Grant Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Grant Surname Meaning

Grant is a Scottish clan name. Its origins here have been disputed and various theories have been suggested. A Norse origin is now thought to be the most likely. This had always been part of the Grant oral tradition (with descent claimed from Olav Hemingsson of Norway in the 11th century). Recent DNA analysis would support a Norse connection.

The Grant name, according to the Grant tradition, is thought to have come from Sliabh Grianas, the name of a meadow above Aviemore in the Scottish Highlands which was the first land in Scotland to be occupied by the Grants. Grant appears to have been adopted as the clan name sometime in the 12th century. The Grant name also appears, probably independently, in England and Ireland.

Grant Surname Resources on The Internet

Grant Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Highland), England and Ireland
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Scotland.  Members of clan Grant have owned land in the Scottish Highlands in Strathspey, at Stratherrick to the east of Loch Ness, since possibly the middle of the 12th century.  Their support of Robert the Bruce enabled them to secure these landholdings in the 14th century. Their base, Grant Castle in Strathpey, still stands; as does Ballindalloch castle, the home of the MacPherson Grants.

The Grants were not decimated, as were some other Highland clans, by the convulsions which occurred during the 18th century. Many Grants had supported the Lowland Covenanters and then took the English side during the Jacobite uprisings (although some did take the other side).

Clan Grant was one of the few clans not to be affected by the Highland clearances. The so-called “Good Sir James” Grant built the town of Grantown-on-Spey for the purpose of developing a textile industry in the north and thereby preventing his kinsmen from emigrating. Some Grants did move elsewhere or leave. But more than half of the Grants in Scotland were still to be found in the Highlands by the end of the 19th century.

The Grants of Rothiemurchus still hold their lands around Aviemore; and other branches of the family hold lands in Strathpey. The Bloomsbury painter Duncan Grant came from the Rothiemurchus Grants, the actor Hugh Grant from the Glenmoriston Grants. 

Two Alexander Grants fought on the losing Jacobite side in 1746:

  • one Alexander died at Culloden. But his son George rose to great prominence in India, as Chairman of the East India Company. George’s elder son Charles was made Baron Glenelg, his younger son Robert became Governor of Bombay. 
  • another Alexander survived the defeat at Culloden, but had to flee to Banffshire where he was hidden from the English by a clan chief. His great grandson William Grant founded the Grant Glenfiddich whisky business in the late 19th century. Grant descendants are now considered the third richest family in Scotland.

England. The Grants were not exclusively a Scottish name. Richard le Grand was the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1229. A Grant family in Warwickshire produced John Grant, one on the Gunpowder plotters. These Grants may have had Norman origins.

By the 18th century, the surname appeared mainly in the south, in Devon (particularly in Diptford) and in Hampshire, and around London. But there were hardly any Grants to be found in East Anglia or the Midlands where, it had been argued, Norman Grants had migrated north to Scotland.

Later Grants in England may well have gone the other way from Scotland. One such example was Robert Grant, an early mentor of Charles Darwin, who had come from Scotland and founded the Grant zoological museum in London in 1827.

Ireland.  There were also Irish Grants. Unlike the Scottish Grants, these also seem to have been a Norman implant, they being among the Strongbow invaders in 1170. The Grants became landowners at Iverk in county Kilkenny. After the Cromwellian confiscations, they moved onto Tipperary and Offaly.

The 19th century saw an out-migration, to Canada, America, and Australia. Many were sent to Australia as convicts. John Grant narrowly escaped this fate, as the following entry reveals:

“John Grant, a United Irishman, was arrested in 1798 and imprisoned in Geneva barracks, Waterford. His wife Judith petitioned against transportation because they had six small destitute children. On payment of a £50 fine and the swearing of allegiance, his sentence was voided.”

Within Ireland, Grants today are mainly to be found around Waterford and in Shinrone in county Offaly.

America. Matthew Grant arrived from Devon in 1630 and became the town surveyor for Windsor, Connecticut. His descendants moved, after the Revolutionary War, to Pennsylvania and then to Ohio where Ulysses Grant, Lincoln’s General and later American President, was born in 1822.

Whiskey was said to be his weakness. When Lincoln heard about Grant’s habit, he was reported to have said: “Find out what brand he drinks so I can give it to the rest of my generals.” Grant’s funeral in 1885 drew 1.5 million people on its six mile parade through New York City. He was buried there in Grant’s Tomb on Riverside Drive.

Peter Grant from Inverness was exiled to America by Oliver Cromwell in 1650 and ended up living in Berwick, Maine as an indentured servant. Peter was one of the first Scottish Grants to show up in America and has many descendants living today. A later Peter Grant left Berwick for Farmingdale, Maine in 1790. His home there, overlooking the Kennebec river, is still standing.

