Crichton Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Crichton Surname Meaning

Scottish and English surnames Crichton and Creighton seem related, with both coming from place-names – the old barony of Crichton in Midlothian (initially Kreiton) gave rise to the better-known Crichton name; while the Creighton name looks to have originated from a place of that name near Uttoxeter in Staffordshire.

The root of these names is either the Gaelic crioch meaning “boundary” or the Celtic creic meaning “rock” plus in each case tun meaning “settlement.”

The Crichton base was Midlothian; while Creighton has been found in Cumbria, Dumfries and later in Ulster.  And Creighton is more common in America and Canada.

Crichton Surname Resources on The Internet

Crichton and Creighton Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Lowland) and Northern England
  • to Ireland (Ulster), America, Canada and New Zealand

Scotland. The Crichtons, based in Crichton near Edinburgh, were an important medieval Scottish family. They first appeared in records in the 12th century. Thomas de Crichton was recorded in the Ragman Roll swearing allegiance to Edward I in 1296. The Crichtons held castles at Crichton and also at Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire through a subsidiary line.

Crichton.  Sir William Crichton of Crichton rose to prominence as the Chancellor of Scotland in 1439 during the minority of James II. But he then earned the enmity of the powerful Douglas clan.

“Crichton organized the infamous black dinner at Edinburgh Castle when the Earl of Douglas and his brother were invited as guests of honor to a royal banquet there. After the dinner the two Douglases were dragged from the boy king’s presence and executed on Castle Hill.”  

His grandson William, the third Lord Crichton, backed a rival claimant to the Scottish throne, lost out, and in 1483 was dispossessed of all his lands, including Crichton castle. It is from a related line, the Crichtons of Frendraught, that the present line descends. Their seat since 1850 has been at Monzie castle in Perthshire.

Another possibly related line was that of Patrick Crichton, a saddler and ironmonger in Edinburgh. He prospered enough to set himself up at Woodhouselee House in the 1740’s. His son Alexander was a coachbuilder; and his grandson Alexander and great grandson Archibald both physicians to Russian Tsars in the early 1800’s.

Sanquhar.  Sir Robert Crichton became sheriff of Dumfries in 1464 and Robert his eldest son was made Lord Crichton of Sanquhar in 1487.

Unfortunately the title brought nothing but bad luck to the Crichtons. William the third Lord was murdered by Lord Semple around 1552; while Robert the sixth Lord, accused of being involved in the murder of his fencing master, was executed in 1612. The title eventually passed to the family of Crichton-Stuart, the present Marquesses of Bute.

One line led to Robert Crichton of Nithsdale, the Lord Advocate of Scotland, who moved to Perthshire.  His son James, born in Perthshire in 1560, was the Scottish prodigy acclaimed as the Admirable Crichton. Other Crichtons in Perthshire held the position of Bishop of Dunkeld in the mid-1500’s.

The spelling in Dumfries often became Creighton, mirroring the spelling across the border in England.

England. Carlisle in Cumbria boasted a number of Creightons.

Jonathan Creighton was a surgeon there in the 1770’s. Fortunatus Creighton was the proprietor of the Captain Cook Inn from the 1770’s until his death in 1828.

James Creighton, a joiner by trade, arrived in Carlisle from the Scottish borders in the 1820’s. His son Robert had two remarkable sons:

  • Mandell Creighton who became Bishop of London and a prominent British historian. His life was covered in James Covert’s 2000 book A Victorian Marriage – Mandell and Louise Creighton.
  • and James Robert Creighton who was twice mayor of Carlisle. He died at an early age in 1896 and the town erected the Creighton Memorial to him in what became the Creighton Memorial Gardens.

Charles and Sarah Creighton lived in Gosforth, Cumberland in the late 1700’s. Their son Thomas was a schoolmaster at Uldale.  

Ireland.  The Creighton name prevailed in Ireland, although most probably came from Scotland. Many Scottish Creightons had moved to Ulster in the early 17th century at the time of the Scottish plantations. The principal counties for settlement were Fermanagh and Tyrone. The Irish O’Criochain in Tyrone sometimes got anglicized as Creighton.

John Creighton, from the Frendraught Crichtons, established himself at Crom castle near Lough Erne in Fermanagh in the mid-1600’s. His descendant John became the first Earl of Erne in 1789. This family later re-adopted the Crichton spelling.

However, most Creightons in Ireland, less proud and not so ennobled, did not do so. Many emigrated, first to America and later to Canada.

America. Creightons came to America, many from Scotland and Ireland, but not too many Crichtons. 

