McLaren Surname Meaning, History & Origin

McLaren Surname Meaning

The Scottish surname MacLaren is related to the English Lawrence in that both are originally derived from the Latin word laurentius, meaning “city of laurels.” MacLaren is in fact the anglicized form of the Gaelic MacLabrann, son of Labrann, the Gaelic version of Lawrence. An alternative spelling today is McLaurin.

McLaren Surname Resources on The Internet

McLaren and MacLaren Ancestry

  • from Scotland (Perthshire)
  • to America and Canada

Scotland. The MacLarens are a Scottish clan that, it is believed, takes their name from Labhran of Ardveche who was the hereditary Abbot of Achtow in Balquhidder in the Trossachs (Perthshire) in the early 1200’s.

This theory is supported by the MacLaren rallying cry in Gaelic of Creag an Tuirc, meaning “Boars Rock.” The rock in question is at Balquhidder near Achtow. And Balquhidder was subsequently where the MacLarens were based.

The MacLarens were a warlike clan and had many feuds with neighboring clans. But they did manage to forge an enduring alliance with the Stuarts of Appin, sealed by a marriage in the 15th century.

However, MacLaren clan numbers were in decline in the following centuries. Some MacLarens left Scotland and became mercenaries abroad, most notably in Sweden (Carl G. Laurin, the name of a modern Swedish writer, is a legacy of those times). The MacLaren clan supported the Jacobite cause in 1715 and again in 1745. After the defeat at Culloden clan chief Donald MacLaren of Invernenty remained a fugitive until the amnesty of 1757.

The MacLaren story was presented in Margaret MacLaren’s 1985 book The MacLaren, A History of Clan Labhran.  

Duncan McLaren was a self-made man who started his own business as a draper in Edinburgh in the early 1800’s, joined the City Council and saved it from bankruptcy, and became Edinburgh’s Lord Provost and later MP. He was married three times and raised a number of achieving children: John, an MP and judge; Charles an MP and baronet; Walter also an MP; Helen an education and public health advocate; and Agnes a Catholic missionary and public health promoter in India.

McLarens have moved south to Edinburgh or Glasgow or England and have emigrated. But the largest numbers in Scotland are still to be found in Perthshire.

America. John and Patrick McLaren, captured at Preston while fighting for the Old Pretender, were transported on the Susannah to South Carolina in 1715.

John McLaurin from Appin in Argyllshire fought and died under the McLaren standard for Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746. His son Duncan, later nicknamed Old McJohn, was orphaned at the age of five. He came to North Carolina in the 1770’s and fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War. Sixteen McLaurin families from Appin emigrated to North Carolina in 1790.

Canada. Duncan MacLaren was an early arrival to Prince Edward Island on the Falmouth in 1770. James MacLaren of Invernenty made it there in 1803 and the 19th century saw a sizeable MacLaren presence in PEI. A number of McLaren families also settled near Lanark village in Ontario.

MacLarens have been resident in Buckingham, Quebec since 1840. James MacLaren built a sawmill there in 1864 and that was the start of the MacLaren dynasty in the region that has extended until the present day. The last of their industrial assets, however, was sold in 2000.

McLaren Surname Miscellany

Balquhidder in Perthshire.  The heartland of the Clan MacLaren lies in and around the parish of Balquhidder and the hills that slope north from Loch Voil and Loch Doine (known as the famous Braes o’ Balquhidder).

The parish is 18 miles long and 7 miles wide and includes the west end of Loch Earn and most of Loch Lubnaig.  The ruined kirk of the village is dated 1631 and lies near the site of an even earlier church.  Graves in the churchyard date from 1685 and include that of Rob Roy MacGregor.

The ancient rallying place of the clan was Creag an Tuirc (the Boar’s Rock), which is on a small hill overlooking the kirk and can be approached by a fairly steep path. 

The MacLarens and the Buchanans.  One day in the late 1490’s when the MacLarens were busy at the fair, word came that the Buchanan clan was marching up towards them through Strathyre.  There was no time to lose and MacLarens rushed to arms. They had not all arrived by the time the Buchanans approached.  However, they were not daunted and they attacked the Buchanans.

At first the Buchanans were faring better and drove the MacLarens back.  The MacLaren chief saw one of his sons cut down and, suddenly seized with battle madness, turned and shouted the MacLaren battle cry Creag An Tuirc.  Whirling his claymore, he rushed furiously at the enemy.

His clansmen followed him and the Buchanans were cut down like corn. Only two escaped by swimming the Balvaig river. But they were followed.  One was cut down at Gartnafuaran and the second was cut down at a place now known as Sron Laine.

Donald MacLaren of Invernenty.  After Cullodon, seven rebels were surprised in a hut in the Braes of Lenny by the Perth volunteers. The volunteers surrounded the hut and, after heavy firing on both sides, the rebels, being all wounded except one, surrendered and were taken as prisoners to Stirling.  Their numbers included Captain Donald MacLaren.

