Published: 3rd December 2019, last updated: 14th September 2023
Would you recognise a Scottish name when you saw one?
Or perhaps more aptly, would you be able to pronounce any Scottish names if you saw them? Maybe you are interested to find out more about the history and heritage of some of the more unusual names, or maybe you are looking for inspiration for what to name your wee sprog on the way, especially if they have a Scottish connection! Then we’ve got you covered here!
All across Scotland, from Northern most Dunnet head, all the way down to the most Southern Mull of Galloway, Scottish names are widely used and really capture the spirit of Scottish heritage. But now, their usage is becoming more widespread, namely thanks to television, movies and books, with more and more Scottish names becoming popular throughout the rest of the UK and even around the world.
Popular Scottish Names
A sleeping ‘Bairn’ – the Scottish name for a child
Some names of Scottish origin have become so widely used that you may not even have realised where they hail from. And then there are the classic Scottish names that have filtered out, the old-time favourites, those names that you have heard for decades and can instantly picture the kilt.
Here we have gathered together 10 of the best and most mainstream Scottish names and their meaning for you to get started:
CRAIG – Originally a Scottish surname, derived from the Gaelic word ‘creag’ meaning crag or rocks, this name used to be given to a man who lived near a crag.
DONALD – Popular all around the English-speaking world and inspired by the Gaelic name Domhnall which means ‘ruler of the world’, this was the name of two 9th-century kings of the Scots and Picts.
FRASER – This name has been taken from the Scottish surname, of which the origin is actually unknown. Some take it to mean ‘strawberry’ from the French word ‘fraisiers’, for strawberry plants, as their clan lands in Neidpath were abundant with strawberries. But although the Frasers adopted the strawberry on their coat of arms, the accuracy of this story is widely disputed.
IONA – Old Norse in origin and taken from the name of the island off of Scotland, where Saint Columba founded a monastery.
ISLA – Taken from the name of the Island of Islay, which lies off of the west coast of Scotland, and is believed to literally mean ‘Island’
KEITH – Used as a given name since the 19th century, but originally a Scottish surname which was derived from a place name. This was also the surname of a very long line of Scottish nobles.
MALCOLM – This classic came from the Scottish Gaelic ‘Máel Coluim’, which means ‘disciple of Saint Columba’. It was the name of four great kings of Scotland starting from the 10th century.
NEIL – Another name you may not have even realised was Scottish, Neil hails from the Gaelic name Niall, which is could mean ‘champion’ or ‘cloud’, depending upon who you speak to.
SCOTT – First a surname, then a given name, used as literally as it sounds, given to a person who either came from Scotland or spoke Scottish Gaelic.
STUART – Arose in popularity in 19th century Scotland, from an occupational surname which originally belonged to a person who was a steward.
Gaelic is a Celtic language, spoken mainly in the Highlands and Islands of Western Scotland. As you can see from the popular names we have touched on already, it has inspired many names that are used across the English language today. Some of these names have a more English sounding translation which is used more commonly, but some of my most favourite and the most beautiful Scottish names are the authentically Gaelic ones. As long as you can figure out how to spell them!
Although Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic both came from the same source, they are distinctly different from each other. There’s some dispute about whether they are two different dialects of the same language, or whether they are in fact different languages altogether, but they sound very different. Each nation has its own vocabulary and dialect.
Some of the still popular, and some less common, Gaelic names found in use across Scotland today are:
Gaelic Girls Names:
CATRIONA – Still a very popular choice today, Catriona is the Gaelic form of KATHERINE.
EILIDH -Long popular in Scotland, and I think the only one of our Gaelic names to have made it into the top 20 Baby names of 2018 (see Baby Names section further down the page) this attractive name is widely considered to be the Gaelic version of Helen. Pronounced AY-lee.
LIÙSAIDH – An enchanting girl’s name, Liùsaidh is the Scots Gaelic alternative for the Italian name Lucia, which means elegant, graceful, shining light. Pronounced LOO-sai.
MAIREAD – One of my all-time favourite names. Scottish form of MARGARET.