Later Grant exiles were:

  • Ludovic Grant, a Jacobite supporter during the 1715 uprising, who was captured, lost his lands, and then was banished from Scotland. He departed on the Susannah for South Carolina. There, in the rough-and-tumble of frontier life, he became a successful trader with the Cherokee Indians.
  • and William Grant who came to North Carolina after the Jacobite defeat in 1745 and married Daniel Boone’s sister Elizabeth.

Canada. There were several Grants from Strathpey who became active in the Canadian fur trade in the 1770’s (including Cuthbert Grant, an early trader in the Canadian West). Captain John Grant, an Empire Loyalist, came to Summerville, Novia Scotia, in 1784. His descendants lived there until 1866.

Around that time, another Grant family from Nova Scotia departed for Trinidad in the Caribbean where they started the trading company T. Geddes Grant. This Trinidad company still flourishes.

Australia. Early Grant arrivals had been convicts.

John Grant had shot a London lawyer in the buttocks and been sentenced to death at the Old Bailey. His petition that it had been a crime of passion over a woman led to his sentence being reduced to life transportation. He arrived in New South Wales with a harpsichord in 1803 and was one of the few convicts to record his impressions of the early colony (This Beauteous, Wicked Place: Letters and Journals of John Grant, Gentleman Convict).

Another John Grant, this one from Tipperary, was transported to New South Wales in 1811 for attempting to shoot his landlord’s son who had seduced his sister. After receiving his conditional pardon in 1820, he crossed the Blue Mountains and made his home at Moyne Farm in Hartley where he was one of the early settlers. Interestingly, there was a family of Aboriginal Grants from a mixed race marriage or union that originated from Hartley. Who the father was has been a matter of much debate.

Hugh Grant’s Family Ancestry

The genealogist Antony Adolph has described actor Hugh Grant’s family history as “a colourful Anglo-Scottish tapestry of warriors, empire-builders and aristocracy.”

Just click below if you want to read more about this history:

Grant Surname Miscellany

Alternative Grant Origins.  Grant is a Scottish clan name.  Grants themselves believe (and there is DNA evidence supporting this belief) that they are of Norse origin.

But others have suggested that the Grants may have been of Norman origin, having moved north to Scotland from England in the 13th century.The Grant name would then have had a French connotation, from a French-type root such as “grand” or “le grand,” meaning tall or large.

The Anglo-Saxon grant, meaning crooked or bowed, has also been suggested.   In old Irish, grandha signified ugly or ill-favored, grande dark or swarthy.

The Grant Name and Its Pronunciation.  The pronunciation of Grant was not as it is today (i.e. like the word “dance” is pronounced).  Rather it was closest to today’s “ground,” but with a “t” instead of a “d”.  Everyone seems to agree that the earliest Grants in the 13th century pronounced their names in the Gaelic fashion.

Grant tradition suggests that the Grant name has come from sliabh grianais the moor above Aviemore – which was held, also by tradition, to be the first land in Scotland occupied by the Grant progenitors.  This tradition has been questioned.  How is it possible that grianais could mutate into Grant?  Then, it is argued, Stratherrick was the first Scottish land to be held by the Grant family.

In his Place Names: Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Alexander MacBain had this to say:

Granish (Duthil) G Grèanais (Grèn-), for older Gràniais, apparently from gràin, abhorrence; but likely Pictish, denoting ‘rough place’, from the same root and stem.”

Thus tradition tells us that the name Grant should mean “gravelly” or “gritty.”  However, the name Grant, in early documents, is very often spelled Graunt or Grawnt.  This ties in with the Old Celtic (Pictish) of the grianais above.  Thus the connection with grianais is not a matter of pronunciation, but one of meaning.

Grant Castle.  Grant Castle was the center of all clan activity, as it was the primary residence of the Chief of Grant. Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus gave an interesting account of the castle in her Memoirs of a Highland Lady:

“Our great house then was Castle Grant, the residence of our Chief.  It was about twenty miles off down Speyside.  My father and mother were much there when they were first married.  My Aunts Mary and Lizzie delighted in the gaiety of a scene so new to them.

Generally about fifty people sat down to dinner in the great hall, in the shooting season, of all ranks. There was not exactly a “below the salt” division so marked at the table, but the company at the lower end was of a very different description from those at the top, and treated accordingly with whisky punch instead of wine.

Neither was there a distinct “yellow drawing room” party, though a large portion of the guests seldom obtruded themselves on the more refined section of the company unless on a dancing evening, when all again united in the cleared hall.

