What's in a Name? Name Traditions of Scotland

Posted on September 11, 2014

Scottish naming traditions date back centuries.  Since the Kingdom of Scotland was formed in the 9th century, Scots have been largely known by location, occupation and clan.  Name patterns began to emerge clearly as the clan system broke down from 1700s and was firmly entrenched 100 years later.  This type of history is one reason Origins name analysis is so accurate in predicting the cultural heritage of individuals.

Scottish Clans

The clan system centred in Scotland’s north-west divided the kingdom by territories and affiliations for almost 1,000 years.  Until the 18th century Scots largely settled in familial territory.  So, a MacDonald was likely to hail from the Scottish Hebrides.

The patronymic inclusion Mac, means simply ‘son of’.  In the lowlands, it was more common to adopt a father’s given name as surname to create this family association.  Wilson, Robertson, Thomson and Johnson are common examples.

This map provides a guide to where clans were originally most prevalent.

Source:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Scottish_clans#/media/File:Scottish_clan_map.png Originally based on the “Clan Map of Scotland” from The Scottish Clans & Their Tartans, W. & A.K. Johnston, 1939

The Scots however, are renowned as a mobile people.  Despite this mobility, OriginsInfo’s research in the UK reveals a surprising persistence of names in those original areas.  Delving deeper into surname and location association requires specific skill, or an analysis tool like Origins.

Occupation and Location

Many Scottish surnames are derived from trades, occupations and towns. Some are quite obvious:

  • Taylor = tailor
  • Faulkner = falconer/falconer

Others are less clear.  For example, Baxter was at first the name for a baker.  The surname Pottinger is a precursor to the apothecary.  It originates from the occupational name of a person who makes or sells the thick soupy stew ‘pottage’.  Because of their knowledge of herbs, over time, Pottingers were looked upon as medics and herbalists.

  • Still other Scottish surnames are direct adoptions of towns and village names.  Morton, Lauder, Menzies and Galloway are examples of this.

First Name Patterns

By the 1800s, Scots had developed a distinctive first name pattern.  Although not universal, the pattern used extensively has been:


  • Eldest son – paternal grandfather’s name
  • Second son – maternal grandfather’s name
  • Third son – father’s name
  • Fourth son – father’s eldest brother’s name


  • Eldest daughter – maternal grandmother’s name
  • Second daughter – paternal grandmother’s name
  • Third daughter – mother’s name
  • Fourth daughter – mother’s eldest sister’s name

Although less commonly adopted than in past centuries, these naming patterns may still be followed today.

OriginsInfo uses the most comprehensive data sets and advanced analysis methods to identify the cultural origin of names with around 85% accuracy.  By overlaying this data to suburbs, cities or broader populations, organisations gain a complete picture of who their customers are … and could be.

Back to blog