McKenzie Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select McKenzie Meaning
McKenzie (originally MacKenzie) is a Scottish clan name of the
Highlands. In Gaelic the name is recorded as Maccoinnich or Macchoinnich, son of Cionneach or “son of the fair”
(suggesting possibly Norse origins). Coinneach is generally anglicized
as Kenneth.
They claim descent from Colin, progenitor of the earls of Ross, who
died in 1278. Clan tradition (although there is no tangible
evidence to support it) is that Colin was awarded lands in Ross-shire
for his efforts in repelling an invasion from Norway. While the clan name is MacKenzie, it is the spelling McKenzie which is
more common around the world.

Resources on

McKenzie Ancestry

The Mackenzie clan is traditionally associated with Kintail and their
lands in Ross-shire. The Findon tables, produced by
James D. MacKenzie in 1879, recounted their lineage from earliest
times. Some old accounts have linked the Mackenzies with the Norman Fitzgeralds
in the 13th century. However, this connection seems
unlikely. There were apparently Mackenzies at Kintail at the time
of Robert the Bruce.

The first actual record of a Mackenzie
that of Alexander M’Kenzocht of Kintail in a document of 1471. This Alexander
died in 1488 at the grand old age of ninety.
By that time the clan had begun their feuds with the MacDonalds – then
Lords of the Isles – which were to continue into the next
century. Their biggest pitched battle, which the MacKenzies won,
was at Blar-na-Pairc in 1477.

The Mackenzies possibly reached the
peak of their powers in the early 1600’s. Kenneth, the 12th
chief, was
created Lord MacKenzie of Kintail and his son Colin the “Red” became
the Earl of
It was said that all the lands from Ardnamurchan to Strathnover in the
Highlands were in the possession of the MacKenzies or their
vassals. They surveyed their possessions from their command at
Brahan castle.

However, it was said that the fall of their house – as was predicted by
one of their estate workers, the so-called Brahan Seer – began at this
time. The MacKenzies had backed the 1715 uprising and had fought
the Government at Glen Shiel (where they were defeated and the
wounded MacKenzie chief forced to flee to France as his estates were
being seized). Some MacKenzies also backed Bonnie Prince Charlie;
but, unlike the MacDonalds, they did not fight
at Culloden. Even so, their old way of life was ending as the
Government took reprisals on the clans. And the Seaforth
MacKenzie line itself died out in the 1820’s.

Many clansmen had joined their chief in the Seaforth Highlanders and
fought for the British in their
wars in America and against Napoleon. Others later emigrated,
with Canada being a favored destination. Still, large numbers of
remained in the Highlands, almost half of the McKenzies in Scotland
according to the 1891 census. The McKenzies did not incur the
Highland “clearances” in the 19th century to the same extent as did
other clans.

Place-names associated with the McKenzies in Ross-shire are
Strathpeffer, Dingwall, Gairloch, Kilcoy, Balnain, and the remote
Applecross peninsula. The clan history was narrated by Alexander
Mackenzie in his 1894 book History
of the Mackenzies

Canada. MacKenzies from
the Outer Hebrides in Scotland have stamped their mark on the Canadian
West. To start
with, there was the explorer Sir Alexander MacKenzie,
who became the first European to reach the Pacific coast overland,
announcing his arrival by painting the following words on a rock near
Bella Coola:

“Alexander MacKenzie, from Canada by
land, 22 July, 1793.”

His cousin Duncan was also a formidable fur trader and explorer and
other relatives were active in what was to become the Hudson Bay
Company. The Hudson Bay Company later acquired Vancouver island
and brought Kenneth MacKenzie from Scotland in 1853 to found a colony
there. His house Craigflower, now renovated,
still stands.

These were prosperous MacKenzies or MacKenzies who
prospered. Later came poorer Highland migrants.

There were MacKenzies – one Donald MacKenzie and another Roderick
(“Rory Bahan”) MacKenzie – on board the first Highland ship, the Hector, which set sail for Nova
Scotia in 1773. William MacKenzie and his family came to Pictou,
Nova Scotia on the ill-fated Sarah in
1801. And later MacKenzies headed for Prince Edward Island on the
maritime coastline as well as Nova Scotia.

