McGregor Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McGregor Meaning
is a Scottish clan name, from Mac
or “son of” and the personal name Gregory (from the Greek Gregorios),
a name which became popular in Europe through Pope
Gregory.  The Gaelic version of the name
was MacGriogair.
MacGregor as a name
was banned by King James VI of Scotland in the early 17th century
because of
the unruliness of the clan.  But the name
has survived.  The main spellings today
are MacGregor and McGregor,
McGregor being the more common.

McGregor Resources on

McGregor Ancestry

MacGregor clan origins

are lost in the mists of time.  Their first
recognizable chief may have been
the 14th century Gregor of the Golden Bridles, followed by Ian Cam
“one eyed”) MacGregor who died in 1390 at Glenorchy in Argyllshire,
traditional home.

Cam was buried on the north side of the high altar in Dysart near
Dalmally, the
old church at Glenorchy.  This continued to
be the burial place of the MacGregor chiefs until 1528. A number of
coffins together with foliated tomb slabs each showing in a panel the
figure of
an armed warrior with spear and two-handed sword, short tunic and high,
conical, pointed helmet were found.”

Early History
  From their base at
Glenorchy, MacGregor lands extended eastward
the Central Highlands
Glen Strae and Glen Lyon in Perthshire and towards Loch Lomond in
the Trossachs. They held doggedly to the
old Celtic clan rule of defending possession by the sword.

However, they had powerful aggressive
neighbors in the Campbells who constantly harried them, forcing them to
deeper into their lands around Glen Strae.  By the late 16th
century there was a renegade band of McGregors left known in Gaelic as
the Children of the Mist.

In 1588 these MacGregors were involved in the killing of John Drummond, the
king’s forester, after he had hung some MacGregors for poaching.  Then in 1603, after the Colquhoun clan had
been granted a royal commission to suppress the MacGregors, Alasdair
MacGregor of
Glen Strae led four hundred of his men to Glen Fruin near Loch Lomond
they slew many Colquhouns.

say the MacGregors were rustlers and
thieves.  Whether there was any truth in this or whether
circumstances forced this
upon them or whether it was all a smear campaign to undermine their
reputation is
open to question.  But they certainly
paid the price.”

Banning of the Name
  In retaliation King James VI of
Scotland abolished the name of
.  All who bore the name
must renounce it or
die.  The next year

Alasdair MacGregor

eleven of his men were captured and hung outside St. Giles kirk in
Edinburgh by
the tollbooth.  Anyone answering to the name was executed on the
spot, with women
and children sold into slavery in the American states.

Amelia MacGregor’s 1898
book The History of the Clan Gregor
covered this clan history until 1625.

The ban on the MacGregor name remained in
effect until 1774.  During this time the surviving
MacGregors continued in two groups. The first were those who
legally changed their name
to satisfy the law, although they
may not
have changed
their heart or blood. The other group were those who took to the
Highlands and
continued to use their Gregor names in defiance.

Rob Roy, who was forced to use his mother’s
maiden name of Campbell due to the proscription of the MacGregor name,
was a
younger son of the MacGregor of Glengyle (which lay by Loch Katrine in
Stirling). Rob Roy took part in the
first Jacobite Uprising in 1715. Afterwards his raids on Lowland farms
and his
prowess with the sword earned him a reputation which was considerably
by Sir Walter Scott’s romantic tales.  He
was buried in Balquhidder churchyard.

Restoration of the Name.  To restore some pride in the clan, it was felt that a
clan chief needed to be re-established.
A petition signed by 826 MacGregors declared that General John
Murray of
Lanrick in Stirling should be the true chief.  Murray was in fact
a MacGregor
descended from Duncan MacGregor of Ardchoille who had died in
1552.  His son Sir
Evan MacGregor played a ceremonial role in the visit of King George IV
to Scotland in

England.  Some
MacGregors made it to England, such as Alexander
MacGregor from Thorn Hill in Perthshire:

was said that four brothers, the sons of John McGregor of Thorn Hill,
came to
New York in 1781 or thereabouts.  Three of
brothers – James, William, and John – remained; while Alexander
returned across
the ocean and settled in Liverpool.

