Online map shows Scots areas where names in decline

The English-derived Smith holds sway in a huge swathe of Scotland from the Moray coast down to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
The English-derived Smith holds sway in a huge swathe of Scotland from the Moray coast down to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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The first online map of Scotland’s most popular surnames shows that certain families retain their historical dominance in some areas, while others have been overtaken by names originating from the south.

Compiled by experts from University College London, the map splits Scotland into wards and lists the three most common surnames in each area.

The English-derived Smith holds sway in a huge swathe of Scotland from the Moray coast down to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Brown holds the number two spot in many areas while Wilson, Robertson and Thompson are also among the most popular surnames.

The data reveals bigger changes, however, when individual wards are examined. In Glasgow’s Pollokshield’s East, Ahmed, Ali and Singh are now popular surnames, showing how immigration is affecting Scots communities.

Traditional names – many grounded in Scotland’s clans – still dominate many areas. In the south-east, Wilson was the most common surname along the Solway Firth coast, while Robertson had a high concentration in the centre of the country.

The Mackay stronghold remains the Highlands north of Inverness, with Ross, the Mackenzie and Fraser to the immediate south. Campbell still predominates in their traditional heartlands in Argyll. Stewart remains particularly prominent in Stirling, Perth and Kinross. Gaelic-speaking strongholds in the north-west and the islands are still home to many Mackays, Macleods and Macdonalds, while the Borders are populated with Scotts, proving little has changed since medieval Border clans first adopted the moniker.

Alistair Leak, who along with Dr Muhammad Adnan of University College London constructed the map, said: “Name-wise Scotland becomes very independent from England, with the exception of the border area where there is more of a mix of people from universities and businesses.”

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. Onomastician Patrick Hanks said modern attitudes to adopting surnames may lead to a “melting pot” of cultures within Scotland, particularly around the cities.

“The reasons for particular surnames flourishing in specific areas is because people move around and are having fewer male marrying children,” he said.

“Gradually, the historical associations of names with places are becoming less prominent, and we’re having to account for immigrant names such as Singh.”

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.”

Frank Dixon, statistician for the National Records of Scotland, which compiles the top 100 baby names, says that whilst Jack and Sophie are the most popular forenames, middle names are increasingly being used to showcase a sense of national identity.

• The online map can be found at {||site