MALVINA – Created by the poet James MacPherson in the 18th century for a character in his Ossian poems. He probably intended it to mean “smooth brow” in Gaelic
MORAG -This is one of my favourite traditional female names. The Gaelic meaning of Mòrag is great and sun. However, it is also known to be a Scottish version of Sarah, which means princess.
OIGHRIG – Means “new speckled one” in Scottish Gaelic. Sometimes shortened to Effie.
RHONA – Possibly derived from the name of the Hebridean island Rona, which means “rough island” in Gaelic.
SORCHA – With a lovely meaning of light, bright and radiant, the girls name Sorcha can be found across both Scotland and Ireland. It originates from the Gaelic word for ‘brightness’ and it also has ties with the name Clara. Pronunciation SOR-ka
Gaelic Boys Names
BEATHAN – While whisky or ‘the water of life’ in Scots Gaelic is uisge-beatha, the name Beathan simply means life. Pronounced BAEy-un, it is definitely one of the more unusual names.
BLAIR – From a Scottish surname that is derived from Gaelic blár meaning “plain, field, battlefield”.
CINÁED – Means “born of fire” in Gaelic. This was the name of the first king of the Scots and Picts (9th century).
COINNEACH – Although perhaps more recognised for its anglicised form as Kenneth, Coinneach translates as ‘handsome’, and is stemming from the Gaelic word caoin. Pronounced CON-ak, it is also popular in Ireland.
ERSKINE – From a surname that was originally derived from the name of a Scottish town meaning “projecting height” in Gaelic.
FINGAL – From the Scottish Gaelic Fionnghall meaning “white stranger”, derived from fionn “white, fair” and gall “stranger”. This was the name of the hero in James Macpherson’s epic poem Fingal (1762), which he claimed to have based on early Gaelic legends about Fionn mac Cumhail.
GILCHRIST – Derived from the Gaelic phrase giolla Chríost meaning “servant of Christ”.
LACHLANN – An lovely sounding nod to Scotland’s mystical loch’s. Lachlan is a boys name meaning ‘land of the lochs’. Pronounced LACK-lan, it also has roots as a Scots nickname for somebody who comes from Norway.
RUADH – Gaelic byname meaning “red”, often a nickname for one with red hair. This was the nickname of the Scottish outlaw Raibeart Ruadh MacGregor (1671-1734), known as Rob Roy in English.
ÙISDEAN – Pronounced OOSH-jun, this boys Scottish Gaelic name has roots in the Old Norse name Eysteinn, which roughly translates to something like ‘eternal island stone’.
Scottish Girls Names
There are lots more Scottish names, with long lasting roots, some which have become mainstream popular and some which haven’t, which are worth mentioning. The origins of Scottish girls names are too varied to possibly list them all, but they often used to stem from what clan you belonged to, what you looked like, or where you lived near. Other names were once nicknames that have developed into real names. There has definitely been a growing trend over recent years to give girls in Scotland much more attractive-sounding names.
So we have rounded up a handful of what are, without a doubt, the most wonderful on the ear girls’ names!
AILSA – This name is pronounced the same way as Elsa, and is a tried and true Scots name, with Viking origins. It refers to the volcanic island and gannet colony, Ailsa Craig, that emerges out of the Firth of Clyde and means ‘supernatural victory’.
ARABELLA – With it’s origins in Scotland dating back to Medieval times, the name Arabella has developed a long and fruitful history and has been popular for centuries. The name is said to be derived from the way the Scottish pronounced the name ‘Annabel’.
BONNIE – A quintessential Scottish name that will never go out of fashion, Bonnie is the Scots word for beautiful, pretty, stunning and attractive.
SENGA – The backwards spelling of Agnes, Senga is a traditional Scottish name that means pure and chaste. It has faded in popularity over recent years, making it all the more unique.
SKYE – Now this is one that is currently popular all around the world! Taken from the Isle of Skye, one of Scotland’s most magical paradise islands. A name which is suited to adventurers and strong characters.