Scottish. Among the Scottish arrivals were:

  • Andrew Creighton who came as a young man in 1768 from Edinburgh to the Tuscarora valley of Pennsylvania.  His grandsons Abram and Samuel were Methodist ministers in Pennsylvania.
  • Daniel Creighton from Perthshire who came in the early 1800’s to Perth in upstate New York.  His son James lived on the Creighton homestead farm in Perth until his death in 1871.
  • and Robert Creighton from Dumfries who came to Tennessee sometime in the 1820’s and farmed in Sumner county. His grandson Robert “Pop” Creighton grew up in Nashville.  He was a builder, most notably of the centerpiece of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition that was held in Nashville in 1898.

A later Scottish arrival to Indiana in the 1870’s, and keeping the Scottish spelling of his name, was William Crichton.  He homesteaded in Colorado.  His line led to John Henderson Crichton, an advertising executive in New York, and to his son Michael Crichton, the best-selling thriller writer.

Irish.  Thomas Creighton and his wife Jenny came to the Lancaster district of South Carolina from county Antrim in 1772. Their son Thomas moved to Kentucky and then to Illinois and their grandson John to Clarke county, Alabama.

James Creighton, originally McCraren, was an Irish Catholic from Monaghan who had arrived in Canada in 1806 and then moved with his wife Bridget to farm in America – first in Pennsylvania and then in Ohio.

  • their two sons Edward and John Creighton were prominent early businessmen in Omaha, Nebraska.
  • Edward had initially become involved in the freight shipping/telegraph businesses and by the 1850’s was one of the largest builders of telegraph lines in America.  He and his wife Mary arrived in Omaha in 1856.
  • Edward relied on Mary to carry out his request to create a college there. This eventually became Creighton University.

James Creighton arrived in the 1830’s, became a marine engineer and followed steam-boating for many years before settling in Ohio. After the death of his wife Maria he took his family west in 1855, going to California via the Isthmus route. His son David prospered as a farmer in Oregon.

Canada.  It was the same story about Creightons and Crichtons in Canada. Among the Creighton arrivals were:

  • John Creighton from Somerset who arrived with the British army in Nova Scotia in 1753, stayed, and was one of the founders of the town of Lunenburg.
  • James Creighton who was in Halifax, Nova Scotia by the 1790’s, running a ship chandlering business there. His grandson James, a lawyer and journalist, is credited with organizing the first indoor ice hockey match in 1875 in Montreal.
  • William Creighton from Tyrone who came with his family in 1846 and settled in Haldimand county, Ontario. He called the farm he purchased Tyrone.  Descendants have developed prize-winning shorthorn cattle there.
  • William Creighton from Belfast who came around 1850 and established himself as a merchant in Toronto. One son John became a prominent lawyer there, another son William was a lumber merchant in Winnipeg.
  • and David Creighton from Fermanagh who came in 1869 and settled in Essex county, Ontario. Later Creightons moved to Yale, British Columbia.

New Zealand. Francis Creighton, a seaman from Dublin, was an early arrival in New Zealand, first coming in the late 1820’s and then settling there in 1835 and marrying Jane Cook. He lived on in Auckland to the grand age of 99, dying in 1908.  Also Irish were James and Elizabeth Creighton from Offaly who arrived in New Zealand in the early 1860’s.  They settled in Otago, South Island.

Crichton and Creighton Surname Miscellany

Crichtons and Creightons Today

Numbers (000’s) Crichtons Creightons Total
UK    4    4    8
America    1    3    4
Elsewhere    3    4    7
Total    8   11   19

The Crichton Castles in Scotland.  There are two ancient castles, both now ruins, that the Crichtons once held.

Crichton Castle

Crichton castle stands tucked away out of sight, on a terrace above the Tyne river near the village of Pathhead in Midlothian.  The castle was built as a home for the Crichtons and served as their residence from the late 1300’s until 1483.   John de Crichton constructed the oldest part of the present castle complex – the lofty tower house that dominated the east range of the castle’s quadrangle.

His son William became a leading statesman and in 1439 was made Chancellor of Scotland, a position that brought him great wealth and power.  Sir William added greatly to his father’s castle, building an innovative great hall and kitchen around a new courtyard.  He also built a collegiate church nearby where he paid priests to pray for his family’s salvation.

However, the 3rd Lord Crichton was a supporter of Alexander Stewart, Duke of Albany.  His lands and titles were forfeit in 1483 when Albany was sentenced for treason.  Crichton castle was thus lost to the Crichton family.

Sanquhar Castle

Thomas de Crichton swore fealty to Edward I of England in the Ragman Roll of 1296. Thomas had three sons, each of whom extended the family holdings.  William his second son married Isabel de Ross, the heiress to the barony of Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire.