Alexander prospered as a merchant and
banker in
Liverpool.   In 1826 he was appointed
an agent for the Bank of England to open its Manchester branch, its
outside London.  One son James became an English MP, another son
Walter Fergus
owned a thriving iron foundry in Liverpool. His
son the Rev. William MacGregor was
a generous benefactor of the town of Tamworth in Staffordshire and a
famous amateur

America.  McGregors
are not numerous in America.  The numbers
today are in fact less than those
in Canada or Australia.  The proscription
of the McGregor name in Scotland during the 17th and 18th centuries may
had something to do with it.  For
instance, William MacGregor, caught up in the failed 1715 Jacobite
came to America and Perth Amboy, New Jersey as William Skinner soon

tradition has Alexander MacGregor arriving from Scotland with the
British army
in 1775, but then changing sides and fighting on the American side in
Revolutionary War.  He later owned a farm
in Oyster Bay, New York.  Subsequent
of the family were blacksmiths in New Haven, Connecticut.

John and Anne
MacGregor came to New York from England in the late 1700’s.  Their grandson Alexander headed west in 1832,
first to Chicago (when its population was less than 100) and then to
where he operated a ferry service across the Mississippi.
In 1848, newly-married and with a family in
tow, he founded a new community that became known as McGregor, Iowa.

McGregor immigration began in the late 1700’s, initially into
Maritime provinces and later into Quebec and Ontario.

Nova Scotia  James
MacGregor from Perthshire answered the call for an English and Gaelic
for the Scottish community at Pictou and departed there in 1786.  He was a fervent advocate of the Presbyterian
church until his death in 1830.  His son
Peter was a Presbyterian minister in Halifax, his grandson James a
academic who in 1901 became Professor of Natural Philosophy back in

The MacGregors of South River Lake in Antigonish county were known as
the Red
Rock MacGregors, apparently because of their Scottish ancestor Donald
MacGregor.  His son Donald, a Baptist
deacon, came to this area in 1832 and died there sixty years later.  His descendants spread into Ontario and the
western provinces.

Another Donald MacGregor came to Cape Breton Island from the
Scottish Highlands around this time.  His
son Donald, who changed the spelling of his name to McGregor, moved to
Zealand in 1852 and settled in Whangerei.  Alexander and Roderick
McGregor also
made the voyage from Cape Breton Island to New Zealand, in this case in
1859.  Alexander founded the Northern
Steamship Company in Auckland. 

Elsewhere.  Alexander McGregor and his
wife Ellen came to
Canada from Fortingall in Perthshire in 1817 and made their home in
Quebec.  Son James was Principal of
Huntingdon Academy and later Inspector of Schools.
Curiously, a descendant Norman changed the
spelling of his name from McGregor to MacGregor when he emigrated to
Pennsylvania in 1900.

Joan and Margaret McGregor came out to Sarnia, Ontario
from Paisley in Scotland in 1830.  Their
son William was a prominent businessman and politician in Windsor and
grandson Gordon founded the Ford Motor Company of Canada.  A
McGregor family has
been farming at McNab Braeside in the Ottawa Valley since 1856.  Five generations of McGregor’s have farmed
here and the current crew now includes three generations.

South Africa.
From Golspie in the far north of Scotland came the
Rev. Andrew McGregor, a minister of the Church of Scotland, who was
recruited to
the Cape colony by Scots already there.
He arrived in 1862 and he and his wife Lily raised six children
in the

The eldest Alexander became a judge, as did his son Michael who was
later Chief Justice of South Africa.  A
younger son Murray was the headmaster of the Blythswood Scottish
mission in the
Transkei.  His son Chris became a
well-known jazz pianist and bandleader.
Meanwhile the youngest child, a daughter named Henrietta who was
family historian, lived to be a hundred, dying in 1979.

