Your Guide To Scottish Names 

The origins of many Scottish names go back as far as Medieval times, some even further.

Scotland's early history is peppered with invasions.

These had a huge impact on the culture and genetic make-up of the Scottish people....

... as well sowing the seeds for some of our most popular names.

As a result, both first names (called 'forenames') and last names (called 'surnames'), reflect Scotland's colorful and diverse history.

On this page we'll take a look at how the Scottish naming system developed. 

You'll also find links to pages of specific names (such as Scottish girl names, Scottish boy names and popular Scottish surnames). 

The Origins & History Of Scottish Names

There's evidence to suggest that as far back as 8500 BC, there were several different groups of people living in Scotland - and some of these may have come from other parts of northern Europe.

Over time they became what we now know as the Pictish nation (a tribal society descended from the Iron Age inhabitants).

Irish Celts moved into Scotland during between the first and third centuries AD. 

Both nations were fierce, warlike tribal societies and at times the Picts and Celts fought each other.

On other occasions they worked together against invaders from other lands.

The very earliest Scottish names mainly originated from one of these two groups, Celts and Picts.

During the following centuries, Scotland's shores were the scene of several invasions - from countries as diverse as Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden and Denmark), Italy (the Romans) and France.

The English (Anglo-Saxons) also regularly tried to push northward, crossing Hadrian's Wall (which was originally built to keep the warlike Picts out of the southern part of Britain).

The Naming System In Scotland

In Medieval Scotland, parents didn't have the type of freedom to choose baby names as we have today.

At this time there was a fairly small pool of words considered 'acceptable' to be used as names.

Parents were only allowed to pick names from that pool, so their options were limited.

Over time, naming practices became more flexible and the influences of other cultures increased, and the variety of forenames increased.

The results of this are seen in the diversity of Scottish names today.

Newborn baby girl portrait

In recent years genealogy has become very popular, and many of us are interested in finding out more about our ancestors and the roots of our family tree.

As our family name is one of the biggest clues we have, it's become our 'jumping off point', but if your ancestors were Scottish, your family name may not be as helpful as you would think!

That's because in Scotland, previous generations didn't apply anything resembling todays' modern naming conventions. In fact:

  • Because of the limited number of acceptable names, there was a lot of sharing
  • Fixed, or inherited, family names (surnames) were not widely used
  • Second, or 'middle' names hadn't even been thought of!

When you look at those points you'll begin to understand some of the problems people can run into once they manage to trace their family tree back a few centuries.

Scottish Surnames

The earliest Scottish surnames were usually given based one of three different factors:

  • the persons' occupation or job
  • where they lived or where their family was from
  • heir fathers' name 

One quick look and it's pretty easy to see how quickly this situation could get confusing!

Obviously there would often be more than one baker, smith, shepherd etc. even in a village or small town, and many families originated from the same village, town, area or region.

Shepherd in the Scottish HighlandsShepherd with his flock of sheep in the Scottish Highlands

Combine these problems with the limited selection of Scottish forenames and you'll soon see why nicknames became common.

And we're not just talking 'shorty' or 'red' or other modern-day nicknames.

These nicknames often literally 'described' the person - either by his/her physical attributes 'dark haired', tall, thin etc., or by using some specific fact such as a well-know personality trait (eg. bad tempered) or a specific possession (eg. a boat) to differentiate between them.

For example: 'black-haired Tamhas' (old variant of Thomas) or 'bad-tempered Tamhas' or even 'Tamhas who lives by the river'

It was all a bit of a shambles to begin with, but the history of Scottish family names, and how they developed and changed over time, is really interesting.

You can learn all about this on our Scottish Surnames page.

You'll also find a list of the most common last names in Scotland between 1999 and 2001. If you have Scottish roots, you might well find your family name there.

Scottish First Names

First names such as Hamish, Heather or Stuart are recognized world-wide as being from Scotland, but we have tons of other great names too :)

Baby wearing Scottish tartan tam-o-shanter

If you're looking for Scottish baby names, or just want to see more choices, check these out:

We've put together a great selection of both traditional and popular baby names for both sexes.

From Gaelic and Olde English to Greek, German, French and more - complete with origins and meanings - there's something for every taste.

Also, check out the Top 20 most recent baby names in Scotland on those pages, there's tons of inspiration for everyone.

› Scottish Names