Duncan Surname Genealogy

The Scottish surname Duncan is derived from the Gaelic name Dunchad or Donnchad and before that the
ancient Celtic name of Donncatus.
The elements in the name are donn,
meaning “brown,” and cath,
“battle” or “warrior.” Dunchad’s origins were Celtic Irish
and it started out as a first name.
Early recordings of the name were: Dunchad, the eleventh abbot of
Iona, who died in 717; and Dunchad, the abbot of Dunkeld, who was
killed in battle in 965. The name was born by two 11th century
Scottish kings, including the Duncan who was slain by Macbeth in

Duncan Resources on

Duncan Ancestry

The surnames Duncan and Robertson of clan Donnachaidh have similar
origins, both being descended from ancient earls of Atholl and both
taking their name from Donnachaidh Reamhar (Stout Duncan) who led the
clan at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

“The most precious clan relic, the rock
crystal charm stone of the clan, the Clach
na Brataich
or “ensign stone,” was unearthed when the chief’s
standard pole was pulled from the ground while on the march to
Bannockburn. It was carried by later chiefs when leading the clan
into battle.”

The chief seat of the clan was Struan in what is now the county of
Angus on the
east coast of Scotland. Struan gave rise to both the Duncan and Robertson clans
in the 15th century. In the
early 16th century the Duncan chief was killed in a feud with the Earls
of Atholl and a large part of the lands of the Duncan clan were
lost. At Struan, however, the Duncans
continued to treasure their Clach
na Brataich.

Duncans were on both sides
during the Jacobite rising of
1745. Alexander Duncan of Lundie, the provost of Dundee,
supported the British Government side. His son Adam had joined
the British navy and in time became the Commander of the Fleet in the
North Sea. He gained a spectacular victory against the Dutch at
Camperdown in 1797.

Edinburgh had the largest number of Duncan baptisms in the 18th century.
But the 1891 census showed that more than
half of the Duncans in Scotland were to be found in the three
east coast counties of Aberdeen, Angus and Fife.

Duncan in Ireland could either be Scots or Irish in origin. Scots
Duncans would generally be found in Ulster. The Gaelic name O’Duinnchinn or “descendant of Donncheann
came from Sligo on the east coast of Ireland. It had a similar
meaning, “brown chieftain,” as its Scottish counterpart and was
anglicized as Duncan.

The Rev. William Duncan, born in Perthshire in
1630, was said to have been a Covenanter killed for his refusal to take
Jacobite oath in the reign of Charles II.
His grandson William emigrated to Virginia in the early 1700’s
settled in Culpeper county

Duncans coming
to America were principally Scottish, but included some Irish.
Thomas and Jane Duncan were residents of Cumberland County,
Pennsylvania in the 1740’s. One of their sons Daniel moved to
Kentucky in the 1790’s and settled in Bourbon county. His son
Henry was a good friend of Henry Clay, the Great Commoner.

“When Healy came to Lexington to paint
a portrait of Henry Clay, he made a replica of it for Mr. Clay’s warm
personal friend, Henry T. Duncan, then living at Duncannon about four miles from

Henry Duncan
also had his portrait
done by Healy and this picture was handed down in his family.
These Duncans were to remain prominent in Lexington civic life
throughout the 19th century.

Other Duncans were also to be found in Kentucky at that time, including
the descendants of Captain James Duncan who had followed Boone’s trail
from Virginia to Kentucky in the late 1770’s. His forebears were
thought to have been Irish, from Donegal. Scots-born George Duncan
set out west to Illinois with his family in the 1830’s.

William Duncan from York county, Pennsylvania was a
Brigadier General in the War of 1812.
His grandson Joseph, a banker, moved west to San Francisco
1870. Isadora Duncan, considered the
founder of modern dance, was the most famous of his offspring. But his sons Augustin, an actor, and Raymond,
a writer and artist, were also extremely talented

The largest number of Duncans today in America are in Texas. Two
prominent 20th century Duncans of Texas have been:

  • Herschel Duncan who founded the family-run Duncan Coffee Company
    in Houston in 1918. A nephew Charles Duncan became head of Coca
    Cola and served as US Secretary of Energy from 1979 to 1981.
  • and Dan Duncan, the founder and major shareholder of Enterprise
    Oil Products, one of the largest private companies in America.
    Dan Duncan was known for his passion for hunting.

Australia. Duncans
coming to Australia have included:

  • John
    Duncan, a sea captain
    , and his wife Joan from Fife who came
    to South Australia in 1841.
  • John Duncan, a child convict who arrived in the early 1840’s and
    believed to have been the forebear of the Duncan fishing family of Port
    Stephens, NSW.
  • and James and Agnes Duncan from Dundee who came to Sydney on the Anne Milne in 1842 and
    settled first in the Hunter Valley and later in

Duncan Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for
further stories and accounts:

Duncan Names

Adam Duncan was the
British admiral who defeated the Dutch fleet off Camperdown in
was a famous African explorer who sailed on the Niger
expedition of 1842. Isadora Duncan was a dancer considered by many to be the creator of modern dance. Lindsay Duncan is a Scottish stage and TV actress.

Select Duncan Today

  • 40,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Fife)
  • 48,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 32,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)





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