Cameron Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Cameron Surname Meaning

The Gaelic cam means “crooked” and the surname Cameron comes either from cam plus shron (nose) meaning “crooked nose” or from cam plus brun (hill) meaning “crooked hill.”

Camshron has a pretty story about how a strong man with a bent nose came to Lochaber, the traditional lands of the Camerons, married the daughter of a local chieftain and secured the lands after many a battle.

But Cambrun is seen as the more likely origin, even though this name was more common in Fife on the Scottish east coast.

Cameron Surname Resources on The Internet

Cameron Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Inverness)
  • to England, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Scotland.  The Camerons have been the people of Lochaber in Invernessshire – at the southwestern edge of the Great Glen, the rift that runs up from Fort William to Inverness.  Nobody knows how long the clan has existed.

Donald Dubh, who lived in the 15th century, is considered to be their first authentic chief and, since 1528, the clan chief of Lochaber has been called Lochiel.  He generally had the support of Cameron sub-clans nearby, such as the Camerons of Letterfinlay, Strone, Glen Nevis, and later of Erracht.  These various Camerons were often described as “fiercer than fierceness itself.”

Two notable books have been produced about the Cameron clan:

  • Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel by John Drummond.  These memoirs were written in 1733 but not published until 1842.
  • The Camerons: A History of Clan Cameron by John Stewart.  This 1974 book was published by the Clan Cameron Association.

Their most prominent chief, called “Ulysses of the Highlands” by Macaulay, was Sir Ewen Cameron, the 17th chief, a strong supporter of Charles II in Scotland.  It was he who built the family seat at Achnacarry in 1655.  His successors backed the 1715 and 1745 Jacobite uprisings.

Donald Cameron, known as Gentle Lochiel, was planting a long line of beech trees at Achnacarry when he heard news of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s landing in Scotland.  Gentle Lochiel was wounded at Culloden, escaped to France, but died soon after.  His brother Archie was executed later in London.  After the Culloden defeat, the Cameron estates were forfeited and Achnacarry burned down (although they were both later restored).

Other Camerons opposed the Stuarts.  Richard Cameron from Fife was a leading Covenanter at that time.  His supporters took up the name of Cameronians and formed a regiment which fought against the Jacobites.

Later Highland chiefs preserved their clan fighting spirit by forming the Cameron Highlanders, army battalions which fought in the Napoleonic Wars and through to World War Two (the explorer Verney Cameron came from this soldierly background).

However, the depopulation of the Highlands was beginning and many Camerons left the region in search of work.  A number migrated to large towns like Glasgow.  Others emigrated, first heading to North America and then to Australia and New Zealand.

England.  Some Camerons came into northern England in search of work.  Other Camerons were to be found in London.

Sir Ewen Cameron, born in Inverness in 1841, was an accountant by training who rose to become the head of the HSBC bank in London.  A descendant is the former British Prime Minister David Cameron.

America.  Donald Cameron made it to America as an old man in 1775.  His son Simon took up arms for America in the Revolutionary War and a later Simon Cameron, orphaned at a young age, grew up to be Senator for Pennsylvania and briefly Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary for War.

On the Confederate side was Paul Cameron, said to be the richest man in North Carolina at that time.  His Cameron family were large plantation and slave owners in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South.  He was the descendant of the Rev. John Cameron who had come to Virginia from Scotland in 1770.  Paul survived the Civil War and he and his family remained prosperous from cotton and railroad holdings through Reconstruction and into the 20th century.

A Scots Highlander, Ewen Cameron, was prominent in the Texas Revolution of 1836 and a member of the ill-fated Mier expedition against the Mexicans (where he was shot while trying io escape).  Cameron county in Texas is named in his honor.

Canada.  There are more Camerons in Canada.  An early arrival was Duncan Cameron, who later became a fur trader in the Canadian West and then a politician in Ontario.  He had come with his Loyalist parents to Canada in the 1780’s.

Donald and Margaret Cameron were Loyalists as well and they moved to Glengarry county in the Ottawa valley.  Camerons from the 84th Regiment also settled in this Highland community at that time.  And other Camerons arrived there in the 1820’s and 1830’s. One Cameron account describes a family rift in the early 1830’s and a branch of the family decamping to Whitby, Ontario.