Another Alexander
McGregor was one of the diamond pioneers in South Africa.
He was elected Mayor of Kimberley in 1886.  After
his death his wife funded the Alexander
McGregor Memorial Museum in Kimberley which was opened in 1907 and

Australia and New ZealandWilliam
was a shepherd who departed rural Inverness for
Australia in
1838.  He made his home in East Maitland,

Jock McGregor, a whaler from Perthshire, was an early arrival in New
Zealand, coming to Wanganui from Australia in 1836.
Although he married in New Zealand, he left
no descendants.  Gregor McGregor, from
Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, was another inhabitant of Wanganui, having
New Zealand on the Blenheim in 1840.
Her and his wife Catherine raised eight sons
and six daughters.  Their family story
was recounted in Bruce McGregor’s 1991 book Gregor
and Catherine McGregor


McGregor Miscellany

MacGregor Origins.  The MacGregor clan motto has been s rioghal mo dhream, which means “my race is royal.”  This refers to the claim that they
were descended from Alpin, the 9th century Celtic king of Dal Riata.  From Alpin came:

  • Cinead
    mac Ailpin, or
    Kenneth MacAlpin, who is considered under Scottish tradition to be the
    King of the Scots
  • and
    his younger brother Prince Griogar, the forebears of the
    MacGregors.  His name was probably a
    derivative of the
    Gaelic word cir meaning “comb” or
    “crest,” but from an early date was associated with Gregory.

these claims for the Gregor origins cannot be

According to Buchanan of Auchmar, the clan Gregor may have been at
Glenorchy in Argyllshire from the late 11th century.

The Killing of John Drummond.  The troubles of the MacGregors came to a climax
towards the close of the 16th century.  Driven to desperation and
fired with
injustice, they were induced to perpetrate many wild deeds.

1588 there took
place a dreadful ceremony in the little kirk of Balquhidder.  A few days earlier a mysterious body,
“the Children of the Mist,” had surprised the King’s forester, John
Drummond in Glenartney. They had killed
him, cut off his head, and on their way home along Loch Earnside had
his head in barbarous fashion on the dinner table at Ardvorlich to the
of the slain man.  She fled from the
house demented.

the following Sunday the MacGregor clansmen gathered in
Balquhidder kirk where one after another they approached the altar,
laid their
hand on the severed head, and swore themselves a partner in the dark
deed that
had placed it there.

The Proscription and Abolition of the MacGregor Name.  Following King James VI’s actions in 1603 an Act of the
Scottish Parliament in 1617 stated the following:

“It was ordained -that the name of MacGregor
should be abolished and that the whole persons of that name should renounce
their name and take some other name and that they nor none of their name and
that they nor none of their posterity should call themselves Gregor or MacGregor under pain of death.

that any person or persons of the said clan who
has already renounced their names or hereafter shall renounce their
names or if any of their children or posterity shall at any time hereafter assume or take
to themselves the name of Gregor or MacGregor.

that every such person or persons
assuming or taking to themselves the said name shall incur the pain of death
which pain shall be executed upon them without favor.”

MacGregor by Any Other Name.  Taking another
name did in fact pre-date the proscription that was placed on the
name by the Scottish King and which lasted until 1774.

The sept name of Grierson originated from a
second son of Malcom MacGregor who was named Gilbert. Grierson
was later shortened to Greer and
similar-sounding names by the 1400’s.

proscription in 1603, many adopted other Scottish names such
as Murray, Graham, Stewart, Grant, Drummond, Stirling and even
Campbell.   The MacGregors of Glen
Strae adopted the
Graham name while Rob Roy, the famous outlaw, assumed the Campbell name
his mother.   The MacGregors
of Bohaldie took the name of Drummond.   Robert MacGregor was born Robert Stirling in 1668 at
Glassingall in Dunblane parish.

Clan identity was generally
maintained throughout this time and MacGregors supported the 1715 and 1745
Jacobite Uprisings.  Many but not all
re-adopted the MacGregor name after proscription was ended in 1774.

MacGregor and McGregor.  At the time of the 1881 census the McGregor spelling was much more common
than MacGregor – with MacGregor persisting mainly in the Scottish

that time the MacGregor spelling has enjoyed something of a
revival in Scotland.  The table below
shows the MacGregor and McGregor numbers in the UK and elsewhere today.

