Menzies Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Menzies Meaning
This Scottish surname had its
origin in the place-name Mesnieres near Rouen in Normandy and a Norman
of that name who arrived in England at the time of William the
One branch of the family remained in England
and their name was anglicized as Manners.
Another branch moved north to Scotland where they were well
received by
the Scottish king.  The name here was
first de Meyners but became Menzies over time.
The spelling of Menzies as
Menzies reflected Gaelic influences and how it came to be written down
later printed.  But the pronunciation of Menzies in
Scotland, although not
necessarily elsewhere, was more like “Ming” or “Mingis.”
Thus the Scottish Liberal Democrat politician
Menzies Campbell was called “Ming” Campbell; while the Australian Prime
Minister Sir Robert Menzies went by “Menzies” (although he himself
preferred the
Scottish ”Mingis.”).  The alternative Means
and Minnis spellings, that can be found in Ireland and America,
followed more the
Scottish sound of the name.

Menzies Resources on

Menzies Ancestry

early Menzies
in Scotland were of
Norman origin, bearing the name of
de Meyners.

Based initially in
Midlothian, this family rose in prominence in court circles and Robert
Meyners was given the position of Chamberlain of Scotland under
Alexander II in
1249.  The King turned out to be
exceedingly generous to Robert and his family, granting them extensive
lands in
Perthshire, notably at Culdair in Glenlyon and at Weem near Aberfeldy.

Perthshire became the base for the Menzies clan:

  • the Menzies of Weem held the
    Palace of Weem, later Castle Menzies, from the 16th century onwards.  This senior line ended in 1910.
  • while the Menzies
    of Culdair – descended from Colonel James Menzies, a prominent
    officer in the 1660‘s – were later Jacobite supporters and held Meggernie castle in Glenlyon
    at one time.  This line still continues.

Menzies from Weem became well-known in England as a naturalist and
following his voyages to the Pacific in the 1790’s.
He was the first European to reach the summit
of the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Loa and he introduced the monkey puzzle
tree to

Other notable Scottish Menzies have been:

  • John Menzies who as a young
    man of twenty-five started up a newspaper shop in Edinburgh in 1833.  This has expanded into John Menzies PLC, a
    national chain.
  • and Graham Menzies from Angus who was a whisky distiller
    Edinburgh in the mid/late 1800’s and became hugely wealthy.  This fortune was later much dissipated by his
    son John.  John’s son Stewart was Chief
    of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service, from 1939 to 1952.

Ireland.  Some Menzies
departed Scotland for Ireland at the time of the Ulster plantations of
the 17th
century.  But the spelling generally
changed in the crossing.

It was Means in
Tyrone and Fermanagh.  There were
early Means in the Clogher area of Tyrone and two Means families were
in Fermanagh by the 1650’s.
Joseph Means arrived
in Fermanagh from Weem as a young man in the 1670’s.
His son John emigrated to New England in
1718, later settling in Pennsylvania.
His line was covered in Elizabeth Foglesong’s 1972 book Means in America.

The spelling was more Minnis in county
Down.  William Minnis was recorded in the
linen business in Lisdoonan in the 1780’s.
John Minnis had by then departed for America where he was a
soldier in
the Revolutionary War and later settled in Tennessee.
His line was covered in Elizabeth Austin’s
1913 book Minnis Family of Ireland and

America.  There are Menzies, Means, and Minnis
names in America.  The Menzies numbers have
been relatively
small – only four in the 1840 census and less than 2,000 in family
today.  There have been a few reasons for
this, other than the fact that not that many Menzies did come to

  • some
    came, but then went back.  That was the
    case with James Menzies of
    Culdair who was captured and exiled to Maryland after the failure of
    the 1715
    Jacobite rising.  He was later allowed to
  • some
    had their name changed on
    arrival in America, or shortly thereafter.  Thus
    it was James Menzies who arrived in Virginia in 1753,
    but he was
    known as James Minnis from 1763 onwards.  And
    the descendants of Andrew Menzies in North Carolina
    around that time
    went by the name of Mings.  
  • and
    there were Menzies Loyalists at the time of the Revolutionary War who
    for Canada.  Three Menzies families from
    New York left at this time and resettled in New Brunswick.  

The family of the Rev. Adam Menzies
did stay in America and did keep their name (although the locals
pronounced it
Minnis).  He had been a Jacobite
supporter in 1745 who had fled to Virginia after their defeat.  His son Samuel fought in the Revolutionary
War and distinguished himself at the Battle of Yorktown.
Samuel moved with his family to Kentucky in
1805.  His son Samuel Jr was an army
surgeon at the time of the Civil War and his grandson G.V. Menzies a
Indiana lawyer.