Scottish Boys Names
When it comes to Boys names, Scotland has plenty of brave, creative and inventive names to choose from. Like these top picks of ours:
ALASDAIR – Of Scottish Gaelic origin meaning “defending men”, perhaps more recognisable with the Alistair spelling.
BRODIE – Brodie is a place in Moray, Scotland, but the name could have originally been taken from the Gaelic for “little ridge.
DUNCAN – This is one of the most classic Scottish names meaning”dark warrior”. This Scottish royal name is brimming with friendly charm is neither too popular nor too strange.
FINLAY – This very popular name comes from FIONNLAGH, which means “white warrior.” It can in fact be used for boys and girls, although the boy seems to be more common.
FERGUS – The name Fergus is a boy’s name of Scottish origin meaning “man of force”.
HAMISH – You don’t get much more Scottish than Hamish. A classic name option still going strong today, this charming pick is the Scots version of James. Hamish means supplanter and Highlander.
KENNETH – Also known as Kenny or Ken. The first King of Scotland, means “born of fire, handsome”.
PADEN – The boys name Paden originated in Scotland and translates to ‘royal’. A very cool boys name, this one is the perfect pick for parents wanting a super original name, but still with Scottish ties.
RORY – This name is in fact of both medieval Irish and Scottish origin, and is a form of the Gaelic “red-haired king”. In Scotland, Ruairidh is the more traditional spelling, although it is pronounced the same.
Scottish Last Names
Much like the rest of the UK, the people of Scotland didn’t really use last names until they were introduced by the Normans in 1066. Many Scottish last names were taken from Gaelic personal names. The surnames recorded from this time period are for the most part very similar in origin to those found in England at around the same date, mostly consisting of local place names and occupational names, and nicknames, as well as patronymic names, meaning based on the Father’s name or occupation. Some of the local surnames with the roll are derived from places within Scotland
What does Mac/Mc mean in Scottish names?
Mc is just an abbreviation of Mac, and both can actually also be abbreviated further to the much less common M’. Both are generally understood to mean ‘son of’, as in Mr MACDONALD was first called so because he was the son of Donald. But in fact the direct translation does not include an ‘of’ MAC is just the Gaelic form of a son.
The idea that ‘Mac’ names originate form Scotland and ‘Mc’ names from Ireland is bandied around a lot, but is in fact a myth.
What are the current most popular Scottish surnames?
See below, for the 20 most popular Scottish surnames, along with the percentage of people named each one in Scotland, as well as where the name originated from.
Smith (1.28%) (occupational name)
Brown (0.94%) (nickname)
Wilson (0.89%) (patronym)
Robertson (0.78%) (patronym)
Thomson (0.78%) (patronym)
Campbell (0.77%) (nickname)
Stewart (0.73%) (occupational name)
Anderson (0.70%) (patronym)
Scott (0.55%) (ethnic name)
Murray (0.53%) (territorial name)
MacDonald (0.52%) (patronym)
Reid (0.52%) (nickname)
Taylor (0.49%) (occupational name)
Clark (0.47%) (occupational name)
Ross (0.43%) (territorial name)
Young (0.42%) (nickname)
Mitchell (0.41%) (patronym; nickname)
Watson (0.41%) (patronym)
Paterson (0.40%) (patronym)
Morrison (0.40%) (patronym)
Mountain View Nature Reserve where plots can be brought from Highland Titles
As well as Scottish names, I feel like we should touch on Scottish Titles. Scottish peerages pass down from father to son. If there is no son born, then the title would instead pass to the eldest daughter. Unlike other British peerages, the title can be passed on to or through someone who was not legitimised at birth, provided that his or her parents later married.
The ranks of the Scottish Peerage are as follows: Duke, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Lord of Parliament (lord baron).
Then we have a Laird which is a generic name for the owner of a large, long-established Scottish estate, roughly equivalent to an esquire in England, yet ranking above the same in Scotland. Highland Titles gives you the opportunity to purchase your own souvenir plot of land in one of our gorgeous conservation sites, and style yourself as Laird of the Glen!