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Book Review - The Scottish Surnames of Colonial America, David Dobson

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

What’s it about

Finding one’s forebears in Scotland can be a daunting task; therefore, researchers whose Scots ancestors came to colonial America must sometimes fall back on whatever clues are at hand. For example, knowledge of Scottish surnames can sometimes lead the genealogist to the clan from which his/her North American ancestor is descended. In this book genealogist David Dobson has compiled a list of Scottish surnames of the estimated 150,000 Scots who settled in the America colonies. Many of the same surnames, of course, apply to the even greater number of Scots-Irish colonists whose forebears had originated in Scotland before re-settling in the province of Ulster.

The Scottish Surnames of Colonial America attempts to identify Scottish names, provide explanations of their meaning & significance, give examples, and where applicable, name the clan to which the family is linked. Consider the following illustrations. Adam Dryden immigrated to Georgia in 1774; the name “Dryden” is derived from two places in southeast Scotland & it has been in use since the late 13th century. Similarly, Charles MacLatchie settled in East Florida by 1774 & Robert McLatchie was working as a schoolmaster in Savannah before 1766. Since the name McLatchie, which means “son of the servant of Eidich,” was found mostly in Ayrshire after the 15th century, McLatchie descendants may wish to comb through parish registers for Ayrshire (just as Dryden descendants could do the same for southeast Scotland) in the absence of other links from their colonial forebear in Scotland.

Our Review

Discussions with many of my American followers & clients often leads onto the origins of their surname. In many of them is a burning desire to connect with their Scottish Roots, however many are unaware of the origins of surnames & assume that if someone has the same surname as you then you must be related.

I take my hat off to David as his 3-page introduction sums up these origins extremely well, I would highly recommend that anyone confused about the origins or meanings of surnames read this guide!

Scottish surnames begun in the 12th Century following the Norman invasion & are derived from place names, patronymic names, descriptive names & occupational names.

In this 151-page book published in 2003 David Dobson identifies approx. 1000 Scottish surnames & their derivatives & makes mention of one or more Scottish Americans before 1776 who bore that surname.

To give you a feel for the kinds of entries you might expect I have provided a few examples: -

ADAIR Possibly a variation of Edgar. Most of the early examples come from Galloway and date from the fourteenth century. Patrick Adair & his family, from Wigtownshire, emigrated to New York in 1774

CRAWFORD Territorial taken from the barony of Crawford in Lanarkshire, used as a surname since the twelfth century. Patrick Crawford, was a merchant in New York, 1699. Revered Thomas Crawford was in Delaware by 1709 & James Crawford emigrated from Larne to Charleston in 1773. The Crawford’s are linked with the Lindsay’s.

MACTAVISH Originally a Gaelic surname ‘Mac Tamhais’ which means ‘son of Thomas’ a surname found in Argyll since the fourteenth century. Donald MacTavish was banished to the American colonies in 1755. Clan Campbell

WALES Probably a variant of Wallace. Margaret Wales, from Dundee, emigrated to Maryland in 1684.

If you are unsure of the meaning or origins of your own surname then this book is for you. There is also the possibility that you may even find details of your own Ancestor who moved to the US.

If you live in the U.S. you can purchase this book via

Outside of the U.S. you can purchase it via The Book Depository


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