Donald was then being brought to Carlisle to be tried, but made his escape on the way.  At Ettrick Braehead near Moffat, having given one of the soldiers the charge of his horse on pretense of retiring to ease nature, he swaddled himself in his plaid and rolled down the brae.  Though he was pursued and fired at, he managed to escape.  It was this incident that formed the story of “Pate in Peril” in Walter Scott’s Redgauntlet.

Donald was said to have carried with him a Theophrastus printed in Greek and Latin and a silver drinking cup, according to a descendant who inherited these items.

His son James emigrated to Prince Edward Island in 1803, just ahead of a legal notice being carried by Walter Scott on his first trip to the Highlands.

Duncan McLaren, Edinburgh’s Member for Scotland.  Duncan McLaren was a dominant and at times domineering figure in 19th century Edinburgh and Scotland.  ‘The Member for Scotland’ was the nickname given him at Westminster because he took up all manner of Scottish issues and initiated the campaign for a Scottish Secretary.

McLaren’s political base was among the religious and political radicals of Edinburgh. As a young counsellor he saved the city from bankruptcy and established free schools for poor families.  He challenged the Whig lawyers who controlled Edinburgh politics, became Lord Provost and successfully sued The Scotsman for libel.

From his draper’s business in the High Street he moved into railways, banking and the suburban property boom.  Married to the sister of the free-trade liberal leader John Bright, he helped draft bills to reform the electoral system and voted for women’s rights. Of his nine children, three became Liberal MPs.  Yet he tried to frustrate one daughter’s marriage hopes and another’s ambitions to be a doctor.

His eventful life was covered in a recent biography by Pickard Willis, The Member for Scotland, published in 2011.

Duncan MacLaren and His Bride in Blantyre, PEI.  Among the earliest parts of Prince Edward Island to attract immigrants was a district named Morell lying along the north shore of the province. In time a road was cut and before long the central parts became settled by people from Scotland who named the section Blantyre. For several years there was only a footpath between Blantyre and Morell and the route was seldom travelled in winter except on snow-shoes.

Among the youth of Blantyre was one of more than usual promise named Duncan MacLaren who had a place of his own and was looking for someone to share his troubles and joys.  His friend Norman told him that for that purpose he must go away from his home as there was no girl in Blantyre that deserved his attentions. Norman would introduce him to a family at Morell with just the girl that he needed.  And there Duncan did indeed meet and wed his bride Catherine.

Much snow had come down when Duncan and Catherine departed Morell for Blantyre.  Catherine, though a brave and sturdy lass, gave indications of weariness as the day wore on and it became evident that it would be impossible to make her way to Blantyre.  Here was an ugly predicament.  They would have to spend the night in the wood.

Next morning, leaving his spouse wrapped in blankets, Duncan set out for home and, after temporarily getting lost, eventually reached his destination.

Duncan had no sooner related the story of his voyage than horns began to sound through the settlement and heralds ran hither and thither.  When the cause became known there was a simultaneous move to harness oxen and before sunset six teams were ready to start in quest of the bride. They were determined she should arrive in style. The first bride to Blantyre must come with a flourish of trumpets.  A sort of regal seat was improvised and covered with the skin of an ox. On another sled was placed on end a big, empty puncheon to form a stand for a couple of trumpeters.

It was long after midnight when the pair arrived at Blantyre.  Here torches were lighted, guns fired, while the puncheon was improvised for a drum.  The whole thing constituted a bridal procession such as few have ever enjoyed.

McLarens in Lanark, Ontario.  In September 1820, Peter McLaren and his family were among the original settlers of Lanark, Ontario.  These settlers were severely hampered by their September arrival. with winter fast approaching.  There was no time to clear land for fall wheat and little time to erect shelter. They lived first in tents made of bark and branches, then in crude log shanties.

Land in the area had been surveyed prior to their arrival and each male over twenty one years of age had been granted 100 acres.  In addition, they were given tools, farm implements and seed.  Now all they had to do was to locate their granted property in the middle of the forest and get started.

A year later Peter’s older brother John arrived with his family in a second group of settlers and managed to secure an adjacent plot of land.  This group had more time to prepare for winter, and had the council of the settlers already in place, but there was still the small matter of clearing the trees.  Many McLarens in fact subsequently became lumberjacks.

The land settled by Peter and John McLaren was just over a mile east of what would become Lanark village. This area was obviously suited for agriculture because, as their families grew, they expanded into a family of farms.

McLaren Names

  • Abbot Labhran who lived at Balquhidder in the early 1200’s is considered the forebear of the MacLaren clan in Perthshire. 
  • Donald MacLaren was a Canadian World War I flying ace.
  • Bruce McLaren was a New Zealand racing car driver and developer whose name lives on in the McLaren F1 race car.
  • Bill McLaren was a much-loved TV rugby commentator from the Scottish borders.
  • Malcolm McLaren was an English rock impresario, the promoter of punk music in the 1970’s and the manager of the Sex Pistols and the New York Dolls.

McLaren Numbers Today

  • 11,000 in the UK (most numerous in Perthshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 12,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

McLaren and Like Surnames 

These surnames originated from the northern part of Scotland, either the northeast of the country, the Scottish Highlands, or in one case (the surname Linklater) the Orkney isles north of Scotland.



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Written by Colin Shelley

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