Buchanan Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Buchanan Surname Meaning

Buchanan is a Scottish surname which has come from the place-name Buchanan near Loch Lomond, northwest of Drymen in Stirlingshire. 

Buchanan here derived from the Gaelic buth chanain, meaning “house of the canon” which may have had some connection with an ancient Celtic church. This Buchanan name was adopted in the early 13th century by the head of a branch of the McAuslan clan. 

The Buchanan pronunciation has tended to be “Buck-annon” in the UK and “Beww-cannon” in America.

Buchanan Surname Resources on The Internet

Buchanan Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Caribs (Jamaica), Canada and Australia

Scotland.  According to tradition, the Buchanan clan origins were in Ireland.  They had, however, come to Scotland and been granted lands on the east side of Loch Lomond by King Malcolm II for their services in repelling Nordic invaders.  That land was called Buchanan and they adopted that name as a surname around the year 1225.

The Buchanan chiefs fought in France against the English in the 15th century and were involved in various neighboring clan clashes as well.  Their heyday was probably the 16th century when John Buchanan, the so-called King of Kippen, could dine off the King’s venison.  George Buchanan was a scholar and Protestant reformer who was tutor to the James VI of Scotland who became James I of England.

The Buchanan lands were to remain in their possession until 1682 when the 22nd Laird of Buchanan died and the estates had to be sold to repay debts.

The Buchanans were no longer a clan in the 18th century.  Individual Buchanans in the Loch Lomond area found themselves on both sides of the Jacobite uprising in 1745:

  • Francis Buchanan of Ampryor was arrested before the Battle of Culloden for stockpiling weapons and was subsequently executed by the English.  His two brothers were spared because of their youth.
  • however, Archibald Buchanan of Drummakill was said to have betrayed the fleeing Marquis of Tullibardine who had taken refuge in his house after the battle.  As a result Drummakill “was forever after ostracized in Scotland.”

Many Buchanans had become Covenanters. They had fought on the Covenanter side at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and at the Battle of Bothwell Brdge in 1679. 

George Buchanan, raised on a small farm in the Loch Lomond area, fought in the latter battle and became a whisky distiller and successful Glasgow merchant.  His four sons were to prosper from the ensuing tobacco trade boom with the American colonies.  

“From 1710 Glasgow became the focus of an economic boom which lasted nearly fifty years. This was the age of the tobacco lords, the nouveau riche of the mid-18th century.  They made such fortunes that they adopted the style of aristocrats in their superior manner and in their lavish homes and churches. Their Calvinist background made sure, however, that their display was always of rich but sober materials.”  

These Buchanans founded the Buchanan Society in 1725.  Andrew Buchanan was Lord Provost of Glasgow in 1740 and Buchanan Street in Glasgow – now one of the city’s most fashionable shopping areas – was named after his nephew, also called Andrew.  However, the tobacco boom came to an end with the American Revolutionary War.

Another Glasgow merchant, this time in textiles, was James Buchanan of Dowanhill who died in 1844 at the grand age of 89.  He had two eminent grandsons – John, a noted chemist and Arctic explorer in the 1870’s, and Thomas, a Scottish Liberal MP and bibliophile.

David Buchanan, said to have descended from the Buchanan chiefly line, was born in Montrose in 1746.  He and his son David were scholarly printers and publishers there, the younger David becoming editor of the Edinburgh Courant.

Another son George was a noted civil engineer in Edinburgh, working primarily on bridges and harbors.  His line led to a later George Buchanan, first knighted for his engineering work and then expelled from the British Institution of Civil Engineers for “so-called” unprofessional conduct, and to Professor Colin Buchanan, the father of British town planning.

Ireland.  The Buchanan name in Ireland was a Scottish implant in Ulster.  An early arrival there was George Buchanan who, having sold his Blairlusk estates in Scotland to his brother, arrived in Tyrone in 1674 and settled near Omagh.

