Boyd Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Boyd Surname Meaning

Boyd is a Scottish surname – deriving from the Gaelic boid, the name of the island in the Firth of Clyde.

Boyd was also thought possibly to have come from the Gaelic buide, meaning “fair” or “yellow-haired.” That was probably not the case in Scotland, although it might have been on the Isle of Man where Boyd could have come from the Gaelic MacGiolla Buidhe, meaning “the yellow-haired youth’s son.”

Boyd Surname Resources on The Internet

Boyd Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and Isle of Man
  • to Ireland, France, Caribs/Panama, America, Hawaii, and Australia

Scotland. The earliest record of a Boyd, Robertus de Boyd, was as a witness at Irvine in Ayrshire 1205. The Boyds were believed to have been vassals of the Norman de Morvilles.

Their first chief was Sir Robert Boyd who fought with Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314. His family’s loyalty to the cause earned them the nickname of Confido or “Trusty Boyds.” For this loyalty, the Boyds were rewarded with the barony of Kilmarnock in east Ayrshire, which became the family seat.

Construction on Kilmarnock Castle began soon after. In 1466 the Boyds of Kilmarnock reached the height of their power when Lord Boyd was appointed the guardian to King James III. Three years later, however, the new King grew tired of them and Robert Boyd, the first Lord Boyd, had to flee to England.

“James III’s biographer summed Boyd up as an unscrupulous political gambler and an inveterate optimist. To forcibly assume guardianship of an underage King was, indeed, a familiar path to power in medieval Scotland. But it was also a dangerous path. Boyd underestimated the dangers, overestimated his support, and made the fatal mistake of marrying his son to the King’s sister, an insult the King would not forgive.”

The Boyds came back into favor with Mary, Queen of Scots. Robert Lord Boyd managed to keep that favor, despite various ups and downs, until his death in 1589. The Boyds were Royalist during the Civil War and supported the British Government in 1715 and 1745. However, Lord Boyd’s son William fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie and was captured and executed. The titles of the Boyd family were then forfeited.

The Boyd lines at Penkill and Trochrig in Ayrshire date from the 16th century. Penkill Castle had fallen into great disrepair before it was acquired by an American in 1978. Meanwhile many Boyds in Ayrshire had crossed the sea to Ireland at the time of the Scottish plantations. The Boyd history was covered in William P. Boyd’s 1884 book History of the Boyd Family.  

Isle of Man.  Boyd is also a Manx name. It derived from earlier names such as Giolla Buide and Boddagh and first appeared as Boyd in Lezayre in 1755. William Boyde, a fisherman, held a public house license in Kirk German from 1792 to 1835.

The name was sufficiently common at the time of World War II that a German-Jewish refugee, interned there, decided to change his name from Gerhard Biberstein to Gerhard Boyd.

Ireland. Sir Thomas Boyd of Bedlay was the first Boyd in Ulster, securing land in Strabane barony, Tyrone in 1610. He was probably instrumental in many Boyd settlers later making the crossing to Ireland.

A number of them settled in Antrim. The first Boyd presence in Antrim may have been the Rev. Thomas Boyd, a Presbyterian minister at the time of the siege of Londonderry in 1689.

James Boyd came to Antrim in 1696. His family was later to be found at the Old Boyd Homestead at Knockavaddy near Dungannon in Tyrone. Colonel Hugh Boyd started an industrial enterprise based on coal production and shipment at Ballycastle on the coast in 1736. Boyd’s own home in Ballycastle and the Marine Hotel, which he built, are still standing.

In 1716 a Boyd family bought the Crosspatrick estate near Killala in county Mayo. A branch of the family, including the doctor Sir William Boyd, moved to Castlebar. The Boyd family of Australia came from these Boyds.

France. There was a Boyd family from Scotland that came to France around the year 1600, settling first in La Rochelle and then in Bordeaux. They were prosperous merchants and were active in the wine trade.

However, they were Protestant, an endangered species in France after 1685. The Huguenot Jean Boyd departed for the new colony of Charleston in America shortly afterwards.  Some Boyds remained and Jacques Boyd began the Boyd vineyard, Chateau Boyd-Cantenac, in Bordeaux in 1754.

Caribbean.  The 21 year old Augustus Boyd, a son of the Huguenot Boyds, set off for the Caribbean and St. Kitts in 1700. By 1720 he was in business as a planter and by his death in 1765 he was a rich man. His son John was able to lead the life of a country gentleman in England, building Danson House in Kent. But his plantations began to fail in the 1770’s and he died a poorer man.

The Boyds in Dominica date back to William Boyd, a merchant and trader on the islands of Dominica and Grenada from the late 1700’s.  He died in 1830. Among his distinguished descendants was Dr. Philip Boyd who was appointed the first head of the Caricom Health Desk in the 1950’s.  

