Map Reveals Scots Modern-Day Surnames

The Uncertainty of Identity project maps Great Britain’s most popular surnames by area.

The Uncertainty of Identity project maps Great Britain’s most popular surnames by area.

A map of Great Britain’s most popular surnames shows the dominance that clan areas still hold in Scotland, while other areas show the effects of modern-day immigration. Created by experts from three English Universities, Uncertainty of Identity uses surnames listed on the electoral roll to find the three most popular names in each electoral ward.

Mackay and Sutherland are the most popular names in the North Highlands, echoing the ancient territories and stronghold of the clans. Mackenzie, Fraser and Ross are the most popular in the area North of Inverness, while MacLeod and MacDonald dominate the Western Isles – data that directly corresponds with clan territory maps.

In the Northern Isles Halcrow, Drever and Flett survive as the third most common surnames, while Shetland still boasts a diverse mix of Spences, Rendalls and Sinclairs. Carole Hough, professor of onomastics – the study of name origins – at Glasgow University, said the surnames of Orkney and Shetland differ from much of mainland Scotland due to naming traditions.

“Shetland and Orkney are unique in that they have a much higher proportion of surnames from local place names, which makes them quite distinctive. Place names tend to cluster around their 
origin, which is surprising 
given how mobile people are,” she added

The English derived surname Smith is the most dominant across the whole of Great Britain with a considerable stronghold in the lowlands and east of Scotland. Modern-day immigration shows in areas such a Glasgow’s Pollokshield’s East, with Ahmed, Ali and Singh popular surnames. Jones, Davies and Williams dominate in Wales.

Looking to the future, a resurgence in the popularity of traditional Scottish forenames in recent years is likely to combat Anglicisation, said Hough.

“Far more Gaelic and Celtic-derived personal names are being chosen by parents in Scotland, which can be a way of affirming national identity,” she says. “Gaelic-derived forenames that are in the top 100 names in Scotland at the moment include Aiden, Callum and Finlay. Cameron is originally a clan name, and Lewis, Evan and Isla are all place names.”


You can view a map of Scotland’s most popular surnames at Tartan Footprint.


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13 thoughts on “Map Reveals Scots Modern-Day Surnames

  1. Jonathan Malm

    according to my grand mother some of my ancestors moved from Scotland to Finland in the early-mid 1700 but i do not know much else than that. it would be really helpful if someone could lead me to other sites and such where i can find out more of stuff like this.

  2. Patricia Sturdy

    Family lore is that we were MacDonalds in Scotland, but chased out. Many family members moved to York and took the name Sturdy.

  3. Jake McKenzie

    MacKenzie surely would be all Over this map, did a drunk MacDonald and a drunk McLeod make this nonsense up??

    • Amanda Moffet

      Doesn’t appear on the most popular names map. The Douglas Clan are from Lanarkshire, Galloway, Dumfriesshire, and Angus. Looks like Brown is the most popular surname in this area now.


    Hi my name is Samantha Ross, I am one of 4, my mother is a Tammy Ross, my 2 uncle’s are Thomas Ross and Andrew Ross,, and my grandfather was called Thomas Ross, so was his grandfather and so on as anyone can ever remember, my grandfather was from Scotland and had a home up there where as we were all born in london. Our whole lives we have been told we have links to the Scottish clan Ross, and I was just wondering if there was anyway I could go about to try and know the truth. I’d love to be able to find some sort of link. Thank you

  5. Johan Mason

    My fathers name was John Alexander Miller. His father was Murdoch and his mother was Johan McKay, they lived in Caithness when married. She passed at an early age and he in 1940’s. we have been told his clan was Grant . I would love to know any family background that is available. Thank you.

  6. Nancy Caldwell (Marsh) Sanderson

    My mother’s great-grandfather (Alexander Caldwell) came to the USA on the Barque Onyx from Londonderry, Ireland, landing in Philadelphia on 10 Aug 1838. The family celebrates its Scottish heritage as it is believed that he was born @1807 in Scotland. My mother was always told that our family was part of Clan Fraser and was entitled to wear the Fraser plaid.

    We would love more information regarding our Scottish history and whether we can indeed claim the right to wear the Fraser plaid.


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