the Viking invaders, including Thora. Sir Walter Scott used Torquil for a character in his Fair Maid of Perth.

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9 Responses to “Scottish Boys’ Names: Fresh choices beyond Keith and Kyle”

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PeachyOwl Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 11:31 pm

Wow I love Alpin and I have Pictish heritage so I will definitely add that one to my list! Thank you!

marypoppins Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 1:03 am

I know quite a few kids called Struan or Innes. Expect those two might climb up the Scottish charts. The others are a bit ‘out there’.

miloowen Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 8:27 am

Love Ninian and Keir. There’s Aector, for parents feeling adventurous.

kyemsma Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 10:40 am

I really like Adair (for a girl), Alpin and Artair.

Chloe14 Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 11:27 am

I have Scottish roots! My Nan is all Scottish and my Dad is half Scottish and that makes me quarter Scottish. I think Keith is a lovely name though it’s very nice and charming and I also have an older cousin named Keith. I really really love Macaulay such a wonderful Scottish name! I would use it in a heart beat.

ClareB Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 1:11 pm

I heard once, but don’t have any other evidence, that Alpin could be from the Latin name Calpurnius or Calpornius (the name of St Patrick’s father), and the “C” got swallowed up in MacCalpurn > MacAlpin.

LuMary Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 7:56 pm

I like Muir, MacInnes, Gowan. Lachlan, of course, is Scottish.

I’d like to see Stewart/Stuart to be reintroduced here in the States.

LuMary Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Baird is a good one, too, and I just noticed someone with the name in the paper today. How ironic. I believe Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, as Patrick is of Ireland.

flowercait Says:

October 25th, 2014 at 11:10 am

Being from Scotland most of these names would sound a little silly on boys but I love Innes which is currently on my list. The place where I live is the Gaelic of Torquil’s ford as he was defeated it battle there.

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