Angus Cameron came to Canada in 1806 as the hospital sergeant of a Highland regiment and ended up keeping a bar in the Ottawa area.   His son Malcolm distinguished himself in politics, but not in business and he died a poor man.  An adopted son Malcolm also became a politician.

Winnipeg.  The Highland Cameron connection in Canada has continued with the Camerons (or the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada to give them their lengthier title), which was formed as a fighting regiment in Winnipeg in 1910 and still functions today.

John Cameron was in Winnipeg by the early 1870’s and founded the town’s first newspaper, the Winnipeg Free Press. He married his second wife Rebecca McIvor there. According to family folklore, she was the only unmarried white girl in the community and their daughter May the first white child born there.

British Columbia.  Meanwhile Cariboo Cameron, who had grown up in Glengarry county, went west in the early 1860’s in search of gold.  He struck lucky in 1862 in Cariboo, British Columbia.

“His wife Sophia had died of typhoid fever just prior to the find and Cameron, fulfilling a pledge to her, hauled her body some 600 miles on snowshoes, by horse, and by steamer to Victoria.  When he finally arrived there after a harrowing journey of two months, he had the coffin filled with alcohol in order to preserve her body.”

Cariboo Cameron, sadly, frittered his wealth away and died penniless.

Australia.  By the mid 1830’s Australia was beginning to receive a steady flow of Scottish immigrants from the Highlands under the bounty system.  The Boyne, Blonde, and Brilliant brought settlers from Lochaber and Argyll, including some 300 Camerons.  Indeed, there were 200 Camerons on the Boyne alone.

Among other early Cameron settlers were:

  • Duncan Cameron, a ship’s surgeon who received a land grant in Tasmania and moved there in 1822.  His family prospered as farmers and landowners and later ventured into local politics.
  • Hugh Cameron, an early settler in Hunter valley, NSW.  He was granted 1,290 acres of land there in 1828.
  • Alexander Cameron, who came to Australia in 1839.  Ten years later, he had acquired land in Penola, South Australia for sheep-farming.  He also was the original licensee of the Royal Oak Hotel there.
  • Thomas Cameron a shepherd from Inverness, who came in 1848.  He settled in Geelong where he ran the Royal Highlander Hotel.
  • and Donald Cameron from Perth, who came to Ballarat and the Victoria goldfields in the 1850’s.

Later Camerons numbered many in the professions and also trade union activists – such as Donald Cameron (the son of a Scottish slater) and Clyde Cameron (the son of a first generation sheep shearer).

Dr. Robert Cameron’s three volume edition of Cameron Genealogies, published in 2000, is a huge reference source for Cameron settlers in Australia and their descendants.

New Zealand.  The most notable Cameron name in New Zealand history has been Sir Duncan Cameron, a Highland officer who commanded the British troops in the land wars against the Maoris in the 1860’s.

A number of Camerons had arrived earlier, among the Highlanders who came out to Wellington with Laird Donald McDonald on the Blenheim in 1840 – including Donald Cameron and his wife Christina (the subject of Marc Ulyatt’s book The Kiawarra Camerons).

Many Camerons settled in South Island.  Hugh Cameron came from the Highlands to Dunedin in 1860.  His descendants still run his sheep station at Ben-Ohau.  Andrew Cameron arrived in 1863, studied in Scotland and Dunedin to become a Presbyterian minister, and later founded Knox College in Otago.

Some Camerons continued to uphold their Highland traditions, such as the Camerons of Mataura who started the first civilian pipe band in New Zealand in Invercargill in 1896.

Cameron Surname Miscellany

How The Camerons Came to Lochaber.  The following account of how the Camerons came to Lochaber was written by Dr. Archibald Cameron sometime around 1740.

“The first man who was called by the name of Cameron was much renowned for his feats in arms and his prodigious strength, a monument of which is still remaining near Achnacarry, the seat of Lochiel – namely a large stone of upwards of 500 pounds weight which he could hoist from the ground with a straight arm and toss it with as much ease as a man does a cricket-bat; a plough-share which he could bend round his leg like a garter; and the strongest ropes which were no more in his hands than twine-thread.  In short, he seems to have been a second Samson.