Among the middling sort of
immigrants were MacKenzie lawyers, businessmen, clergymen and
journalists; and Alexander MacKenzie who immigrated in 1842 and
initially plied his trade in Sarnia, Ontario as a stonemason. He
entered politics, rose through the ranks, and in 1873 became Canada’s
second Prime Miinister (following a MacDonald!).

Maryland seems to have been an early
outpost. One line starts with Colin Mckenzie in St. Mary county
in the late 1600’s. Then there were McKenzies who might have been
transported there after 1715. And McKenzies, such as Gabriel McKenzie
of Gabriel’s Choice, later featured among Baltimore county

One McKenzie family in Georgia traces itself to the Cromartie
MacKenzies in Scotland. Another 18th century line was to be found
in Marion county, South Carolina. Overall, however, there were
and are fewer McKenzies in America than in Canada.

Australia and New Zealand.
The MacKenzies, landowners from Kilcoy in Ross-shire, were at the
forefront of the opening up of the Brisbane valley in Queensland to
free settlers in 1841, taking over 43,000 acres there for sheep
grazing. These Mackenzies developed a reputation for mistreating
the Aborigines during their stay. They sold out in

Earlier McKenzies in Australia were soldiers, such as Alexander
MacKenzie who came with the 73rd Regiment
in 1809..
Then came settlers, such as Neil and Christina McKenzie who
arrived on the crowded William Nicol
in 1837. These McKenzies were the subjects of Keith
Hodgson’s 1998 book, Those People
From Skye – the McKenzie Family.

New Zealand welcomed many McKenzies from Scotland (including
David McKenzie who came to Dunedin in 1853 and whose son Thomas became
Prime Minister) and at least one family from Canada (Alexander and Ann
McKenzie and their seven children from Breadalbane in Nova Scotia in


McKenzie Miscellany

Mackenzie Clan Symbols.  The chiefs of Clan Mackenzie (or MacCoinnich in Gaelic) are known as Caberfeidh, from the Gaelic for
“deer’s antlers.”   This Gaelic title is derived from the
crest of a stag’s head in the old MacKenzie Coat of Arms.  The
clan slogan is Tullach Ard,
meaning “high hill” or “high hillock.”  This hill was the
traditional Mackenzie rallying point in Kintail.

The Mackenzie tartan now used is the regimental tartan for the Seaforth
Highlanders, raised in 1778 by the Earl of Seaforth, the MacKenzie

Mackenzies and Fitzgeralds.  Dr. W.F. Skene in his authoritative Highlanders of Scotland wrote:

“The Mackenzies have long boasted of
their descent from the great Norman family of Fitzgerald in Ireland
and, in support of this origin, they produce a fragment of the Records
of Icolmkill and a charter by Alexander III to Colin Fitzgerald, the
supposed progenitor of the family.”

The story behind this account is that Colin Fitzgerald saved the life
of the King from an infuriated stag whilst on a hunting trip in a
forest near Kincardine.  The King supposedly granted Colin a coat
of arms, with the crest of a stag’s head, and a charter for the lands
of Kintail.

However, this charter has not survived and many doubt
the genuineness of the document and the story behind it.  It seems
to have been first advanced in the 17th century when there was a desire
and ambition in Scotland to fabricate or magnify all ancient and lordly

Alexander Mackenzie and His Family.  Alexander Mackenzie, born around 1400 and the first recorded Mackenzie
of Kintail. was married twice.

His first wife was Anna, daughter of John Macdougall of Dunolly, by
whom he had two sons – Kenneth and Duncan.  Kenneth, better known
as Coinneach a’ Bhlair or
“Kenneth of the Battle” because of his prowess in the battle against
Macdonalds, was Alexander’s heir and successor.  He died in 1491
and was buried, like his father, at the Priory of Beauly.  The
younger son
Duncan was the progenitor of the Mackenzies of Hilton.

His second wife was Margaret, daughter of the Macdonald of Morar, by
whom he had a son and a daughter.  The son, known as Eachainn Ruadh or Hector Roy, was
the forebear of the Mackenzies of Gairloch and their various offshoots.

The Findon Tables.  The Findon Tables were published by Major James D. Mackenzie of Findon in 1879, based on the earlier work carried out by his brother Lewis Mark.  The tables are in the form of family trees, showing the origin of different branches of the Mackenzie clan, their progression, and their relation to each other.