Sanquhar castle was built by this line of the Crichton family sometime in the 13th century.  The castle was a stronghold that was bounded to the west by the river Nith, to the north by a burn, and made strong by a deep ditch running the remainder of the boundary.  It was visited by many notable figures including Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Edward I, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI of Scotland.

The castle was sold by the Crichtons in the mid-17th century to Sir William Douglas, the first Duke of Queensbury.

The Admirable Crichton. 

The 1500’s

James Crichton, born in Perthshire in 1560, was a Scottish polymath who was known for his extraordinary accomplishments in languages, the arts, and sciences.  He was known as “the Admiral Crichton.”  By the age of twenty he was an expert in just about every field and had mastered around ten languages. If that wasn’t enough he was also renowned for his horsemanship and sword skills.

On a visit to Rome he impressed the Pope and the Duke of Mantua – so much so that the Duke asked him to be tutor to his son Vincenzo.  Alas Italian youths were less impressed with such showmanship then Popes.

In 1582, at the tender age of twenty-one, Crichton was attending a carnival when he was ambushed by a gang.  He rapidly dispatched five of them and was preparing to finish off the sixth when he revealed himself as young Vincenzo. Shocked by the discovery James was unprepared for Vincenzo’s attack and Vincenzo promptly stabbed and killed him.

And in 1902.

The Admirable Crichton was a comic stage play written in 1902 by the playwright J.M. Barrie.

Barrie took the title from the sobriquet of a fellow Scot, the polymath James Crichton.   The epigram-loving Ernest was probably a caricature of the title character in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The plot may have derived from Robinson’s Eiland, an 1896 German play.

In Barrie’s play a group of Berlin officials – including a capitalist, a professor and a journalist – were shipwrecked on an island, where a secretary, Arnold, became the natural leader of the group.

The Creighton Memorial.  The memorial was erected in 1898 following the death in 1896 of JR Creighton, Alderman, twice Mayor of Carlisle, and the leading figure in many local government projects. The decision to commemorate his life was taken at a special public meeting within weeks of his death.  The cost of the memorial is understood to have been between £500 and £600, raised by subscription.

The memorial was unveiled on 8 October 1898 and the Mayor, the Speaker of the House of Commons (who was the MP for Carlisle) and Creighton’s brother, the Bishop of London, gave the addresses.

JR Creighton was a council member for 22 years and initiated many projects for the improvement of the city, including the new Market Hall and the Tullie House Library and Museum.

The monument was erected upon a high stepped base within a large triangular ornamental garden at the center of the Lowther Street Improvement Scheme, and at the entrance to Carlisle from the north.

Pop Creighton of Nashville.  Mr. Bob or Pop Creighton was described by his son Wilbur as follows:

“He was a man of powerful physique, strong mind, firm conviction and inflexible will.  At times he was a rough as pig iron and always as strong as steel.”

He was a builder.  The masterpiece of his construction was the Parthenon in Nashville, a full-scale replica of the original Greek temple in Athens and the centerpiece of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1898.  It remains today a singular achievement.

The stone foundations for the Parthenon were built stronger than the other buildings in the Exposition. One room, the Cella, was built of brick since it as to house precious art works on loan for the occasion.  In 1922, when the building was being made permanent, these foundations could still be used to support the newer structure.

Pop Creighton’s salary as Chief Engineer of the Exposition was $100 a week on which to raise a family of six children.  He was responsible for all the buildings, not just the Parthenon, as well as miles of road and water lines, several bridges, and four lakes.  

The Nashville Banner reported:

“Mr. Creighton had the distinction of being selected as the Chief Engineer of the Centennial Exposition and he personally supervised the layout of the grounds and buildings.

Mr. Creighton’s interest in Centennial Park and the other parks of the city never waned, and especially fitting him for his work on the Park Commission to which he was appointed in 1913.  He was made chairman of the Commission in 1925 and held that position until he was forced to resign this year on account of bad health.

The beauty and convenience of Nashville’s Park system is due in great measure to Mr. Creighton, who gave his entire attention to the Parks in Nashville during the last few years of his life. The parks were his care and he loved them. The wonderful system of the parks in Nashville will remain as a lasting tribute to his good work in their behalf.”

Crichton and Creighton Names

  • Sir William Crichton was appointed Chancellor of Scotland in 1439 during the minority of James II.   
  • James Crichton was the 16th century Scottish prodigy known as the Admirable Crichton. 
  • Mandell Creighton was one of the leading British historians and churchmen in the late 19th century. 
  • Donald Creighton was a prominent 20th century Canadian historian. 
  • Michael Crichton was an American author in the thriller and science fiction genre. His best-known work, Jurassic Park, came out in 1990.

Crichton and Creighton Numbers Today

  • 8,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 4,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Crichton 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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