Panama.  The Boyd presence in Panamabegan with Archibaldo Boyd who arrived about 1850 and started its first newspaper. His son Federico was one of the founding fathers of Panama. Three Boyd girls, triplets, were born in Panama in 1921. They grew up to be the Del Rubios, a variety act in America.  

America.  Boyds in America have been mainly Scots Irish and they started to arrive in the early 18th century. Captain William Boyd was instrumental in bringing many Scots Irish to America between 1718 and 1750. He himself settled in Londonderry, New Hampshire. Other Boyds who made the journey included:

  • Three Boyd brothers from Knockavaddy in Tyrone who came to Bristol, Maine in the 1720’s.
  • Thomas Boyd who arrived from Ulster with other Boyd families in 1729 and settled in Marsh Creek, Pennsylvania in what is now Adams county. William Boyd came at the same time and settled in Derry township, Lancaster county.
  • and James Boyd, a linen merchant from Antrim, who came to Bridgton, New Jersey around 1740.

Boyds in Anne Arundel county, Maryland date from about 1700. Thomas Boyd moved to Albemarle county, Virginia in the late 1700’s where he and his wife Mary ran Boyd’s Tavern. Their son Thomas Jefferson Boyd became known as “the father of Wytheville.” Their grandson David migrated south to Louisiana and served as the first President of Louisiana State University.

The Huguenot Boyds were in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1690’s. However, they didn’t stay. Scots Irish Boyds arrived later:

  • William Boyd came with his family from Antrim in 1772. His nephew Robert followed in 1790.
  • James Boyd came with two brothers from Lough Neagh in mid-Ulster sometime in the 1780’s. He settled in Buncombe county, North Carolina.
  • and William Boyd arrived with his family from Knockaviddy in Tyrone in 1795. Later Boyds of this family settled in Lumpkin county, Georgia and then in Hartville and Ozark, Missouri.

Oklahoma boasted two famous Boyds, William from Tulsa born in 1895 and Sam from Enid born in 1910. William Boyd the actor was famous for his portrayal of Hopalong Cassidy, while Sam Boyd became a legend in the gaming industry in Las Vegas.  

Hawaii. The Boyds were one of the early names of Hawaii. Robert Boyd may have come there from the Caribbean (his origins are not certain), and he established himself as the king’s shipbuilder in the 1820’s. His son Edwin made his fortune as a merchant and cattle rancher and served many political posts in the King’s legislature.

The Boyds were considered among the most prominent families of Hawaii and their residence at Maunawili was often frequented by Hawaiian royalty and visiting foreign dignitaries.

Canada.  Mossom Boyd was born in India, the son of a Bengal army officer from Derry. After his parents died in a cholera epidemic, he decided to emigrate to Canada and came to the Sturgeon Lake region of Ontario in 1834. He developed a large timber operation there which his son expanded into cattle, steamboats and railway development.

Australia. The Boyd family have been an Australian artistic dynasty. Members of the family established themselves over several generations as painters, artists, illustrators, sculptors, potters, ceramists, writers, architects, graphic designers and musicians.

The forebear of this remarkable family was Alexander Boyd from county Mayo who arrived in Tasmania on army duty in 1845. The family fortunes were established in Melbourne by his son Theo who eloped with a rich cattleman’s daughter in 1857. The artistic dynasty can be said to have started with the marriage of his son Arthur and Minnie, both painters, in 1886. The family story was narrated in Brenda Niall’s 2002 book The Boyds.

Benjamin Boyd, a Scotsman of “an imposing personal appearance, fluent oratory, aristocratic connections, and a fair share of commercial acuteness,” came to Sydney on his schooner the Wanderer in 1842. However, his business ventures crumbled after a while and he departed on the Wanderer for the California goldfields. He was unsuccessful there too and lost his life when his vessel was wrecked in a storm off the Australian coast.

Boyd Surname Miscellany

Kilmarnock Castle.  Kilmarnock Castle, or Dean Castle, is located just outside the town of Kilmarnock. It was built in  the 14th century, not long after the lands of Kilmarnock and West Kilbride were given by King Robert the Bruce to Sir Robert Boyd in recognition for his services at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Dean means “wooded glen” and Dean Castle was the seat of the Boyd’s for over four hundred years.  The keep was constructed around 1350 and the palace about a hundred years later when the Boyds were at the height of their powers.

In 1735 an accidental fire caused by a careless maid was started in the kitchen. The fire spread onto the thatched roof and then engulfed the roof of the keep.  The castle and the palace ended up in complete ruin and they were sold by the Boyds in 1746.

At one time the Boyds had the right of pit and gallows, a privilege conferred on all barons for having on their grounds a pit for drowning women and gallows for hanging men convicted of theft.  The Gallows Knowe stood at Kilmarnock Castle, if not used, until 1861.