This man of might was so conscious of his strength and prowess that he thought no man upon earth was a match for him and accordingly he entered the lists with the most famous champions of that age.  In one of their combats, it seems that his antagonist handled him very roughly and with a violent blow of his fist set his nose awry. From this accident he was always called Cameron, the knight of the wry-nose.

The baron of Straborgig was willing to marry his daughter to our knight, because by this alliance he should get a brave bold man to head his people against the clan of MacDonalds of Glengarry who bordered on the Lochiel estate.

Our knight, whose courage never flinched in the greatest dangers, led on his men boldly and fought many bloody encounters with the MacDonalds,  The MacDonald then agreed that they would renounce all claim and pretense of right to such a certain district, containing about 500 acres of land, which shall be made over to the knight of the wry-nose and his heirs forever.”

March of the Cameron Men

  • “There’s many a man of the Cameron clan
  • That has followed his chief to the field.
  • He has sworn to support him or die by his side
  • For a Cameron never can yield.
  • I hear the pibroch sounding sounding deep o’er the mountain and glen 
  • While light springing footsteps are trampling the heath.
  • ‘Tis the march of the Cameron men. 
  • ‘Tis the march, ’tis the march, 
  • ‘Tis the march of the Cameron men.
  • Oh proudly they walk, but each Cameron knows
  • He may tread on the heather no more
  • But boldly he follows his chief to the field
  • Where his laurels were gathered before.
  • The moon has arisen, it shines on the path
  • Now trod by the gallant and true
  • High, high are the hopes, for their chieftain has said
  • That whatever men dare, they can do.” 

The Grave Site of Gentle Lochiel in France.  In 1998 the grave site of Donald Cameron, the 19th chief of Lochiel, was found by Julian Hutchings, a Scottish businessman based in France.  The evidence had been obtained from a slip signed by Gentle Lochiel days before he died, giving permission for one of his soldiers to marry.  It is believed that Gentle Lochiel died of meningitis in a military hospital just days later.

The area that contains the grave is now a school playground and a memorial plaque has been mounted on the brick playground wall.  The memorial was put in place by Clan Cameron Association during a ceremony at which many Camerons attended.  As to whether Lochiel’s actual grave could be identified, it would depend on how many Protestants were buried in this separate section of what must have been the hospital graveyard in 1748.

Reader Feedback: Gentle Lochiel.  Can you please correct the spelling of Cameron of Lochiel’s town name in which he died in October 1748 as Bergues and not Bourges.  Bourges is to be found in the central Cher region of France and is nowhere near the northern Belgian border town of Bergues.

Although I spent a lot of time and money investigating where our Gentle Lochiel died and was buried, I had in fact handed over the mission to someone who has become a fine friend of mine, Monsieur Jean Bonduelle from Armbouts-Cappel (a wee town next to Bergues).  He carried on the research work, reporting back to me his findings and in fact it was Jean who salvaged all of the archives attesting to the authenticity of Bergues as being Gentle Lochiel’s last resting place.  It was a team effort if you like.

Julian Hutchings (

Reader Feedback – Camerons After Culloden.  My 6th great grandfather Cameron was first cousin to Dr. Cameron and Donald Cameron of Locheil. We have no idea what his first name was.

But his daughter, my 5th great grandmother, was Mary Cameron who was married to John McPherson. Mary’s father accompanied Dr. Cameron back to Scotland. First Dr. Cameron was captured, then Mary’s father.  Her father was pardoned and offered a commission. He refused it and was exiled.

If not for being exiled, I would not exist.  It is a miracle we are here. What outright cruelty that was experienced.  I believe I am related to Duncan Cameron the fur trader. I live near the town in Canada where he was posted by the Northwest fur trade.

Carrie O’Connor (

Verney Cameron and Dr. Livingstone.  By dogged determination, Verney Cameron had persuaded the Royal Geographic Society to use its surplus funds to form an expedition for him to find Dr. Livingstone and to put himself under his orders and to assist him wherever possible.

