Livingston Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Livingston Surname Meaning
The origins of the Livingston surname in Scotland are from the place-name Livingston in West Lothian, first founded by a man named Leving in the 12th century.  Early Livingston spellings were various. Livingston and Livingstone are the main variants today. Livingston prevails in America. But Livingstone outnumbers Livingston in Scotland and elsewhere.

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Livingston and Livingstone Surname Ancestry

Scotland. Livingstons in Scotland divide into Lowland and Highland Livingstons. Both Lowland and Highland Livingstons have believed that there was some linkage between the two groups. But none has really been found.

Lowland.  The line from Leving at Livingston in West Lothian descended:

  • to Alexander Livingston, the first around 1250 to take the name of Livingston
  • to his grandson William Livingston, the first of the Livingstons of Livingston
  • and to Sir Bartholomew Livingston, the last of these Livingstons, who died at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.

However, another line had sprung from Sir William Livingston who had accompanied King David II on his expedition to England in 1346. Afterwards he acquired the barony of Callendar in Stirlingshire whose heiress he had married.

Sir James Livingston of Callendar was created Lord Livingston in 1458. His descendant Alexander was a guardian to the young Mary Queen of Scots a century later and his daughter Mary was one of the four Marys in her retinue.

A later Alexander Livingston became the Earl of Linlithgow in 1600, a title that was then forfeited when his descendant James Livingston came out on the Jacobite side in the Rising of 1715. This Livingston dynasty ended conclusively with the second Jacobite defeat in 1746. The family story was told in Edwin Livingston’s 1920 book The Livingstons of Callendar.

Subsidiary branches of the line were those at Kilsyth, Dunipace and Westquarter. One line led to the Rev. John Livingston at Jedbergh on the Scottish Borders and to his son Robert who founded the Livingston family in New York.

Highland.  These Livingstons originated from the Isle of Lismore and the districts of Lorn and Appin in Argyllshire on the Scottish west coast. Their original Gaelic name was MacLeay from Mac an Leigh, meaning “son of the physician.”

In 1641 James Livingston of Stirling, Baron of Biel, was granted a lease of the lands and the rights of the bishopric of Argyll and the Isles. In this capacity he resided for a while at Achandu castle at Lismore. It was probably then that the MacLeays adopted the name of Livingston.

They became the hereditary keepers of the crozier of the Bishops of Lismore (from St. Moluag who had died in 592) and granted the title of the Baron of Bachuil. But they were never a clan of much wealth or power, being always dependent on more prosperous neighbors to lease or croft them land to farm or graze their cattle.

Of descendants, Donald Livingstone was one of a contingent of Livingstones guarding Charles Stewart, the Laird of Ardsheal, at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. He rescued the white banner of the Stewarts from the battlefield and successfully returned it to Appin. More noteworthy later was Dr. David Livingstone, the famed African explorer. There were many who emigrated.

Ireland.  The Livingstons in Ireland were a Scottish implant. One family arrived in county Down from Ayrshire as early as 1607 as part of the Ulster plantation. Others came from Stirlingshire. The Rev. Henry Livingston was the long-serving minister of the Ballynahinch Presbyterian church.  

“This Henry Livingston was the first stated minister of Ballynahinch after the year 1641. He supplied the congregations of Drumbo, Ballynahinch and Drumcaw. To this most laborious office he was ordained in the year 1655; and he discharged its duties for the space of forty two years with great diligence and fidelity.”


William Livingston was a Lisburn merchant in the late 1600’s and a ruling elder at Ballynahinch.

America.  The Livingstons were one of the prominent families of early America.

New York.  Robert Livingston from Scotland, exiled to Holland for religious reasons, set sail for New York in 1674 and – with his Dutch connections – soon established his presence in its business and political circles.

He was to be the forebear of the Livingston family that would remain pre-eminent in New York through the colonial era and beyond. His line ran:

  • through his elder son Philip Livingston who inherited the family estate of Livingston Manor in Sullivan county. His descendants included a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a Governor of New Jersey, and a US Supreme Court Justice.
  • through his younger son Robert Livingston who made his home at Clermont in nearby Columbia county. His descendants included the US Minister to France who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and his son a Louisiana Senator.
  • and though his nephew Robert Livingston the Younger who arrived in America in 1687 and later was the mayor of Albany. His son John was a Montreal merchant.

Elsewhere.  There were of course other Livingstons in America.