From the sons of this patriarch came a number of Buchanan lines in America:

  • John of Tyrone, from whom came James Buchanan, Omagh and New York merchant and Canadian trade advocate in the first half of the 19th century   
  • William of Tyrone, from whom the Buchanans of Meadville, Pennsylvania were said to have been descended
  • George of Munster, from whom the Buchanans of Louisville, Kentucky were said to have been descended  
  • and Thomas of Ramelton in Donegal, from whom James Buchanan, President of the United States, descended.  The President once declared: “My Ulster blood is my most priceless heritage.”

Thomas Buchanan had left Tyrone and moved to Ramelton in 1700.   His grandson John Buchanan married Jane Russell and the Russell grandparents raised their grandson James from the age of seven when he became an orphan. 

In 1783 James Buchanan, then 22 years old, sailed from Derry on the Providence to Philadelphia where his uncle Joshua Russell met him at the port and together they rode horseback to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Russell’s Tavern.  This James was the father of US-born President James Buchanan.  

America.  The first Buchanan in America went by the name of Bohannon (apparently an alternative spelling). Duncan Bohannon of uncertain origins first turned up in Barbados in the 1650’s before moving to Maryland and then to Gloucester county, Virginia.  His descendants, continuing to call themselves Bohannon, moved to Kentucky after the Revolutionary War.

Maryland did have some Buchanans.  Thomas Buchanan, Scots Irish, came to Charles county around 1712.  His sons James and William were the forebears of many of the Buchanans who settled in the Toe river valley in the western part of North Carolina.

Meanwhile George Buchanan from Edinburgh arrived in 1723 and was one of the founders of Baltimore. He built the family mansion just outside of town, known by the Scottish name of Auchentorlie.  Franklin Buchanan of this family was a Confederate naval officer during the Civil War, commanding the ironclad CSS Virginia.

Pennsylvania attracted three notable Scots Irish Buchanan lines.

Thomas Buchanan and his wife Jane left Donegal for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania sometime in the 1720’s. Major John Buchanan, born there in 1759, was one of the founders of present-day Nashville, Tennessee.  He led the defense of the early settlement against Indian attacks in 1792.  His great grandson John P. Buchanan was Governor of Tennessee a hundred years later.

John Buchanan who came to Pennsylvania from Derry in the 1740’s and then moved onto the New river area of Virginia.  His son Nathaniel fought in the Revolutionary War and afterwards moved to Kentucky where he had received a land grant.  His descendants headed further west to Illinois and Indiana.

And US President James Buchanan, the son of immigrant James Buchanan, was born in a log cabin in Cove Point, Franklin county in 1791.  He never married.

Elsewhere.  One ancestry chart does connect Pat Buchanan, the political commentator, to the early Bohannon line. The Bohannon name did appear in Mississippi in the early 19th century.  His more immediate point of contact is with William Buchanan of Chickasaw county, Mississippi who fought and was captured at Atlanta during the Civil War.

Caribbean.  George Buchanan from the Glasgow merchant family was a sugar planter in Jamaica in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.  However, after the death of his wife Jane in 1815, he brought his family back to England.  His son Andrew, trained as a doctor, moved to Dunedin, New Zealand in 1857 and was active in the care of mental patients there.

“Andrew was tall and erect, but of slight build.  His hair was black and inclined to be curly, his features aquiline, grey eyes overshadowed by strong eyebrows – according to relatives ‘a marked Buchanan face,'”

Canada.  The merchant James Buchanan of Omagh in county Tyrone promoted trade and immigration to Canada in the first half of the 19th century.  He died in Canada in 1851. Not surprisingly, there were some Buchanan immigrants to Canada from Tyrone:

  • Andrew Buchanan and his family came in 1847 and were pioneer settlers in Perth county, Ontario.  Some of their descendants later migrated west to Manitoba in the 1870’s.   
  • while William and Matilda Buchanan made the Atlantic passage in the same year.  They settled in Grey county, Ontario where they raised 13 children.  