The estate changed hands many times.  When the 8th Lord Howard de Walden inherited the castle in the late 19th century, he began an extensive restoration.  He completed the keep in 1908 and the restoration of the palace in 1946. The estate was acquired by the Kilmarnock and Louden District Council in 1977.

Epitaph of Robert Lord Boyd.  Robert Lord Boyd died in 1589 and the following epigraph was inscribed on a stone in the interior of the Low Church in Kilmarnock.

“Heir lyis yt godlie Noble wyis lord Boyd Quha Kirk and King Commin well decoir’d Quhilke war (quhill they yis jowell all injoyed) Defendit, consailed, governd, be that lord His ancient hous (oft parreld) he restoired Twyis sax and saxtie zeirs he lived and syne By death (ye third of Januare) devoird In anno thrys fyve hundreth auchtye nyne.”

Penkill Castle.  Penhill Castle in Ayrshire was probably built around 1490 by Adam Boyd, a younger son of Lord Boyd.  There were seventeen Lairds of Penkill until the castle was acquired by an American Al Eckstrand in 1978.

However, the castle came with a curse. Villagers have talked about the curse which dooms anyone who dares to bring harm to Penkill to certain death.  Alice Boyd had noted in her diary in the 1860’s what she had seen when she had opened the window one morning. There was a stranger impaled on a tree branch in the glen below.  This would-be burglar, apparently slipping from the castle wall, must have fallen to his death.

By the 1970’s, the 25 room castle was the home of Evelyn May Courtney-Boyd, a distant relative of Alice Boyd.  Aged 94, she was described as “a strange, impulsive but generous woman, with no head for money, who continually found herself in debt with the fuel bills and the like.”  A milkman, William Hume, took advantage of her situation.  He suggested that he and his wife could look after her in the gatehouse while they resided in the castle itself.

However, the curse reasserted itself.  The milkman began to sell the castle’s paintings.  One painting, that of the 14th and 15th lairds of Penkill, came with this warning on the back: “Move not this picture.  Let it be, for love of  those in effigy.”  The milkman, attempting to pry the painting free from the mantel with a poker, suddenly began choking and fell to the floor.  He died later that night.

Reader Feedback – Boyds from Dominica.  William Boyd was an extremely well thought of trader and merchant on the island of Dominica in the early 1800’s and perhaps from the late 1780’s.  His will can be found online at ‘  William’s descendants were very prominent people and even today the current Speaker of the House is a woman named Alix Boyd. The engineer who did the roads on the island was a Donald Boyd.  The roads on that island are extremely narrow and dangerous as the island is volcanic.

These Boyds also had an extremely strong network amongst themselves for trade and social purposes, providing an influence that might be considered to be unsurpassed in the Caribbean.  They married other influential planter class families such as the Watts – Edmund and Henry David Watts being famous for employing the first steamboat to drop mail around the Caribbean.

William’s descendants were also British Leeward island scholars, all of them brothers, my grandfather Dr. Peter Boyd being one of them.  Dr. Phillip Boyd was the man who headed and formed the Caricom Health Desk, a pioneering institution for health care in the latter days of British rule.  Philip Boyd was given an OBE from the Queen.

The Name is Boyd is a book highlighting the family and their presence in the Caribbean.  The book does not go further back than the 1700’s (I believe a family history is in the works).  But it does show the marriages and positions of the various members of the family and their accomplishments.  The book is a relatively new publication.

The Dominica Story by Lennox Honey Church highlights the influence of the Boyd presence strongly and, towards the end, shows an early original advertisement of a lost slave belonging to William Boyd.  The famous book Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Ryse was set on a plantation the Boyd family kept on the island of Dominica.

So far in the last two centuries there does not seem to have been another family that has ties with the Caribbean of such longevity.  It appears that the Boyds have been living and trading and migrating back forth in the Caribbean for almost 350 years.  They have been present in Jamaica and St. Kitts with the Augustus Boyd line as well as in Dominica for the last century and a half.  It should be noted as the islands have gained independence the Boyd family is considered as the last of the Caribbean Anglo heritage.

The Father of Wytheville.  Thomas Jefferson Boyd was born in 1804 in Albemarle county, Virginia near Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello.   His parents Thomas and Mary Boyd ran Boyd’s Tavern (a building that is still standing) on the Charlottesville road, which they had started a year earlier.

Thomas educated himself and became an attorney practicing law in Wytheville in the Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact he became known as “the father of Wytheville.”  He was the local surveyor, railroad promoter, town mayor and Virginia legislator, and is commemorated today by the Thomas J. Boyd Museum in the town.

The Boyd Hotel, a five story brick hotel and restaurant across from the train station, was built by him in 1856.  Boyd lost most of his wealth during the financial panic of 1857 and subsequently retired from his other activities to concentrate on operating the hotel.  During the Civil War, a number of “out of town men” who helped defend Wytheville after Toland’s raid of 1863 received a “square meal free” from the hotel.  Boyd had to sell the hotel in 1878 to settle his debts.  He died in 1893.

