Old Jura Surnames
From 'Jura' An Island of Argyll '
by The Rev. Donald Budge
Family names or surnames are of comparatively recent
origin. When people travelled little or not at all, when they
scarcely ever left the confines of their native ground, there
was little need for surnames. People were known by their patronymics,
such as ' John, son of James, son of Angus, which in Gaelic would
be ' Iain, mac Sheumuis, mac Aonghais'. It was only when travel
became more easy and more common that surnames were found to be
necessary, or when people moved among strangers.
Family surnames began to be used about the year
1000 and their use found way into Scotland about a hundred years
later. This was made necessary by the in-coming of settlers from
England, France and elsewhere. It was not until long after this
that the use of surnames became at all general. In purely Gaelic-speaking
areas and especially in places like the Western Isles, where there
was little commerce with other parts, and very few cases of settlement
by outsiders, surnames were not generally used until a few hundred
years ago. The people of each territory were known by the name
borne by the chief of the clan, and they used when necessary the
clan name, although not even the chiefs had surnames. They were
usually known by the name of some illustrious former chief or
founder of the clan, such as Mac-Donald, or Mac-Leod.
In the Highlands, even after surnames were adopted,
the Gaelic patronymic was also used, especially in Gaelic speech.
In Jura we find very good and very late examples of this. Until
the beginning of the seventeenth century South Jura was Clan Donald
territory, the people belonged to that clan and were loyal to
their chieftain. Later, on the forfeiture of Clan Donald and the
taking over of their territory by the Campbells, surnames were
found necessary and even a change of name advisable, so that we
find the adoption of original surnames for the first time.
With regards to surnames there are different kinds,
as for example, territorial, occupational, descriptive and patronymic.
In Jura the patronymic largely predominates, with the result that
we find ' Macs ' of nearly every clan. Occupational surnames are
not as numerous, but we find a few such as, Clark, Fletcher, and
Shaw. In the descriptive category we find a few such as Buie,
Black, and others; while the very scarcity of surnames of the
territorial variety is proof of how indigenous to their island
and neighbourhood the inhabitants of Jura are. In few places will
there be found so many families bearing names with so long a history,
stretching back into the mists of antiquity, and yet still extant
in the land of their forefathers. Thomas Pennant wrote in his
' Tour' with regard to Jura, ' the very old clan names are Mac
ilvuys ( Mac-ille-bhuidh ) and the Mac raines '.( MaCrain, ' the
son of the pig ' a long lived Jura family ). Next in antiquity
to these would come Clark, Black and Darroch.
The people of that name are still called ' Mac-ille dhuibh ' meaning
' son of the black or black haired lad’.
This name is from the Gaelc ' buidhe ' meaning ' yellow. ' ' Mac-ille
bhuidhe ' being ' the son of the yellow or yellow haired lad ',
the anglicised version being ' Buie '.
Darroch is an early Jura surname. To begin with it was ' Mac ille
raibhaich ' and was later anglicised to Darroch. The connection
is not simple and the following are the explanations given locally
and elsewhere. At the time when the people were altering their
names, and it was wiser not to have a Macdonald name, a Jura Mac
il'riach was walking home aided by his stout oak walking stick, when
he suddenly stopped and said, ' is darach mo bhat agus is darach
mi fhein '. ( Oak is my stick and from now on oak will be my name
- literally, myself ). The other explanation is in connection
with the Gaelic meaning of the old form ' Mac il'riach , the son
of the gray or grizzled lad ', it having been in some cases '
Mac il'an dath riabhach ', son of the lad of the gray or grizzled
colour, and so becoming ' Dath riabhach ' or Darroch. It would
be amusing if after these far fetched explanations it turned out
to be simply that of ' Durach ' meaning the man of Jura or ' Dura
', and becoming Darroch by the simple and not unlikely changing
of a vowel and the adding of an extra 'r'.
Later in the same book,
' Jura ', Mr. Budge in relating a story of clan feuds from
' Clan Gillean ' ( Clan Maclean ) says:
Ailean nam Sop or Allan of Gigha,,
Tarbert and Torloisk left two natural sons, Hector and John,
both of whom were legitimated on 3rd of August 1547. Hector
succeeded to his father's estates. John settled in Jura,
and was known as Iain Diurach or John of Jura.
It is possible that the Darroch name was in Kintyre before it
was in Jura. In that case a
man from Jura could have been ' the Durach '. The ancient spelling
of Jura was Dura.
A person in Jura would not be called ' Durach ' because they all
were ' Durachs '.
During the civil wars of the 1600's many people left Kintyre for
Ireland and elsewhere.
I called upon Captain Graham Donald, an historian of Port Charlotte
in Islay, who calls
himself ' Domhnull Gruamach ', Donald the Grim, to see what he
thought of this theory.
He was very emphatic in denying the possibility. He said, ' your
name ( Darroch ) is one
of the oldest names in Celtic history. It goes back to pre-historic
times when the Druids
worshipped the oak tree with its acorns as the source of life.
'. That may be true but it still
does not explain how it became a surname in Argyll about 1400
A.D. when most of the
males were called in this fashion, John son of James, son of Angus,
and why it has
retained its original spelling, at least in Scotland, for almost
In a copy of the ' History of the Macdonalds ' by
MacKenzie, which is in the library of
Campbeltown, it mentions that the grandfather of Duncan Darroch,
1st of Gourock, came
about 1700 from ' the north country ' to Jura. Someone has pencilled
out those words and
written in ' Kintyre '. Apparently someone else has the same opinion
Information reported by the Scottish Ancestry
» back to history
Table of Contents