Scottish Surnames: Beyond Campbell and Cameron

Scottish Names

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 <a href=””>Scottish names</a> 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”. 

In the Lowlands, which were chiefly populated by English-speakers, many of the surnames are indistinguishable from the English–names like Crawford, Gibson and Russell. (TRIVIA NOTE: A law was passed in 1603 by the Scottish Privy Council abolishing the name MacGregor and sentencing anyone bearing it to death.)  As in other cultures, many Scottish surnames have their origins in place names (eg Leith) and occupations (Clark from clerk).

So,whether or not your ancestors hail from the land of haggis, bagpipes and Nessie the Loch Ness Monster,  here are some Scottish surnames that could be used as firsts.  Though traditionally used for boys, some can (as in Cameron Diaz and Campbell Brown) be used for girls as well.
















KENNEDY (Scots Gaelic and Irish)
















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13 Responses to “Scottish Surnames: Beyond Campbell and Cameron”

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LyndsayJenness Says:

July 20th, 2009 at 1:51 am

Thanks so much for this list! I’ve got a good bit of Scottish heritage and I’d love to honor it. All the Irish lists bum me out because I have zero Irish in me (even though I so wish I did!). I love a lot of these names, Clark, Grant, Logan, Reid, Munro. My family is part of the Grant Clan, so that would be really cool!

Sebastiane Says:

July 20th, 2009 at 9:04 am

A lot of these don’t thrill me. I would rather see a list of traditional Scottish names vs trendy surnames. I’m so tired of surname names.

Emz Says:

July 20th, 2009 at 9:18 am

My boyfriend’s a Grant too, Lyndsay 🙂 We live in Scotland. Oddly enough my brother’s first name is Grant too!

Sebastiane, I understand where you’re coming from but in Scotland it’s often considered traditional to give boys their mother’s surname as their first name. It seems to have died out now for the most part but I’ve known guys named Wilson, Reid, Muir, Forbes and Niven, amongst others (all of whom were in their forties/fifties when I met them). So if you want tradition, there you go – it’s certainly not trendy.

A lot of these names are used all the time in Scotland. Fraser, Cameron, Graham (and Graeme), Grant, Ross and Wallace are ones that pop up all the time. I’m a high school teacher and I know dozens of each, of all different ages (Ross is the name of my other brother). Mackenzie, Macaulay and Logan are getting more common but I think these might be more of an American influence than anything else.

the only thing is that in Scotland these names are categorically boys names and not used for girls. We’re pretty conservative namers, for the most part, and a girl named Campbell would get lots of raised eyebrows and funny looks.

Abby Says:

July 20th, 2009 at 10:15 am

Sinclair is interesting – I could see it catching on for girls in the US, a la Emerson. *Hides under desk, as flying shoes are lobbed in general direction.*

Ailsa Gray Says:

July 20th, 2009 at 11:03 am

(I am Welsh, but married a Glaswegian and lived in Glasgow for fifteen years, raising six children there, so feel I can contribute a bit too!)
I knew several women (including my mother-in-law and other female in-laws) who took their mother’s maiden names as their middle name, too, so it was obviously common practice for both sex of babies until fairly recently. My mother-in-law was Jeannie Vincent Gray (nee MacFarlane). Her mother had been a Vincent. I love the name MacFarlane and wish I had tagged it on to all the childrens’ names as well.

My own name, Ailsa, is Scottish Gaelic, so my mother (Welsh) must have had second sight and foreseen that I was going to marry a Scotsman. Funnily enough, there is a small island off Mull called Ailsa Craig, and so I sound very much like that island, – Ailsa Craig, Ailsa Gray . . . . . . . .

Gregor is one of my favourite names for boys but I felt that Gregor Gray was too much of a tongue-twister.

Love all things Scottish, even my ex-husband!

tikicatt Says:

July 20th, 2009 at 11:30 am

I named my only daughter Sinclair. And oddly enough am not a huge fan of boy names on girls – I don;t know why I felt it was more of a girly name. Could be because we call her Clair? I still love the name and will be happy to pass on the fact that it is more Scottish than we thought. Emz, If we come to Scotland we will call her by her first name Honor whilst there. Will that be acceptable as feminine enough?

PS EMZ – want to hear more about Scottish naming practices – good info!

pam Says:

July 21st, 2009 at 12:02 am

I’m loving this whole Sinclair trend — it’s already a trend! — and think you’re absolutely right, Abby, about it having the scent of a hit name.

stephanie_elizabeth Says:

July 21st, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Brody and Reid are both on my short list. I love those. I have some Scots in my blood (along with German, Polish, French Canadian, Irish, and Englis) so these are honoring my family roots.

Ailsa-love your name…its so pretty.

Ollie Says:

July 22nd, 2009 at 1:50 am

Ooooh! I know of four Leiths.

ailsa Gray Says:

July 22nd, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Thank you, Stephanie_Elizabeth. With all your ancestry, you can have great fun honouring your family roots! My children have Welsh, English and Scottish blood, and I am tracing their dad’s family tree at the moment (I have done mine as far as we can) so I am hoping to turn up something exotic – Russian would be fab, but I will settle for Irish.

Emz Says:

July 24th, 2009 at 7:15 pm

tikikatt, I’m sure calling her by the name you always use would be fine (though Honor is totally gorgeous too). It’s just unlikely that a Scottish parent in Scotland would use that name – we’re still much more conservative in terms of names than other parts of the world, which personally I find to be a real shame 🙂

If you want to find out more about Scottish naming practices then by far the best website is the General Register Office for Scotland. They publish very detailed lists every year, and usually a few name-related articles too, unlike England and Wales who have recently cut their funding (boo!).


Peony Says:

August 4th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

What about Malcolm?

Mathew C. MacLearnsberry Says:

April 4th, 2011 at 12:17 pm

What about the name Berry? It apparently derives from Barry, Bearach and Barra (whatever they mean). I once sat in a hotel room in Edinburgh one evening and counted over 90 Berrys in the phone book, so whatever else it is, it is also scottish.

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