Belle Boyd, Confederate Spy.  One of the most famous of Confederate spies, Belle Boyd served the Confederate forces in the Shenandoah Valley.

Born in Martinsburg, now part of West Virginia, she operated her spying operations from her father’s hotel in Front Royal and provided valuable information to Stonewall Jackson during the spring 1862 campaign in the Valley.  Jackson made her a captain and honorary aide-de-camp on his staff.  Betrayed by her lover, she was arrested on July 29, 1862, and held for a month in the Old Capitol Prison in Washington.  Exchanged a month later, she was in exile with relatives for a time but was again arrested in June 1863 while on a visit to Martinsburg.

On December 1, 1863, she was released, suffering from typhoid, and was then sent to Europe to regain her health.  The blockade runner she attempted to return on was captured and she fell in love with the prize master, Samuel Hardinge, who later married her in England after being dropped from the navy’s rolls for neglect of duty in allowing her to proceed to Canada and then England.  Hardinge attempted to reach Richmond, was detained in Union hands, but died soon after his release.

While in England Belle Boyd Hardinge had a stage career and published Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. 

The Boyds, Maunawili and Aloha Oe.  Edwin Boyd and his wife Maria bought the Maunawili estate in 1869 and they made it into one of the largest cattle ranches on windward Oahu in the 19th century.   They also entertained at the ranch and the King of Hawaii, King David Kalakaua, and his sister, Princess Lilioukalani, would often attend their parties.  Guests would walk between two parallel rows of royal palms, farewells would be exchanged, and then they would ride away on horseback or in their carriages.

It was on a visit to the ranch in 1877 that Princess Lilioukalani received the inspiration that lead to her composition of Aloha Oe or “Farewell to Thee.”  Aloha Oe, her most famous song, came about on her horseback ride away from the Boyd estate.  She happened to witness a farewell embrace between Colonel James Boyd and one of the young ranch ladies.   A tune came into her head and she composed the words on her return home.  Aloha Oe is a treasured song amongst the Hawaiian people for its bittersweet evocation of a fond farewell.

The Maunawili estate remained with the Boyd family until 1893.

Famous Boyds in Panama.  Archibaldo Boyd was an American Scots Irish immigrant who founded Panama’s first newspaper, the English language Star and Herald, in 1852.  Of later Boyds:

  • Federico Boyd, his son, was a member of the Revolutionary junta in 1903.  He was briefly President of the country in 1910 and also served as its ambassador to the United States.
  • Augusto Boyd, Federico’s son, was Vice-President from 1936 to 1939 and briefly President in 1940.
  • while Aquilino Boyd was active as a diplomat for Panama.  He was the principal negotiator in the Panama Canal treaties of 1977.

Sam Boyd and Las Vegas.  Sam Boyd came from Oklahoma.  His father was a Sooner, originally probably from Mississippi, who settled in Enid, Oklahoma in the 1890’s.  He ran a local taxicab fleet, appearing in the newspapers in 1908 for bootlegging.  He died of typhoid in 1919 when Sam was just nine.

Sam’s mother took the family to Long Beach, California where Sam grew up.  He was a hustler. Having learnt the gambling business on the cruise ships to Hawaii, he set out for Las Vegas in 1941, reportedly with just $30 in his pocket.  After being hired as a dealer, Sam Boyd worked his way up through the ranks of the Las Vegas casino industry, first to pit boss, then to shift boss.  He eventually saved enough to buy a small interest in the Sahara.

Sam’s casino ownership, in partnership with his son Bill, began in 1962.  During their first two decades in operation, Sam and Bill developed a reputation for running a squeaky-clean operation, in contrast to many of the other casino operators where skimming was the normal practice of the day.

Bill took over Boyd Gaming Corporation after Sam’s death in 1993.  The Sam Boyd football stadium in Las Vegas was named in honor of Sam Boyd.

Boyd Names

  • Robert Boyd, the first Lord Boyd, became the most powerful man in Scotland as guardian of the young King in 1466. But he soon lost his position and had to flee the country.
  • Robert Lopaka Boyd was shipbuilder to the King of Hawaii in the 1820’s.
  • Federico Boyd is considered one of the founding fathers of Panama.
  • Sam Boyd was one of the pioneers of the Las Vegas hotel and casino business.

Boyd Numbers Today

  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 50,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 31,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Boyd and Like Surnames 

These are surnames from the Scottish Lowlands.  Some are clan names; some – like Gordon, Graham and Hamilton – have Anglo-Norman antecedents that crossed the border into Scotland; and some – like Douglas and Stewart – were very powerful in early Scottish history.  Stewart in fact became the royal Stuart line.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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