A primer on Scottish names

I hadn’t planned to cover Scottish names in this ongoing, intermittent series, but then I remembered my brave Lazarus von Hinderburg is adopted by a family who fled to Scotland from Germany. He joins them in the spring of 1946, when he’s fifteen, and means more to them than a baby or small child. A very young orphan has a much greater chance of getting adopted quickly and easily, whereas a teenage boy is often out of luck. With his addition to the Traugott household in Glasgow, they have six children, three of each.

Lazarus and the Traugotts usually attend the Garnethill Synagogue of Glasgow, located in a beautiful Victorian building, but sometimes they stay by friends in Edinburgh and attend the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation. Since he’s already missed years of school, he feels like it’d be an absolute waste and pointless if he up and resumed his education after so many years. Only his gradual progress in English, taught to him by the Traugotts, cheers him up and makes him feel like he’s not such a moron after all.

Lazarus doesn’t stay with the Traugotts or even in Scotland very long, but he never forgets them. Particularly priceless is the tallit his adoptive father gave him, to replace the one he would’ve gotten from his blood father.


The vast majority of Scottish surnames are patronymical, with the familiar Mac prefix. Sometimes the suffix -ach is used. In the case of a matronymical surname, Nic is used, derived from nighean mhic (“the daughter of the son of”). However, some surnames have origins in geography, profession, and appearance.

In comparison to many other cultures, there are relatively fewer Scottish forenames and surnames. It seems only logical, given how small their country is. As a result of this onomastic dearth, and the resulting frequency of identical names, official names are rarely used. Instead, people are known by their first names followed by epithet (e.g., Caitrìona na h-Aonar [Catriona on her own], Ailean Còcaire [Allan the cook]). It’s also common to refer to men by a forename followed by the genitive form of the father’s name (e.g., Seumas Nèill), and to passively identify women with the title Bean (Wife), followed by the above form of address. The whole Mrs. Husband’s Full Name thing has always been like nails on a chalkboard to me!

Sources of names:

Scottish names are of five major origins—Goidelic, Latin, Anglo–Norman, Scots, and Norse. This is what happens when a nation not only has extended contact with other peoples, but is subjugated by said peoples. Goidelic refers to the insular Celtic languages, which arose in the British Isles as opposed to the extinct Continental Celtic languages.

Alphabet and pronunciation:

Scottish Gaelic is very similar to the Irish and Manx languages, and more distantly related to Welsh, Breton, and Cornish. It uses the Roman alphabet, minus the letters J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z. These letters only appear in foreign loanwords and names. Accent grave (à, è, ì, ò, ù) indicates a longer version of the vowel. C is always pronounced like a K, and CH is the guttural sound found in words like loch and Chanukah.

Like Irish, they have some letter combinations which can look rather confusing at first—BH (V), GH (guttural, not rolled R), TH (H), DH (usually like GH), MH (usually like BH), SH (usually like TH), FH (only pronounced in three words, as H), and a whole slew of vowel clusters.

Some common Scottish names and their nickname forms:


Aifric (Pleasant)
Aileas (Alice)
Aileen (possible form of Helen)
Beathag (Life)
Beitris (Beatrice)
Cairistìona (Christina)
Caitrìona, Catriona (Katherine)
Caoimhe (KEE-va) (Beautiful, kind, gentle)
Deòiridh (Pilgrim)
Ealasaid, Elspeth, Elspet (Elizabeth)
Eilionoir (Eilidh) (Eleanor)
Eimhir (Swift)
Eithne (Kernel)
Fionnghuala, Fionola, Finola, Finella (White shoulder)
Frangag (Frances)
Gormlaith (Blue/illustrious princes)
Griselda, Grizel
Iseabail, Ishbel, Isobel (Beileag)
Lileas, Lilias, Lillias
Liùsaidh (Lucia)
Maighread, Mairead (Maisie, Peigi) (Margaret)
Màiri, Mhairi (Mary)
Marsaili (Marjorie, Marcella)
Maura, Moira, Moyra
Mór (Morag) (Great)
Morven (Big gap)
Oighrig (New speckled one)
Raghnaid (Battle advice)
Rhona (Rough island)
Senga (Slender)
Seonag, Seona, Shona, Sheona (Seònaid) (Joan)
Sìleas (Cecilia)
Sìne (Teasag) (Jeanne)
Sìneag (Jeannette)
Slàine (Health)
Sorcha (Radiant)
Teàrlag (Instigator)