Sir James Grant was hospitable in the feudal style.  His house was open to all; to each and all he bade a hearty welcome, and he was glad to see his table filled, and scrupulous to pay fit attention to every individual present; the Chief condescending to the Clan, above the best of whom he considered himself extremely. It was rough royalty too, plenty, but rude plenty.  A footman in the gorgeous green and scarlet livery behind every chair, but they were mere gillies, lads quite untutored, sons of small tenants brought for the occasion, the autumn gathering, and fitted with the suit best filled.”

Grants in Devon in The 18th Century

of Birth
Grant Place Event
1693 Nicholas Diptford Marriage to Elizabeth Shute, 1728
1704 John Diptford Marriage to Agnes Harvey, 1732
1729 Elizabeth Diptford Birth
1730 Nicholas Diptford Marriage to Sarah Turtley, 1756
1733 Mary Diptford Birth
1734 Henry Diptford Birth
1736 John Diptford Birth
1738 Andrew Diptford Birth
1740 Henry Diptford Birth
1743 Agnes Diptford Marriage to William Horswell,
1750 Peter Ugborough Marriage to Mary Andrews, 1771
1751 Sarah Eemington Birth
1766 Henry Churston Ferrers Birth
1768 Arthur Churston Ferrers Birth
1771 Ann Churston Ferrers Marriage to John Hannaford, 1797
1775 John Ugborough Birth
1779 Hannah Ugborough Birth
1783 Elizabeth Ugborough Birth
1785 Mary Ugborough Birth

Peter and Joan Grant in Maine.  In 1664 Peter Grant was in Berwick court for living as husband and wife with a young widow named Joan Grant.  Her husband James Grant had apparently died, and she was “big with child.”  It is thought that James was in fact Peter’s brother, so that would have been even more of a scandal.

Peter, whose first wife was supposed to be still alive (presumably in Scotland), was sentenced to £10 or ten lashes on the bare skin and ordered to “maintain the child of the said Joan Grant so soon as she is delivered.”   After a prescribed period of separation, the couple were allowed to marry.

Peter and Joan Grant eventually raised eight children together on their farm along the Newichawannock river.  But although the oldest child Elizabeth was probably raised in the household, Peter Grant always insisted that he was not her father and explicitly did not name Elizabeth in his will.

A Grant from the Highlands To South Carolina.  Ludovick Grant was was sometimes called the “Highland King.”  He was appointed a colonel and then a sheriff of Inverness in 1694  He had almost the status of royalty.

However, this family position was all lost after the Grants had backed the Jacobites in 1715.  His grandson Ludovic, the 2nd Baron of Dalvey, was captured after the Jacobites had lost at Preston.  After his capture his lands were confiscated and his title revoked.  He was then banished to “the American plantations” and was sent from Liverpool in May 1716 on the Susannah to the colonies.

He made a name for himself in South Carolina.  By 1725 he was an established trader in the Cherokee Nation where he had married a full blooded Cherokee of the Longhaired clan.  Being of “good” family and well educated, he became the agent and correspondent for the Governors of South Carolina.  He was one of the few traders who were honest and well respected with whites and with the Cherokees.

Ludovic Grant lived onto 1768 and died in Tellico, Tennessee.

Grant’s Glenfiddich Whisky.  It was recorded that three Grant brothers fought in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and only one, Alexander Grant, survived the defeat at Culloden.  But he had to flee to Banffshire where he was hidden from the English by a clan chief.

Alexander’s great grandson, William Grant, was born in Dufftown in 1839.  When he was seven he began herding the family cattle in the hills.  He then worked as an apprentice shoemaker and a limeworks employee.  He did, however, receive a good education. Consequently, in 1866 he became a bookkeeper at a local distillery where he gained an appreciation for the production of whisky.

He saved and saved to set himself up as a distiller.  In 1886 he quit his job, purchased the necessary land, materials and machines, and built the Glenfiddich distillery with the help of his nine children.  On Christmas Day in 1887, his distillery began operation, pioneering the single malt Scotch whisky.

By 1914, William Grant & Sons had established distribution networks in 30 countries and now the company exports to 180 countries.  William Grant himself died in 1923.  His family is today ranked the third richest in Scotland.

Grant Names

  • Richard Le Grant was Archbishop of Canterbury in 1229.
  • Sir Ian Grant, sheriff of Inverness in 1434, was the first authenticated chief of the Grant clan.
  • Charles Grant, the son of a Jacobite killed at Culloden, joined the British East India Company and rose to be its chairman.
  • Ulysses B. Grant was Lincoln’s General during the Civil War and later American President.
  • James Grant was the Victorian explorer who with John Speke discovered the source of the Nile.
  • Cary Grant the actor was born in England Archie Leach.
  • Eddy Grant, the reggae artist, made his name with the 1983 hit Electric Avenue.
  • Hugh Grant is the English actor of films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.

Grant Numbers Today

  • 63,000 in the UK (most numerous in Falkirk)
  • 49,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 42,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

Grant 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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