The principal source for Scottish surnames is: The Surnames of Scotland, by George F. Black, and the reader will find reference to such work in the main text. Surnames in Scotland fall into two distinct groups, those of Gaelic origin in the Highlands and Islands, and those of English origin in the Lowlands and Borders.


Surnames were first adopted in the Lowlands by the Norman nobility, who were called after the lands they possessed. These are known as surnames of territorial origin. These surnames spread as tenants often took the name of their landlords, with whom they had no blood connection. A similar type surname were those of local origin which arise from residence in or near a particular town, the place name thus becoming the surname. A large number of Scottish surnames are deprived from the trade or office of the first bearers. Numerous offices were hereditary in feudal and in later times.


In the Highlands of Scotland the surnames were originally Gaelic, and had the same meaning as in Ireland. However it was standard practice for people to adopt the surname of a powerful clan. A surname could spread and decline in number with the fortunes of a particular clan.

Many Gaelic surnames were renounced as people adopted the surname of the local laird. Sometimes this was policy on the part of chiefs of clans and heads of landed families, to increase the number of followers bearing their own surname.

In general hereditary surnames in the Highlands were adopted later, even as late as the first quarter of the eighteenth century there were examples of men being designated by their father´┐Żs personal name.

Irish immigration

From earliest times there has been a connection between Ireland and Scotland, particularly between the North-east of Ireland and the West of Scotland. From the seventeenth century large numbers of Scots came to Ulster, many of their descendants subsequently moved on to what became the United States.

Scotland has greatly influenced the surname landscape in Ireland. However the traffic has moved in both directions, and from about 1820 there has been constant emigration from Ireland to the southwest of Scotland.

Table of hundred most numerous surnames in Scotland

The table of the hundred most numerous surnames in Scotland that follows, is derived from the birth, death and marriages registers for 1995. Those surnames dealt with in the main text are highlighted in bold type. This is taken from the GRO(Scotland) website:



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