These two families were probably related.  Meanwhile Thomas Buchanan from Donegal arrived with a large family retinue in Ontario in 1857.  He worked on the Canadian railways and later made his home in Nova Scotia.

There were also Buchanans from Scotland.  Isaac Buchanan, the son of a Glasgow merchant, came to Toronto in 1832 to start up a merchant business there.  He prospered, later settling in Hamilton.

John Buchanan was probably of lesser account.  He had come to PEI from Loch Lomond in Scotland in the early 1850’s. Sadly, he did not live long there, being killed by a horse on his farm when he was around 29.  But he and his wife had had six children by that time. The male line continued through his son Anthony, a postmaster at Elmwood.

Australia.  As with Canada, Buchanan arrivals were a mix of Scots and Scots Irish.

Andrew Buchanan, a yarn merchant from county Tyrone, had two sons who came out to Australia – William in 1822 and Charles in 1832.  They farmed on nearby land along the Hunter river in NSW.  Charles’s two sons William and Nathaniel were cattle ranchers there.

“In 1850 the brothers went on the California Gold Rush, but returned to Australia after a short stay to find that their station had been mismanaged and lost in their absence.”  

They migrated north to Queensland and were pioneer ranchers in this northern part of Australia. Both worked until the end of their lives, William in 1911 and Nathaniel in 1901.

David Buchanan meanwhile came out to Australia from Edinburgh in 1852.  He was a lawyer who practiced in New South Wales and was a member of the NSW Legislative Council.

Buchanan Surname Miscellany

Buchanan Clan Origins.  William Buchanan of Auchmar in his 1728 An Historical and Genealogical Essay upon the Family and Surname of Buchanan gave the following account of the origins of the Buchanan clan.

“The Clan Buchanan, though located in the Highlands of Scotland, derives its origin from the O’Kanes of county Derry in Ireland.  The story is briefly thus.

Asian Buidhe O’Kane was one of the Irish youths who, dressed in the habit of ladies, had attended the celebrated banquet given by Turgesius, the Danish general, to his officers; and who, with concealed daggers under their dresses, dispatched their brutal enemies while they imagined they had in prospect only scenes of drunken licentiousness.

When the Danes recovered from the surprise into which they had been thrown by the slaughter of their leaders, they inflicted terrible revenge upon the native Irish.  Asian O’Kane with a small band of attendants passed over to the north of Argyllshire near the Lennox where he settled.  Soon afterwards they distinguished himself in the service of the Scottish monarch in two battles against the Danes of England.

Extensive lands were consequently assigned to Asian and his followers, who during two centuries afterwards were called McAuslan, this having been the original designation of the clan Buchanan. The name of Buchanan appears in the first instance to have been territorial – buth chanain – and it was not until the 13th century that it was assumed as a surname.  A portion of the clan, however, still retained their ancient family name of McAuslan.”

How true the scenes described in Ireland is unclear.  They may have been made up.  However, it is believed that the first McAuslan did cross from Ireland to Scotland in the year 1016.

John Buchanan, The King of Kippen.  John Buchanan, the second son of Walter Buchanan the 14th of Buchanan, became proprietor of Arnprior and afterwards the noted “King of Kippen,” a phrase which originated in a whimsical episode between himself and James V.  This story was recounted as follows by Sir Walter Scott:

“When James V travelled in disguise he used a name which was known only to some of his principal nobility and attendants. He was called the Goodman (the tenant, that is) of Ballengiech, a steep pass which leads down behind Stirling Castle.

Once upon a time when he was feasting in Stirling, the King sent for some venison from the neighboring hills.  The deer were killed and put on horse’s backs, to be transported to Stirling.  Unluckily they had to pass the castle gates of Arnpryor belonging to a chief of the Buchanans who had a considerable number of guests with him.  The chief, seeing so much fat venison passing his very door, seized on it; and to the expostulations of the keepers, who told him it belonged to King James, he answered insolently that if James was King in Scotland, he, Buchanan, was King in Kippen.