Ailpein, Alpin (White)
Aindrea (Dand) (Andrew)
Alasdair, Alastair, Alister (Ally) (Alexander)
Allan, Allen, Alan
Amhlaidh, Aulay (Olaf)
Aodh (Aodhagán, Iagan) (Fire)
Aodhán, Edan, Aidan (a name I like a lot less since its sudden explosion in popularity!)
Aonghas, Aonghus, Angus, Innes (Gus)
Archibald (Archie)
Artair (Arthur)
Beathan (Life)
Bhaltair (Walter)
Cailean, Colin (Young dog)
Cairbre, Carbrey, Carbry (Charioteer)
Calum, Callum
Cameron (Crooked nose)
Campbell (Crooked mouth)
Cináed (Born of fire)
Coinneach, Kenneth (Kenny) (Handsome)
Conall (Strong wolf)
Cormag (Son of a raven or Son of a wheel)
Dàibhidh, David (Davie)
Deòrsa, Seòras (George)
Diarmad, Dermid (Without envy)
Domhnall, Domnall, Donald
Donnchad, Donnchadh, Duncan (Brown warrior)
Dubhghall, Dougal, Dugald (Dark stranger)
Dubhghlas, Douglas (Dark river)
Duff (Dark)
Eachann (Brown horse)
Ealair, Ellar (Hilary)
Eanraig, Hendry (Henry)
Eideard (Edward)
Eoghan, Euan, Ewan, Ewen (Either means “Born by the yew tree” or is a form of Eugene)
Eoin, Iain, Ian (John)
Erskine (Projecting height)
Fearchar, Farquhar (Dear man)
Fearghas, Fergus (Man of vigor)
Fife, Fyfe (The name of a kingdom in Scotland)
Filib (Philip)
Fionnghall, Fingal, Fingall (White stranger)
Fionnlaagh, Findlay, Finlay, Finley (White warrior)
Fionntan (White fire or White bull)
Frang (Francis)
Fraser, Frazier
Gilchrist (Servant of Christ)
Gillespie (Servant of the bishop)
Gilroy (Son of the redhaired servant or Son of the king’s servant)
Glenn, Glen (Valley)
Goraidh (Godfrey)
Graham, Grahame, Graeme (properly pronounced with two syllables, contrary to the “Gram” pronunciation most Americans use)
Griogair, Gregor (Greig)
Hector (Heckie, Heck)
Iomhar (Ivor)
Irving, Irvine
Jock, Seoc (Jockie, Jocky) (Jack)
Kentigern (Chief lord)
Kerr (Rough wet ground)
Kester (Christopher)
Labhrainn (Laurence)
Lachlan, Lauchlan (Lachie, Lockie)
Lennon (Lover)
Lennox, Lenox (Place of elms)
Lindsey, Lindsay
Máel Coluim, Malcolm (Disciple of St. Columba)
Maoilios (Servant of Jesus)
Mìcheal, Micheil
Monroe, Munro
Muir (Sea, Moor)
Muireadhach, Murchadh, Murdo (Lord)
Mungo (Gentle, kind)
Murray, Moray
Naoise (NEE-sha)
Naomhán, Niven (NEE-van) (Little saint)
Neacel (Nicholas)
Neil, Niall
Pàdraig (Patrick)
Pàl, Pòl
Peadar (Peter)
Raghnall, Ranald (Ruler’s advice)
Raibeart (Rab, Rabbie) (Robert)
Ramsay (Wild garlic island)
Ranulf, Ranulph
Roderick (Famous power)
Ruadh (Red)
Ruairidh, Ruaraidh, Ruaridh, Ruairi, Rory (Red king)
Sachairi (Zachary)
Sawney (Sandy)
Scott (Scottie, Scotty)
Seaghdh, Shaw (Admirable or hawk-like)
Seòsaidh (Joseph)
Seumas, Hamish (James)
Sìoltach, Sholto (Sower)
Somhairle, Somerled, Sorley (Summer traveller)
Steafan, Steaphan (Steenie)
Stewart, Stuart
Suibhne (Well-going)
Tadg, Teague
Tàmhas, Tòmas, Tavish (Tam)
Tasgall, Taskill (God’s helmet)
Teàrlach (Charles)
Torcuil, Torquil (Thor’s cauldron)
Ualan (Valentine)
Uilleam (William)
Ùisdean (Stone of good fortune)

3 thoughts on “A primer on Scottish names

Share your thoughts respectfully

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s