Scottish Naming conventions in the 18th - 19th century

In the 18th and 19th centuries families tended to name their children in a specific pattern, which can give some guidance to family names. It was also common for the wife`s maiden surname to be used as a second christian name of some if not all children. This can be a valuable guide when the wife`s name is otherwise unknown.


First-born Son Father's father
Second-born Son Mother's father
Third-born Son Father
Fourth-born Son Father's eldest brother
Fifth-born Son Father's 2nd oldest brother or
Mother's oldest brother


First-born Daughter Mother's mother
Second-born Daughter Father's mother
Third-born Daughter Mother
Fourth-born Daughter Mother's eldest sister
Fifth-born Daughter Mother's 2nd oldest sister or Father's oldest sister

In some cases you will find that the order is reversed with the first and second children, i.e. the First-born son being named after the Mothers father and the Second-born son after the Father's father. If this is the case then the daughters are also usually reversed.

It sometimes happens for some special reason such as repaying kindness, that a close friends` surname might be given to a child as a second christian name; in such cases they might also have been the witnesses at marriage or christenings. Remember, too, that witnesses are likely to be relatives, often sisters and aunts, signing under their married name.

Top ten Christian names

This analysis is derived from my Scottish database holding 15212 names at the date of sampling. The count of names includes variant spellings eg Isbel, Isabel, Isabella, Isobel etc. are all under Isabel. These are mainly names occurring between ca 1600 1900.

Male                                          Female

John           10.73%                   Margaret        7.82%

James        10.05                      Janet              6.35

William        8.40                        Agnes            4.83

Robert         5.46                       Mary               4.78

Thomas       3.57                       Elizabeth        3.56

Alexander    2.11                       Jean               3.34

David           1.63                        Ann               2.49

Andrew        1.10                        Isabel            2.22

Hugh            0.91                       Jane              1.95

George        0.91                        Marian           1.30



Orr Name Study Ulster Scots Reference material