There are twelve main sheets, a supplementary sheet, and a booklet:

Sheet 1 gives the “Main Stem” of the
Kintail, Seaforth and Cromartie
families, with the details of their immediate offshoots.  The
other eleven main sheets look more closely at the individual families
that branched off from the main stem, with their cadets.

The supplementary sheet gives the descent of some ancient families
deriving from the early rulers of the country where the possessions of
Clan Kenneth afterwards became fixed, and with whom it was connected by
marriage ties.

The 24 page booklet gives an introduction by Major Mackenzie and
extensive notes about the tables with references, a list of Kintail or
Seaforth charters, and an index of families and names. 

The Brahan Seer.  For all the power of the Seaforth Mackenzies, it was the
mysterious power of one of the estate workers, Kenneth Mackenzie, which
made the Brahan estate world famous.  Better known as the Brahan
Seer, this shadowy figure from the 17th century was renowned for the
many prophesies which, for generations following his execution,
continued to come true.

It was the Brahen Seer who foresaw in detail the downfall
of the Seaforth Mackenzies and that their possessions would be
“inherited by a white-coiffed lassie from the east and she is to kill
her sister.”  That indeed was the fate of Lady Caroline Mackenzie
in 1823 in the hands of her sister (who was dubbed the “hooded
lassie”).  A monument on the estate marks the exact spot where she

When Isabella, the wife of the third Earl of Seaforth,
asked the Brahan Seer for news of her husband who was away in Paris, he
described the man’s infidelities with a Frenchwoman.  When she
demanded to know more, he told her everything that he saw.  This
earned the oracle the traditional reward for the bearer of bad tidings
– execution by being pitched alive into a barrel of boiling tar at
Chancery Point.

An inscription there reads:

“This stone comemorates the legend of Coinneach Odhar
better known as the Brahan Seer.  Many of his prophesies were
fulfilled and tradition holds that his untimely death by burning in tar
followed his final prophecy of the doom of the house of Seaforth.”

Legend has it that the Brahan Seer was living near Loch Ussie when he
was apprehended.  Before being taken to Fortrose on the Black Isle
to be tried for witchcraft, he threw his oracle stone into the loch and
said it would one day be found in the belly of a fish.  So far as
is known, it has not yet turned up!

MacKenzies and McKenzies.  While the clan name is MacKenzie the McKenzie spelling has generally taken root, even in Scotland.

MacKenzie McKenzie
Scotland (1901 census)   35%   65%
Ireland   15%   85%
USA   25%   75%
Canada   40%   60%
Australia   30%   70%
New Zealand   30%   70%

Alexander MacKenzie and the Pacific.  Alexander MacKenzie was a Scot who grew to become a
Canadian hero.  A fur trader and explorer, he became convinced
that Cook’s river, in present day Alaska, could provide a water route
from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Such a route – the mythical
Northwest Passage – would provide a gateway to the vast trading markets
of the Orient.

In 1789, MacKenzie’s crew – which included French Canadian voyagers,
his wife, and several others – paddled off in a birchbark canoe from
Fort Chipewyan in central Canada.  Other canoes, navigated by
Indian hunters and interpreters, followed on behind.  Over a
hundred days later, they returned, however, with details of a route to
the Arctic, not to the elusive Pacific Ocean.  Mackenzie remained
determined to find the “Western Sea.”

Therefore, on May 9 1793, MacKenzie set out with nine others, packed
into a 25 foot canoe at Fort Fork along the Peace river for a second
voyage.  This time he succeeded.   With the guidance of
native Indians, he became the first European to reach the Pacific Ocean
on an overland route, beating the American explorers Lewis and Clark
there by a full twelve years.

Agnes McKenzie’s Craigflower Dream House.  On May 1, 1856, Agnes McKenzie finally moved into
her new house.  It was only a few yards from her first Craigflower
house, little more than a shack where she and her family had lived in
crowded discomfort for their first three years in the colony of
Vancouver Island.

Kenneth McKenzie was hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to manage one of
their large agricultural enterprises around Fort Victoria.  He and
his family were led to expect living quarters suitable for a person in
charge of a 900 acre establishment, but found only a solid plank floor
where the house should have been.

