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.
Adair— More 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.
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.
Dougal— A 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).
Duff— Another 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
Fife— This 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.
Fingal— If 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.
Forbes—With 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.
Innes— The 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’.
Keir– A 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.
Muir— A 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.
Ninian— St. 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.
Sholto— This 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.
Struan— The 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..