On hearing what had happened, the King got on horseback and rode instantly from Stirling to Buchanan’s house, where he found a strong fierce looking Highlander with an axe on his shoulder standing sentinel at the door. This grim warder refused the King admittance, saying that the Laird of Arnpryor was at dinner and would not be disturbed.  ‘Yet go up to the company my good friend,’ said the King, ‘and tell him that the Goodman of Ballengiech is come to feast with the King of Kippen.’

The porter went grumbling into the house and told his master that there was a fellow with a red beard who called himself the Goodman of Ballengiech at the gate.  He said he was come to dine with the King of Kippen.

As soon as Buchanan heard these words, he knew that the King was there in person and hastened down to kneel at James’s feet and to ask forgiveness for his insolent behavior.  But the King, who only meant to give him a fright, forgave him freely and going into the castle feasted on his own venison which Buchanan had intercepted.  Buchanan of Arnpryor was ever afterwards called the King of Kippen.” 

The Buchanan Society.  The Buchanan Society is a charitable organization that was established in 1725 in Glasgow for the needy of the Buchanan clan. The founders of the society were the four sons of Glasgow merchant and whisky distiller George Buchanan, each an important merchant in his own right:

  • George Buchanan of Moss and Auchentoshan (maltman and Glasgow treasurer)
  • Andrew Buchanan of Dumpellier (tobacco lord and Glasgow provost)
  • Archibald Buchanan of Silverbanks and Auchentortie (tobacco lord)
  • and Neil Buchanan of Hillington (tobacco lord and Glasgow MP).

Later, from all corners of the globe, contemporary clan folk and friends of the clan of all professions and occupations have supported this charity.

The society is funded by an entry fee paid by each member of the society, gifts and interest from investments.  Its original charter specified charity to those of the name Buchanan and recognised septs by assisting boys to trades and those of promising genius at their studies to university.  Except that girls are now eligible for assistance, the goals have remained largely unchanged.

The society has held many clan heirlooms.  The society also owns the Buchanan Monument in Killeam and the Loch Lomond island of Clairinch.

Reader Feedback – Clan Buchanan Society International.  I am the chief genealogist for the Clan Buchanan Society International, Inc. Through our DNA project it has been well established that the Buchanan Clan has no origins in Ireland. Unlike the Scotland Clan Buchanan Society, CBSI accepts members who have Buchanan ancestry, not just the surname. CBSI was established in the 1970’s as The Clan Buchanan Society in America, Inc.

Christine Conlon (genealogyresearcher@comcast.net).

Reader Feedback – Buchanan is Welsh?  I am just wondering if there was any Buchanans that went to Wales. Only reason why I’m asking is because my Buchanan side is part Scottish, Irish and Welsh. Somehow I’m all three.

Nicholas Buchanan (nbuchanan53180@gmail.com).

The Andrew Buchanan Family Passage from Ireland to Canada.  It was the time of the Great Family in Ireland and Andrew Buchanan decided to leave home with his family in county Tyrone for new hopes in the New World.  Andrew and his wife had seven sons – William, Charles, Andrew, Richard, James, John, and Samuel – and a daughter Jane.  They sold their belongings in Ireland in 1847 and bought passage to Canada.

The ship had been at sea for about ten days when it was so badly damaged in a storm that it had to return for repairs.  On the second attempt the Atlantic was crossed successfully, but at a great cost.  An outbreak of immigrant fever (typhus) took the lives of about 20 people on board and the ship was quarantined in Kingston, Ontario.

Some of the Buchanan family got very ill when they disembarked.  The father Andrew died there, and also William’s first child, a young daughter.  They were buried in the pioneer cemetery in Kingston.

The remainder of the family traveled to Esqueising where they worked during the harvest season. The men then went further, mainly on foot, first to Stratford and then to an area of crown land for new settlement. There they started clearing land and building log shanties and dugouts.  A descendant remarked:

“How they ever grew enough to eat in the first few years has always puzzled me.  That part of the country was a dense forest of huge trees.”