John Livingston came to the Poropotank Creek area in Virginia from Scotland in 1651. Later Livingstones – brothers William, John and George – were plantation owners in King and Queen county in the 1750’s. Lucille Coone’s 1990 book The Livingstons of Virginia covered this line. There was another Virginia line of Livingstons from Botetourt county that migrated to Alabama in the early 1800’s.

Andrew Livingston was Scots Irish from county Down. He arrived in Pennsylvania sometime in the 1750’s. His son George settled in Fayette county and later Livingstons moved to Ohio. Adam Aaron Livingston was also Scots Irish. He came to Virginia in the 1760’s and was the forebear of the Livingstons of Greene county, Georgia. There are four different Livingston Bibles recording the 19th century descendants of this family.

CanadaMany of the Livingstons coming to Canada were Highland Livingstons from Argyllshire.  Daniel Livingston arrived in Nova Scotia with the British army in 1757 and stayed. He was later to be found in Leeds county, Ontario where he was killed by a falling tree in 1793.

There were Livingstones in Canada who had or claimed a kinship with the explorer David Livingstone.

Angus Livingston was a pioneer settler in Cape Breton, at Big Bras D’Or on Boularderie island, in the early 1800’s. He was a boat-builder there. Eleven Livingstones – great grandsons of Angus – fought in World War One and have been commemorated in the local Presbyterian church. Their numbers included “Wild Bill” Livingston who was awarded the Military Cross twice. 

But the definite connection has been with David’s older brother John who came to Lanark township, Ontario from Blantyre in the 1840’s. He later moved to Listowel in Perth county where he died in 1899

Not related was James Livingston who grew up in East Kilbride near Blantyre in Lanarkshire, the son of a weaver. He departed for Waterloo county, Ontario in 1856. There he prospered in the flax industry. His former home in Wilmot township, Castle Kilbride, has been designated a Canadian National Historic Site.

Australia and New Zealand. A number of Livingstons had worked in the slate quarries of Balachuilish in western Argyllshire in the early/mid 1800’s. James Ban Livingston from Glencoe set off for Australia with his wife Isabelle on the Marco Polo in 1852. Charles Livingston emigrated to New Zealand with his wife Dorothy in 1860. They settled in Forest Hill, Southland.

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Livingston Surname Miscellany

Livingston Origins.  The source of the Livingston name is the place – a town in West Lothian near Edinburgh.  The town’s name was derived from a man named (in Latin) Levingus who lived in the early 12th century and gave his name to Villa Leving or Leving’s Town.

Some believe that Leving was an Anglo-Saxon or continental European, possibly from Hungary, who came to Scotland with Queen Margaret after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.  But the sound “Levin” can be a name in many languages.

More traditionally it was believed that Levingus had Gaelic Highland roots in the clan Donn Sleibhe (Dunsleeve, Don Levy, MacOnlea or MacLea).  A diminutive form of the personal name Donn Sleibhe (brown of the hill), is Leibhin, pronounced levin, thus Leibhin’s Town.

The Gaelic name of Livingston now is Baile Dhun Leibhe (the town of Dunlevin). Many members of the clan Maclea eventually took the surname Livingstone up, as if it were an English translation of their Gaelic name.

Livingston and Livingstone.  The early spellings were various.  Turstanus Leuig was the son of Leving who had founded the town of Livingston (then spelt Leuiggestun) in West Lothian.  Other early recordings included William Levestone who had witnessed a grant by the Earl of Levenax.  In 1296 Sir Archibald de Levingestoune rendered homage to the English king in the Ragman’s Rolls. And it was James Leyffingstoun as spelt who was appointed the Great Chamberlain of Scotland in 1456.

By then Livingston was generally the main spelling, although Livingstone with the addition of the “e” was becoming evident by the 16th century.  The Livingstone spelling preference became noticeable during the 19th century, thanks perhaps to the popularity of Dr. David Livingstone the famous African explorer.

Scottish Census Numbers Livingston Livingstone Total
1841   2,651 (85%)     483 (15%)    3,134
1881   2,268 (55%)  1,827 (45%)    4,095
1911    1,756 (35%)  3,266 (65%)    5,022

Today the Livingstone numbers are larger, except in America.

Numbers (000’s) Livingston Livingstone Total
UK     2     8    10
America    16     1    17
Elsewhere     4     7    11
Total    22    16 38

The End of the Livingston Dynasty at Callendar.  In 1721 Lady Ann Livingston, daughter of the exiled James Livingston, had been allowed to rent the house and lands formerly held by her family.  She had earlier married William Boyd, Earl of Kilmarnock, and he now took up residence at Callendar House.