The timber foundation of Craigflower
farm house was built by Hudson’s Bay Company workmen in the early
1850s.  The two-storey frame house was built on the older
foundation by Kenneth McKenzie’s Scottish carpenters between 1853 and
1856.   It is thought to have been designed to resemble
the Georgian style architecture of his family home in Scotland.
Inside, the rooms are not large, but would have been considered grand
compared to the modest cottages of most settlers in the 1850s.

It was a grand house for its time, second only to the Douglas mansion
on the shores of James Bay, torn down in 1906.  Craigflower was
spared the fate of this first Government House, surviving 150 years of
various tenants and threats of demolition to become a National Historic

A careful restoration to its 1856 configuration was completed in the
1970s by the of the BC Government’s Heritage Properties Branch, owners
of the site.  The Land Conservancy, which now manages the historic
site, has
furnished the house as Mrs. McKenzie might have liked in the 1860s.

Alexander MacKenzie and Ann Clarke in Australia.  Alexander MacKenzie, known as Sandy, had enlisted with the 73rd Regiment at Inverness in 1808 and his regiment arrived in Sydney a year
later.  Alexander was there until the early part of 1814 and it
was during that time that his Australian daughter Mary MacKenzie was
born.  The mother Ann Clarke (a convict from Liverpool) was
probably living with him at that time.

When Mary was six months old Alexander was ordered to leave New South
Wales with an advance party of his regiment which was being sent to
Ceylon.  He completed his term of service there and was discharged
at the end of 1815.  Instead of returning home to Britain he went
back to NSW, first writing to Ann with the apparent intention of
rejoining her in Sydney.

However, things did not work out for them at that time.  Alexander
had received approval to select a grant of land in Tasmania.  He
moved there and began to develop the land while he worked as well in
Launceston as an overseer of convicts.  It was from this
occupation that he became known as ‘Sergeant MacKenzie’ (although his
rank in the army was never higher than private).

When he had left Ann was no longer ‘on stores,’ that is, no longer
being supported by the Government.  She moved to Newcastle and
formed a new partnership with a convict named James Wells with whom she
had a child.  At about the same time she received the letter from
Alexander which prompted her to go to Tasmania to join him.  She
went almost immediately, arriving there in October 1818 with her three

Now things started to get complicated.  A few months before Ann
had left James Wells in Newcastle to join him, Alexander married a 14
year girl named Elizabeth Murphy.  Not only that but when Ann
arrived in Launceston she was already pregnant with another child by
James Wells, which she might not have known about when she had left

Ann’s four children were all listed with Alecxander’s surname in the
population muster for the area of 1819. So Alexander and Ann might
finally have settled down!  However, before the end of the year
Alexander was dead.  And six months later Ann Clarke married
Thomas Brennan.

Reader Feedback – The Writer Donald Mackenzie.  Donald Alexander Mackenzie was a Scottish journalist and a prolific writer on religion, mythology, and anthropology in the early 20th century.  His penned well over 50 books, his
works including Indian Myth and
, Celtic Folklore
and Myths of China and Japan.

He was born in Cromarty
in the Scottish Highlands and began his career in Glasgow.
Between 1903 and 1910 he owned and edited The North Star in Dingwall
and then moved to the People’s
in Dundee.
From 1916 he represented the Glasgow paper, The Bulletin, in
Edinburgh.  As well as writing books, articles and poems, he often
gave lectures, and also broadcast talks on Celtic mythology.
He was the friend of many specialist authorities in his areas of

He died in Edinburgh in 1936 and was buried in Cromarty Old Gaelic
Kirk, along with many of his Mackenzie forefathers.

Maggie Goodman (


Select McKenzie Names

  • Alexander MacKenzie of Kintail was
    the first recorded chief of the MacKenzie clan.
  • Kenneth MacKenzie was the 12th
    chief of the Mackenzies, leading the clan at the peak of the powers in the early 1600’s.
  • Alexander MacKenzie was the fur
    trader and explorer who discovered the overland route to the Pacific in 1793. The Mackenzie river is named after him.
  • Alexander MacKenzie was in 1873
    Canada’s second Prime Minister.
  • Thomas MacKenzie served as
    Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1912.
  • Compton MacKenzie was the
    Scottish author of works such as Whisky
    and Monarch of the Glen. 
  • Julia McKenzie is a popular British actress.

Select McKenzie Numbers Today

  • 51,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Highlands)
  • 24,000 in America (most numerous
    in Florida).
  • 56,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia).


Select McKenzie 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.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply