A Letter from Ireland:
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Is my Surname Irish or Scottish?

7Is your surname Irish? Maybe you’re not sure if it’s Irish or Scottish. You’re not alone, many of my readers ask me if their surname is Irish or Scottish. In this letter I hope to answer this question for you and give you some facts about Irish vs Scottish surnames.
Surname Irish or Scottish?

Is your surname Scottish or Irish?

One of the most frequent questions I get asked by my readers is; ‘Is my surname Scottish or Irish?’ One of them (with the surname Scott!) asked  “Is Scott Irish or Scottish?” (I had to read that one twice).

Now, I don’t know about her particular circumstances, but I thought it was a great question to open up some facts about Scottish versus Irish names.

My original (and somewhat smart!) answer to her was “If I told you Scottish comes from the Latin for Irish, but the surname Scott is one given by the English, and found in Ireland would you believe me ?”

And that kind of explains the complications around how surnames such as Scott evolve over time.

Like to add your Irish/Scottish surname to our list? Just signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here.and we’ll let you know how to join in the fun.

The original Latin name for Scotland was “Alba”. The original Roman name for an Irishman was “Scotus”. Overtime, the area to the north of Scotland (where the Gaels were) became known as “Scotland” (or – land of the Irish!).

Back to the Scott surname.

In the highlands of Scotland, you had the Gaels (and the language they spoke was Scots Gaelic – an offshoot of old Irish) – and in the lowlands near the border with England, you had the non-Gael Scottish.

There was a particular clan in this border area that came to be known as the “Scotts” by the English – and they adopted the name as their own clan name. So, you could say that Scott is a Scottish name – named so by the English!

What about the Scotts in Ireland?

Well, many of this particular clan moved to the north of Ireland in the 1600s to escape religious persecution at the time. Today you will find Scott as a very popular surname in Northern Ireland. Mostly in counties Down and Antrim – centred in the Belfast and Lisburn areas and the Ards peninsula.

And one final “complication”! When the Scottish “gallowglass” came to Ireland (mercenary soldiers from the western isles of Scotland) – they were initially known “Albanach” in Ireland (Alba was the earlier Roman for Scotland). However over time as surnames were taken – Albanach became known as “Scott” in Ireland. So, do you have a Warrior Gallowglass surname? Click here to see if your surnames on our list.

So that’s the answer – Scott was originally a Scottish name, they just got named that by people from other countries!

Hopefully that gives you a clearer picture of whether your surname is Irish or Scottish. Want to learn more about where your Irish surname evolved from? Click here to find out the origins and journey of your Irish surname.

  • anna says:

    Last names braley and neill any info?

    • admin says:

      Have a look at the menu on the right side that says “search by your surname”. Choose the surname O’Neill. I have added an explanation in one of the posts. You can add your own story there or ask further questions. Don’t know about Braley – do you have more info? All the best, Mike.

  • Mary O'Neill Leidner says:

    I am fascinated by these names and where they came from.I have been told all my life that my surname O’Neill means son of Neill and that in medieval times there wer 2 twin brothers who had a bargain that whichever ones hand touched the soil first that land would belong to him, so the one brother cut off his hand and threw it on the beach thus winning the bet. I realize that this must be a fable, but a lot of my relatives are a little daft Ha ha.Seriously I would really like to learn more about my Irish Heritage my fathers side. I know that myreat grandfather was born in Dublin in 1810, married a Bridget Delanny, they emigrated to theUSA to Howard County , Md. and he died 12/14 1895 in Savage, Md. Iam attempting to fit the pieces together now that I am retired. I love your site and enjoy reading about anything Irish

    • admin says:

      Nice story Mary! Delanny is probably Delaney in Ireland. Head to the menu on the right side of this page that says “search by your surname”. Choose the surname O’Neill. I have added an explanation in one of the posts. You can add your own story there or ask further questions. All the best, Mike.

  • Raechel Coffey says:

    Can you add the surname Coffey, Gaelic “O’Cobhthaigh” to your list of names to research?

    Thanks, Raechel 🙂

    • Raechel Coffey says:

      For instance if you look at our family crest there is a nude man riding a dolphin at the top. I often wondered if we were related to the Scottish MacPhee clan who have said to be descended from a selkie.

    • admin says:

      Name added to list – very old Gaelic name from either West Cork, Galway or Meath/WestMeath 🙂

  • Sandra Clothier says:

    Yes, origin of names is fascinating. My married name Clothier was always believed to be French as handed down by my husband’s family; it turns out to be English per another family member who has done the genealogy

    My Irish ancestors are Martin,* Calannon, Cummings from ? Tipperary, *Horn, and *Nagle. *I have found very little information on these names.

    • admin says:

      Sandra – Nagle – and old Norman name found in County Cork (Nano Nagle was the founder of the Presentation Sisters nuns).
      Calannon – I think this may be Callinan? – from either counties Galway or Cork.
      Horn – Couuld be an old English name (you do hear it currently in England).

      Mike.

  • Denise Boisvenue says:

    My Irish surname is Campbell. I know that this name was MacCampbell when original. I do not know what county this comes from but have always been told I was Scot-Irish decent. Does anyone know. Thank you Denise

    • Mike says:

      Campbell has a few possibilities:

      1. From the Irish “Mac Cathmhaoil” – this is an Irish sept from Tyrone.

      2. Galloglass from the western isles of Scotland – came over after the 13th century mainly to County Donegal

      3. Scottish name from the Clan Campbell (from the Gaelic cam béal) – the name of many later Scottish planters in Ulster.

      So, the answer is – it depends 🙂 but if it was MacCampbell it could well be the county Tyrone. Mike.

  • Michelle Atchison says:

    We have the surname Atchison. Heard it was Scottish, then moved to Ireland and then back to Scotland. What do you know about Atchisons?

  • Mary Harder says:

    My mothers’ surname was Kenney my grandmothers’ was Long and My great grandmothers’ was Taaffe. I know the Taaffe name came to Ireland with the Normans possibly from Wales. It is the Kenney and Long surnames I have wondered what part of Ireland these names originate from.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Mary,
      Yep – your take on Taafe is spot on.

      Kenney – This spelling is sometimes an English name in Ireland. The Irish Ó Cionaith is usally anglicised as Kenny. This comes from a nummber of different septs – but mainly from the Galway Roscommon area.

      Long – now thats a mixed bag – can be Norman (de Long), English or Gaelic from the Irish Ó Lonaigh. There are a lot of these Gaelic Longs in the Cork area.

      Mike.

      • Mary Harder says:

        Thank You,
        I did have another name my 2nd great grandmothers maiden name was Lenehan. She was married to Mr. Long. Is this name also common in Cork? And is the name Elwood Scots-Irish?

        • Mike says:

          Hi Mary – yep – Long (Ó Loinsigh) is very common in Cork.

          Elwood is an AngloIrish name of English origin that you will find in County Mayo. Mike.

  • Sheila says:

    Am looking for any info on my maiden surname of BANKS, is it Welsh, Irish , or Scottish? I have been told it is each…can anyone please help me?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Sheila – when Banks comes from Ireland, it can be a planter name OR a version of the Gaelic name Ó Bruacháin from County Offaly. So – the best way to answer your question is to tell us where your folks came from – emigrated from – and which county ideally. All the best – Mike.

  • pam haus says:

    No requests at the moment, just a quick thank you for your hard work your wonderful website and for putting up with all of us that keep intimidating you with our questions.

  • William Miller says:

    Good morning Gentlemen, we are enjoying a rare rain here in Northern California. My grandfathers name was Conner, and aim told his grandfathers name was Ferguson O’Conner. I would love to know from whence he came, as my wife (Mary Alexandra Renshawnewton ) and I are planning a trip to Ireland next year for our 50th wedding anniversary. Thanks for your great letters. I look forward to them arriving. All the best, Bill

    • Mike says:

      Hi William – glad to hear you have some rain!

      O’Conner/O’Connor in Ireland can come from a number of distinct places as “Connor” was a common first name and was adopted as a surname by a large number of tribes/septs.

      These include:

      Galway/Roscommon
      Sligo
      Kerry
      Clare
      Offaly

      Mike.

  • Maribel says:

    Hello! I was wondering about the origins of my last name Ruiz. I’ve heard a lot of Spain, but Irish has also been in the mix. I keep getting told that I look Irish, but I have been having trouble tracing my roots. Thanks for all your help! Best, Maribel

  • Lorraine Scott says:

    My grandfather’so last name is Currant. He was born in Luton, Bedforshire. I’ve always been told that Currant is from Irish descent. Do you know anything about this name? Thanks so much. I love your website. And Happy New Year.

  • Rory Scott says:

    Why would the english give the name Scott to that border clan? You would think it would be because they were of a celtic/gael origin…it would be interesting to know if that clan spoke gallic….my surname is scott and we can only trace as far back as my great great grandfather who was from ireland and was catholic.