Both she and her husband supported Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, when he arrived in Scotland in 1745.  Things began well enough.  Bonnie Prince Charlie passed the night in Callendar House in September of that year on his way to a triumph at Prestonpans and a rapturous reception in Edinburgh.

But the failed march south to Derby and the retreat back to Scotland signalled the beginning of the end of the Stewart cause.  At Culloden in April came final defeat and with it the capture and execution of Lord Kilmarnock.  Lady Ann left Falkirk and the Livingston dynasty there effectively came to an end.

David Livingstone’s Ancestry.  David Livingstone was born in 1813 in the Lanarkshire mill town of Blantyre. At the age of ten he was working twelve-hour days with his brother John as a piecer in the cotton mill.

From these unpromising beginnings he was able to attend medical school and be accepted as a Christian missionary. He made his first visit to Africa in 1840 and was to spend the rest of his life there as a missionary and explorer.  He was lost and then found by Henry Stanley in their famous meeting on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in 1871.

What were his origins?  An 1891 letter from his older brother John Livingstone in Canada stated that their grandfather Neil Livingstone and his wife Mary Morrison left the island of Ulva with their family around 1792 and settled in Blantyre.

There is no information that survives regarding the grandfather Neil Livingston’s baptismal date, although there is an assumption by some that he was born about 1745.  This is nothing more than an educated guess based upon the notion that Dr. Livingstone’s great grandfather Neil was killed in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden when his grandfather was a young child.

Another account has this Neil as the youngest son of the Baron of Bachuil who lived on the island of Lismore.  He was said to have enlisted as a Jacobite soldier during the Rebellion, survived the Battle of Culloden, and then made his way back home. He was unable to safely return to Lismore, so he eventually ended up on Ulva.

Today the tradition continues in Mull that the old Livingstone family of Dr. Livingstone lived at a croft on the southern shores of Ulva. The sad reality of Ulva, as elsewhere in western Argyll, is that the island was subject to clearances in the early 1800’s. By the time Dr. Livingstone arrived by yacht in 1864 looking for relatives there were no traces of Livingstone kin to be found.

The Baron of Bachuil at Lismore.  Niall Livingstone, Baron of Bachuil and the chief of Clan MacLea, is the only person other than the Queen whose passport and title (which precedes the kingdom of Scotland) are granted “by the Grace of God.”  His family has lived on the island of Lismore in the Inner Hebrides for 1,500 years.

He is also the Abbot of Lismore and the holder of the oldest existing church office in Britain – as the keeper of the Bachuil Mor (St. Moluag’s staff) which is renowned for having miraculous powers.

But in 2017 the Baron put his home on the island, Bachuil House, up for sale, before later agreeing to a community buyout.  The Baron said:

“If this becomes the first step to creating what I call the Lismore dream, it really could be the best thing to happen to the island since the arrival of St. Moluag in 562.“

Lismore has 185 residents today and a high proportion of older people. The Community Trust sees it as important to make improvements that would encourage more young families to live there.

The New York Livingston Family

Rev. John Livingston in Scotland (1603-1672) m. Janet Fleming

Robert Livingston the Elder
(1654-1728), immigrated in 1674, m. Alida Schuyler

— Philip Livingston of Livingston Manor (1686-1749), merchant, m. Catharine Ten Brugh

— a. Robert Livingston of Livingston Manor (1708-1790) m. Mary Thong

—- Walter Livingston of Clermont (1740-1797), merchant and NY politician, m. Cornelia Schuyler

—– Henry Livingston (1768-1810), judge and NY politician, m. Mary Allen

—- John Livingston of Oak Hill (1750-1822) m. Mary Ann LeRoy

— b. Peter Van Brugh Livingston (1710-1792), merchant, m. Mary Alexander

—- Philip Livingston (1740-1810), NY politician, m. Cornelia Van Horne

—- William Livingston (1757-1780), killed in a duel.