Numbers (000’s) MacGregor McGregor Total
UK     7    15    22
America     2 5 7
Canada     3     8    11
Australia/NZ     3    11    14
Total    15    39    54

Gregor MacGregor, Confidence Trickster.  Gregor
MacGregor presented his credentials to the Court
of St James in 1820.  He called himself His Serene Highness Gregor I, Prince of
Poyais.  He claimed he had served in the
British army, but left for Venezuela in 1811 when it was the first
American country to gain independence.

then received a commission from Simon
Bolivar himself. He had married Bolivar’s niece, but took to sea to
capture one
of the great Spanish Main fortresses off the Mosquito Coast, in what is
Nicaragua, where he founded his imaginary kingdom of Poyais. These
accomplishments were nothing compared to the achievement of passing
himself off
as sovereign of a dynasty which had recently been outlawed in his own

Lord Mayor of London sponsored a loan of £200,000 and many Scotsmen
to emigrate to Poyais.  They exchanged
notes and coins of the realm for the Poyais banknotes Gregor had
printed in
Edinburgh. His first Scottish colonists had to be rescued from the
Coast, by which time Gregor was working his magic in France.  He
returned to
Venezuela where he spent the remainder of his days living on a hero’s

William McGregor’s Departure for Australia.  William
McGregor was born at Kingussie and Insch in
Inverness in 1812.  In 1838, newly
married, he departed for Australia.

Rev. Thomas Sinton witnessed the
departure and remarked:

“In the
year 1838 a large number of people emigrated to Australia from the
of Kingussie. The St. George, by
which they had taken passage to Sydney, lay at Oban, so it was
necessary for
them to make the long journey to Fort William in carts and thence
proceed to
the place of embarkation by steamboat.

Their departure from Kingussie took place
at mid-summer and on the day of St Columba’s Fair.
This fair was the occasion of a general
gathering of the inhabitants of Badenoch.
Several near relatives of the writer, who were among those
present on
the memorable day referred to, used to describe with deep emotion the
scenes of
heartrending grief which they witnessed at their departure.”

The Rev. William MacGregor at Tamworth.  William MacGregor first arrived in the town of Tamworth
in Staffordshire in 1878 when he was appointed a vicar there at the age of thirty.

wealthy and volatile Scot didn’t waste time in getting to grips
with the town’s many problems. He played hell with landlords for the
state of tenants’ homes.  He also campaigned vigorously for clean
water and
proper sewage systems in every home; fetched children out of workhouses
and put
them into family homes; took orphans from the slums to holiday in his
own home
and founded and personally financed Tamworth’s first hospital.  If that was not enough, he created a free
library, set up a working men’s club, and built churches in Glascote

when he turned his attentions to setting up the Tamworth
Co-operative Society, he became a target for terrible abuse, most
notably from
the rich shopkeepers who told him to keep his nose in religion and out
business.  His crime was to support an
organization whose purpose was to provide quality goods at fair prices
for the
benefit of the poor and working classes.
This flew in the face of many shopkeepers, who at that time had
no lid
on their profiteering.

a year he had resigned as the Vicar of Tamworth.
An editorial which he wrote in the parish magazine in December 1886
summed up
his distress at the bad feeling surrounding him.  In the article
he described
the first eight years of his stay in Tamworth as giving him some
anxiety but
also ‘much happiness.’  He then explained why the ninth year has
opened under a

connection with the Co-operative movement, which is about to get a
footing in Tamworth, is an offence to many who have hitherto worked
with me, and whom I have valued highly as friends and helpers.”

then made it
clear that as much as he regretted the ill feeling that had arisen, he
not hold himself back from helping a movement “calculated to benefit
socially and politically a large number of people.”


McGregor Names

  • Robert Roy MacGregor, usually known simply as Rob Roy,
    was a famous Scottish folk hero and outlaw of the early 18th century. 
  • Gregor MacGregor was a Scottish soldier, adventurer and colonizer who fought in the South American struggle for independence in the early 1800’s. 
  • Sir Evan MacGregor was the clan chief who
    played a prominent part in the visit of King George IV to Scotland in 1822 after the MacGregors had been restored to respectability. 
  • Ian MacGregor was the Scottish-American mining industrialist who was in charge of the UK National Coal Board at the time of the 1984 miners’ strike.

Select McGregor Numbers Today

  • 22,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 7,000 in America (most numerous in Texas)
  • 25,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select McGregor 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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