  • S. Scott says:

    My surname is Scott as well, from Ireland, famine era, and Catholic. I have had a heck of a time finding anything about the family in Ireland. If you read surname books, it talks about the gallowglass migrantsand Scott border clan, but the problem here is that the name shows up in Various areas of England in the medieval era, shows up in other countries as well as Schotte or Le Scotte or Scotti or whatever, and in these countries, let us take Schotte, that name was given to many Irish priests. One book said it was first recorded in the sixteenth century, but that also seems wrong, as a recent article on Scottish patriotism, which I wish I could find, lists the name being taken by an Ayrshire merchant who settled in Dublin in the late thirteenth century. I wish I could find the article, but I am sure I saw muster rolls for the name in Dublin, being soldiers stationed there from England, where the name could also be Scut, meaning wanderer, and thus, completely unrelated to Scotland. If you look at Gryffiths evaluation, the name is common in Ulster and Dublin, true, but found in every county. I highly doubt many of us are related, and I would like to find a DNA study for the name in Ireland to join. My ancestors with the name who came to America in the laTe 1840s were illiterate, and the census records only indicated Ireland as place of origin, found them in Catholic parish records, but nothing else. so yeah, DNA might be the only way for me to find a more specific origin in Ireland. Would love to know if such a study exists.

    • Rory Scott says:

      Have you tried tracking them down through the Irish Census? Especially if you know the name of the wife/children

  • Glenn Harris Watson says:

    my name is Glenn Harris Watson,my older brothers name is Bruce Norman Watson, my little sisters name is Sharon Dale Watson,my fathers name is Melvin Dale Watson and my grandfathers name is Harris Melvin Watson. my moms maiden name is Drake the Drakes of Ireland.My grandma (my moms mom) maiden name is Pierce. Watson – Protestant, Pierce -Catholic. mom & dad divorced when i was 2 years old. ya, Catholics got the last lic.cheers!

  • Tina says:

    We have lakey (maternal) and Dixon (paternal)

  • John Brown says:

    I don’t know why you Irish insist on branding all Highlanders as Irish since this idea is a complete fallacy. The Highlanders were made up of all sorts — mainly Picts (who were certainly not Irish but who, as far as I am concerned, more than any other ethnic group, define the Scots in appearance and character), Norwegians, French, etc. The Macleods are Norwegian, for example, and the Frasers French.

  • Sandra says:

    Where in Ireland does the name Griffin come from? This is my mother’s last name.

  • I am cooking for the place where John Ritchie has been born (1797). He was married to Margaret Nulty, had five children and moved in Québec (Canada) in 1847. My search has been vain up today. Many thanks to whoever can help me.

  • Ikaunic says:

    You never answered the topic!

  • Do my Gealogy my grandmothers parents names are Waugh and Schofield.
    Trying to find out if Schofield is Irish or Scottish.
    THANKSfor your time!

  • Christian says:

    I’ve always wondered about this. I know my last name is scandanavian, but never really understood where the break occurred since finley is irish and scottish and it has a million spellings. It’s like the Irish version of smith.

    Aside from getting a dna test or tracking down my relatives to see who has any information on the potato boat my ancestors came across in… is there a way I can find out more information on when my grandparents came across the Atlantic? I know generally where they might’ve landed and I know all maiden names up to my great great grandparents. Is there a public database with I migration records dating back that far?

  • Tammy says:

    Hello, I’m told we are of Scottish descent so I am wanting to do more research. Problem is, I’m not sure which side of my parents it comes from in order to know which path to take. Could you tell me how to get started on the right path? Thank you!

  • Loretta Magee Schnittker says:

    Thanks! My mom is a Scott and her family hails from Cork.

  • Mike+Collins says:

    Thanks for sharing with us on The Letter!

  • Braden says:

    Hi I was wondering if my family name is Welsh or more Irish.My family name is “Maltos” I was asking because I am Welsh and Galway Irish I hope you’ll respond

  • JL says:

    Last name McDaniel ? Would like some information.

  • Denise says:

    My Grand-dad was told his mother Mary Fury came from Mayo but I cannot trace her.

  • Henry West says:

    Just wondered if my surname is irish and if so do i have ancestory there. Thanks

  • Carol Mack says:

    My last name is Mack. My family of course is divided. I remember my Grandfather saying that he was a Scott. Not Irish. My cousins all say Mack is Irish. I think it is Scottish. Could you give me any insight?.

  • Michelle Brooks says:

    My last name is Brooks
    I read just a lol about my family’s tree in the past.saw their coat of arms& I’m so happy I truly belong somewhere! I’d love to know more about them.could u tell me?

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