— c. Philip Livingston (1718-1801), signed the Declaration of Independence, m. Christina Ten Broeck

—- Philip Livingston (1741-1787) m. Sara Johnson

—– Edward Livingston of Clermont (1779-1843), Lieut. Governor of New York, m. Elizabeth Livingston

— d. William Livingston (1723-1790), Governor of New Jersey m. Susannah French

—- Henry Livingston (1757-1823), US Supreme Court
Justice

— Robert Livingston of Clermont (1688-1775) m. Margaret Howarden

— Judge Robert Livingston (1718-1775), NY politician, m. Margaret Beekman

—- Robert Livingston the Chancellor (1746-1813), US Minister to France, m. Mary Stevens

—- Edward Livingston (1764-1836), Louisiana Senator and US Secretary of State, m. Louise Davezac

– James Livingston (1646-1673)

Robert Livingston the Younger (1663-1725), immigrated in 1687, mayor of Albany, m. Margarita Schuyler

— John Livingston (1709-1791), Montreal trader, m. Catharina Van Broeck

—- James Livingston (1747-1832), fought in Revolutionary War and afterwards NY politician, m. Elizabeth Simpson.

Robert Livingston of Clermont.  His grandson Edward described Robert Livingston of Clermont in 1772 at the age of eighty four as follows:

“He was a gentleman – tall and somewhat bent, but not emaciated by age which had marked but not disfigured a face once remarkable for its regular beauty of features, and still beaming with the benevolence and intelligence that had always illuminated it.

He marked the epoch at which he retired from the world by preserving its costume: the flowing wool powered wig, the bright brown coat, with large cuffs and square shirts, the cut velvet waistcoat, with ample flaps and the breeches scarcely covering the knee, the silk stocking, rolled over them with embroidered clocks, and shining square-toed shoes, fastened near the ankle and small embossed gold buckles.

These were retained in his service, not to affect a singularity, but because he thought it ridiculous at his time of life to follow the quick succession of fashion.

He always rose at five and read until breakfast.  The year before his death, he took up the study of German and spoke it fluently.

The patriarch of Clermont was in many ways the spoiled younger son of the self-made man.  A failure in the law, in business, and in the eyes of his own parents, he nonetheless entered his final years with the satisfaction that he had not only maintained the estate passed on to him by his father, but had increased it 40-fold through his speculation in Catskill Mountain lands.”

Angus Livingstone on Cape Breton.  Angus Livingstone was the progenitor of the Boularderie Livingstones on Cape Breton.

Born in Argyllshire around the year 1773, he had served in the Navy aboard the Royal George during the Napoleonic Wars.  By his own account he arrived in Cape Breton in 1819 and made his first petition for land on the west side of Boularderie in 1820. The grant was named Kilninian, which was the name of the parish and the town on the isle of Mull from which Angus probably originated.

There is a family tradition that Angus was one of three brothers who emigrated together and landed at Pictou.  In a search for better land, they built an open boat and set off from there.  Malcolm settled at Cape George in Antigonish county (at a place now called Livingstone Cove), while Angus and George continued to Cape Breton. They had their boat hauled over the strip of land separating the Strait of Canso from the Bras d’Or Lakes at St. Peter’s.  Angus chose to settle on the west side of Boularderie island and George sailed on to Low Point near present-day Victoria Mines at the mouth of Sydney Harbor.

While it might be nice to believe in the tale, its credibility is questioned by the petition for land at Low Point by John Livingstone (maybe Angus’s son) in 1817, in which he stated that he has been a resident of Cape Breton for ten years.  This would have preceded by a considerable time Angus’s reported arrival date at Boularderie.

Another account does have Angus arriving much earlier at Pictou, in 1791. Donald Livingstone and his family from Mull came to Prince Edward Island in 1806 on the Rambler.

The claim that Angus was an uncle of the famous Dr. David Livingstone of Africa has not been supported by the evidence.

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Livingston Names
  • Alexander Livingston was the first of his line to assume the name of Livingston around the year 1250. 
  • Sir James Livingston of Callendar was appointed Great Chamberlain of Scotland in 1453. 
  • Robert Livingston from the Scottish Borders came to America in 1674 and was the forebear of a powerful New York family. 
  • David Livingstone was a Scottish missionary and explorer in Africa and one of the most popular British heroes of the late 19th century. 
  • Ken Livingstone has been a prominent left-wing London leader, serving as its mayor from 2000 to 2008.
Livingston Numbers Today
  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lanarkshire)
  • 17,000 in America (most numerous in Florida)
  • 11,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Livingston 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.

AbercrombieCrawfordGordonMenzies
AlexanderCunninghamGrahamMurdoch
BaxterDouglasHamiltonPollock
BoydDowHepburnSloan
BurnsEwingLennoxStewart
CochraneFergusonLivingstonWitherspoon

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