In 1851 their area was surveyed and named Elma township in Perth county.

Preident James Buchanan’s Antecedents.  James Buchanan’s father was born in county Donegal into a family which originally hailed from Carbeth near Stirling in Scotland.

During the late 17th century, George Buchanan of this family had relocated from Scotland to Ulster and settled at Deroran near Omagh in county Tyrone.  The family home there is still standing.

George’s son William Alexander Buchanan (sometimes named Thomas) moved west to Low Cairn near Ramelton in county Donegal where the President’s grandfather John Buchanan was born circa 1716.

James Buchanan, The Gay US President.  While his biographers have maintained that Buchanan was asexual or celibate, more recent commentators have put forward arguments that he was homosexual.

A source of this interest has been Buchanan’s close and intimate relationship with William Rufus King, the Alabama senator who became Vice President under Franklin Pierce.  The two men lived together in a Washington boarding house for 10 years from 1834 until King’s departure for France in 1844.

King referred to the relationship as a “communion” and the two attended social functions together.  Contemporaries noted the closeness.   Andrew Jackson called them “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy,” the former being a 19th-century euphemism for an effeminate man. Buchanan adopted King’s mannerisms and his romanticized view of southern culture.

In 1844, after King had left for France, Buchanan wrote to Cornelia Roosevelt:

“I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.  I feel that it is not good for man to be alone, and I should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection.”

There is little correspondence between the two men for historians to pour over, as the men’s nieces largely destroyed it.

Pat Buchanan’s Ancestry.  Pat Buchanan had a great grandfather who fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War.  This is why he is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and an admirer of Robert E. Lee.

Pat Buchanan was born in Pennsylvania, but has southern roots.  Of his southern ancestry, Buchanan has written:

“I have family roots in the South, in Mississippi. When the Civil War came, Cyrus Baldwin enlisted and did not survive Vicksburg.  William Buchanan of Okolona, who would marry Baldwin’s daughter, fought at Atlanta and was captured by General Sherman.  William Baldwin Buchanan was the name given to my father and by him to my late brother.

As a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, I have been to their gatherings.  I spoke at their 2001 convention in Lafayette, Louisiana. The Military Order of the Stars and Bars presented me with a battle flag and a wooden canteen like the ones my ancestors carried.”

Buchanan Names

  • George Buchanan was a 16th century Scottish writer, humanist scholar, and Protestant reformer.  He was the tutor to James VI of Scotland who later became James I of England. 
  • Andrew Buchanan was a Glasgow tobacco lord and its Provost in 1740. 
  • Major John Buchanan was an American frontiersman, one of the founders of present-day Nashville, Tennessee. 
  • James Buchanan was the 15th President of the United States, preceding Abraham Lincoln.  His attempts to maintain peace between North and South seemed to alienate both sides and helped precipitate the Civil War. 
  • Professor Colin Buchanan became Britain’s most famous town planner, following the publication of his Traffic in Towns in 1963. 
  • Ken Buchanan from Scotland is considered the greatest British lightweight boxer in history, following his winning of the world title in 1970.

Buchanan Numbers Today

  • 15,000 in the UK (most numerous in Glasgow)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 17,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Buchanan and Like Surnames

The Scottish Highlands were Gaelic-speaking and their clan names appeared first in Gaelic and only later in an English version.  Each clan controlled its own local territory and frequently fought with neighbors.  Many, however, took the clan name in order to receive clan protection.

The clan downfall came following the 1715 and 1745 uprisings with the Battle of Culloden when the clan culture was broken up and clan tartans banned (although they came back into fashion with Queen Victoria a hundred years later).  The Highland clearances, supplanting people for sheep, was a further blow and many Highlanders were forced into emigration, still speaking their native Gaelic, to Canada and then to Australia and New Zealand.

Here are some of the clan surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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