The Livingstone East Coast Africa Expedition thus began.  After much trouble in obtaining stores and hiring porters, the expedition set off for the interior on February 2, 1873. Sadly, on October 20, a letter was received, written by Jacob Wainwright (one of Livingstone’s African colleagues), stating that Livingstone had died and that his body was being taken to the coast.  A few days later, the body arrived at Unyanyembe and was received by Cameron with all the respect and honor he could muster.  It was Cameron who immediately sent word to Zanzibar of Livingstone’s death for the world to know.

Cameron then made the decision to continue with his expedition and to explore Africa.  For the next two years and more, he trekked west through Tanganyika, the Belgian Congo, and Angola.  He was the first European to cross Africa from East to West and he discovered the source of the Congo among his various other achievements.  In April 1876, he returned to England after three years and four months to the sort of acclaim that had greeted Livingstone twenty years earlier.

Reader Feedback: Simon Cameron’s Ancestry.  Ship records show that Donald Cameron, aged 65, came to Philadelphia in Jully 1775 aboard the Clementia from Stornoway in Scotland.  His place of residence was given as Beauly.  With him came his two sons, John and Simon, and three grandchildren.  The story that this Donald had previously fought at Culloden, gone to America and fought with Wolfe in Canada, and then returned to Scotland seems unlikely.

Donald and his two sons settled in Donegal township in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania and farmed the church lands of the Donegal Presbyterian Church.  Simon and his brother John did both take the oath of allegiance and both have 1777 court records of being fined for not marching when called. Both fines were dropped when Simon said: “I have just come to this country and speak only Gaelic and my wife recently died, leaving me four small children to care for.”

Simon’s son Charles, born in Scotland, grew and married Martha Pfoutz and had several children, one of whom was to become Senator Simon Cameron and Lincoln’s Secretary for War.  Charles was not very good in business and had to have a sheriff’s sale.  Charles eventually put his children in foster homes and Simon was placed with an affluent doctor who gave him a good education.

Mordecai Cameron, born in America, was another son of Simon’s by a different wife.   For a time Mordecai stayed close to his half brother Charles but then decided to move West, through Virginia to Ohio.

Virgil Cameron (

Piedmont Plantation: The Bennehen-Cameron Family and Lands in North Carolina.  Jean Anderson’s 1993 book Piedmont Plantation: The Bennehen-Cameron Family and Lands in North Carolina detailed the public and private lives of the family patriarchs Richard Bennehen and Duncan Cameron, both of whom settled separately in western North Carolina in the late 18th century.

Bennehen came to North Carolina from Virginia in the 1770’s as a store owner and in short order developed extensive land holdings. Duncan Cameron also came to North Carolina from Virginia, but twenty years later in the 1790’s.  Cameron settled in North Carolina as a lawyer, but also became a planter.  In 1803 he married Richard Bennehen’s daughter Rebecca.

Jean Anderson recorded the following Cameron graves at the cemetery in Mangum township:

  • Anne Owen Nash Cameron (1753-1825)
  • Duncan Cameron (1777-1853)
  • Rebecca Bennehen Cameron (1778-1843)
  • William Ewen Cameron (1792-1827)

The Bennehen and Cameron family plantation ventures gradually merged into one of the largest plantations in North Carolina, with accumulated land holdings in excess of 30,000 acres and more than 1,000 slaves living and working on the land.  Their main holding was the Stagville plantation (still preserved) in Durham county.

Two male offspring, Thomas Bennehen and Paul Cameron, also figured prominently in Anderson’s book.  Paul Cameron was reputedly the richest man in North Carolina by the time of the outbreak of the Civil War.

Camerons on the Blenheim to New Zealand

Head of Family Occupation Family
Alexander carpenter wife and two children
Allan engineer’s assistant wife and three children
Angus laborer single
Catherine widow
Catherine housemaid single
Donald weaver wife and six children
Donald laborer wife and ten children
Dugald laborer wife and three children
Ewen tailor wife and eleven children
Ewen single
John laborer wife and seven children
John single
Mary housemaid single

The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada.  As early as 1905 the local Scottish community in Winnipeg began lobbying the Government to raise a Highland regiment.

Four years later, prospective officers met and committees dealing with finances, uniforms and the band were formed.  As the Government grant did not cover the entire cost of uniforms and equipment, the Scottish societies and the officers undertook to raise the money themselves.  Almost all of the original accoutrements, including their kilts, were manufactured in Scotland.

In 1910 the 79th Cameron Highlanders of Canada (or, for short, Camerons) were officially gazetted and received its first stand of Colours, presented by Mrs D. C. Cameron, the wife of the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

The Camerons saw action in both World Wars and remains a fighting force today.  The regiment parades at Minto Armoury in Winnipeg on Tuesday nights from the last week of August to the second week of June.

Clyde Cameron’s Upbringing.  Clyde Cameron was born not long after the birth of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and, in a fundamental sense by the time of his death in 2008, he had outlived it by some years.

He not only died a socialist, he was virtually born a socialist.  He was the eldest of four sons of a remarkable woman who taught her boys from their earliest days that the working class deserved a better deal from society.  Not the least remarkable thing about Adelaide Cameron was that she crossed the social boundaries to champion the working-class cause.  She had lived her first two decades as a privileged daughter of a grazier near Quorn in South Australia.  When she married Robert Cameron, a shearer who worked from time to time at her family’s property, her father saw this as a betrayal of her class and for many years dismissed her from his life.

Adelaide Cameron was a woman of redoubtable energy and high intelligence.  She did most of the work around the farm as well as in the house and in the evenings she would read to her children; not fairytales or adventure stories but extracts from her favorite authors: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill or Bertrand Russell.  Meal times were for nourishing the mind as well as the body.  The table talk was usually about politics or economics.  Of the four brothers, Clyde was the most ardent debater.  His path in life was already being marked out.

Clyde left school at 14 on the eve of the Great Depression, a social disaster that was to reinforce all his mother had taught him about the deficiencies of capitalism.

David Cameron’s Pedigree.  David Cameron the Tory leader, sometimes thought of as a toff from Eton, has in fact a family ancestry from the Scottish Highlands.

  • James Cameron (1776-1865) and Margaret of Croy and Dalcross, Invernessshire.
  • – William Cameron (born 1806) and Catherine of Croy and Dalcross, Invernessshire.
  • — Sir Ewen Cameron (1841-1908).  He married Josephine Houchen in 1878.  He was an accountant by training and rose to become the head of the HSBC bank in London.
  • — Ewen Allan Cameron (1880-1937).  He married Rachel Geddes in 1905.  He was a senior partner in the stockbroker firm of Panmure Gordon and also an important international financier.
  • —- Donald Cameron (died in 1958), who married Enid Levita, and Ian Donald Cameron (born in 1932), who married Mary Mount, were his grandfather and father.  Both worked for the stockbroker firm of Panmure Gordon.
  • —– David Cameron, born in London in 1966.

Through other lines David Cameron is a direct descendant of Queen Victoria’s uncle William IV and his mistress Dorothea Jordan and he is also related through his grandmother to the statesman and author Duff Cooper, the TV presenter Adam Hart-Davis, and the journalist and writer Duff Hart-Davis.  David’s wife Samantha is a direct descendant of Nell Gwynn, mistress to Charles II.

Cameron Names

  • Sir Ewen Cameron, the 17th chief of the Cameron clan, was a prominent supporter of Charles II in Scotland during the Restoration period.
  • Richard Cameron was a leading Scottish Covenanter of the late 17th century.  His followers were called Cameronians.
  • Duncan Cameron was a prosperous Canadian fur trader and an early political figure in Upper Canada.
  • Julia Cameron was a pioneering British photographer of the mid 19th century.
  • Verney Cameron was the African explorer acclaimed by the Victorian public after Livingstone.
  • James Cameron is the Canadian film-maker who made Titanic in 1997 and Avator in 2009.
  • David Cameron was the British Prime Minister from 2010 to 2016.  He returned as Lord Cameron to be British Foreign Secretary in 2023.

Cameron Numbers Today

  • 34,000 in the UK (most numerous in Renfrewshire)
  • 22,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 54,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).

Cameron 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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