Canada.  Robert
and Catherine Menzies emigrated from Perthshire in 1832 at the time of
Highland Clearances when small farmers were being driven off their land.  They settled to farm near Milton,
Ontario.  Their second son David moved
away and started his own farm at Clinton in Huron county.
He and his wife Jane had two remarkable

  • their son James
    , born in Clinton in 1885,
    who worked in China over the period 1910-1936 as a Christian missionary.  He also had expertise on ancient Chinese
    bone scripts and was the foremost non-Chinese scholar on the Bronze Age
    in China. 
  • and their grandson Arthur
    Menzies, born in China in 1916, who became a famous Canadian diplomat,
    as ambassador in a number of Asian countries.  He
    returned to China as ambassador in 1976.

Australia.  Two Menzies arrived in
Australia in the
mid-1800’s, one from a notable Perthshire family and the other being a
who had probably jumped ship in Melbourne.
Surprisingly it was the latter’s line which was to have the
impact in Australia. 

1839 a young Scottish couple – Dr. Robert Menzies and his bride
Margaret –
arrived in Sydney with the intention of settling on a farm and making a
for themselves and their family there.
They established their farm at
, some seventy miles south of Sydney.

Sadly their time there was not to last
long.  Robert Menzies’ untimely death
at the age of forty-nine in 1860.  His
wife Margaret passed away a year later.
They left four daughters, but no sons to carry on the farm and
family name.

Menzies, a seaman, had rushed to Ballarat in the 1850’s in search
of gold and a fortune.  Born and bred in
the Glasgow region, he had little incentive to return to Scotland.  His parents had both died, leaving him no
property.  His father James was in his time a bleacher,
chargekeeper and

There was no gold for him in Ballarat.
But his son James was determined that he and his family should

and Kate Menzies had little money, but they had all that respect
for education and learning so typical of Scots of humble origin of
times.  They were determined that their
children should achieve the best education of which each was capable.  What school taught him was supplemented by
the habit the parents had of reading to their family.”

Their son Robert Menzies,
born in Ballarat, rose to become the longest-serving Prime Minister in
Australian history


Menzies Miscellany

The Pronunciation of Menzies.  Why has Menzies been pronounced as Ming or Mingis?  The Scots language used the non-Latin “yogh” character which
had a soft guttural sound.  It was shaped like a cursive ‘g’ or
‘z’ and
used as a hyphen between two syllables.
However, when printing presses increased during the 1600’s, a
‘z’ was
often used to represent the yogh.  From
this came the divergence between how Menzies was written and how
Menzies was
pronounced. A Scottish limerick played on this difference.

“There wis a young lassie named Menzies,
That askit her aunt whit this thenzies.
Said her aunt wi a gasp,
‘Ma dear, it’s a wasp,
An you’re haudin the end whaur the stenzies’!”

We might say this limerick today as follows:

“There was a young lassie named Ming,
That asked her aunt what is this thing.
Said her aunt with a gasp,
‘My dear, it’s a wasp,
And you’re handling the end where’s the sting!’”

pronunciation of Menzies varies across Scotland.  In
the north many still use the “-enz”
version; elsewhere, it is “-ing.”  And those who do not know the
will also tend to use the “enz” version.
So the Scottish newsagent chain is referred to as both John
Menzies and
John Mingis.” 

Early Menzies.  The Book of Menzies, written by D.F.
Menzies in 1894, claimed a fabulous line of descent from Mannus, the
second son
of King Fergus in 333 BC.  Some believed
him at the time.  But it is a total fable
with no basis in fact.

George Fraser Black in his 1946 book The Surnames of Scotland began by
stating that the Menzies name is of Norman
origin, being originally de Meyners.  He
continued as follows:

“Robert de Meyners, who was created Great Chamberlain of
Scotland, is generally considered first of the name in Scotland.  He witnessed charters by Alexander II in 1224
and 1246.  David de Meynness, knight, was
one of the Queen of Scotland’s retinue in 1248.

Thomas de Meineris was one of the
signers of the Barons’ letter to the Pope in 1320. Alexander de
Meyneris or
Meinzeis had a charter of the lands of Durisdeer from Robert I and
Maynhers had a charter of half the barony of Culter from Robert II in
1385.  John of Menzhers was notary in Perth

Black gave later spellings of the name as Megnies in 1447, Mengues in 1487, Menyeis in 1500, Mengzes in 1572, and Meinzeis in 1658.

The Ghostly Kady at Menzies’ Meggernie Castle.  The story goes that one of the chiefs of clan
Menzies got married to a woman of breath-taking beauty, and that for
this same
reason he became pathologically jealous, incessantly accusing her of
infidelity. One day, controlled by his irrational jealousy, he murdered

cover his tracks, he first cut the body in half at the waist, and hid
corpse in a locked chest inside one of the castle towers. Right after
which he
told everybody that he and his wife were going on a trip.
He later said that his wife had drowned while
boating in Italy and the body was never found.

However, he was still concerned
about the possibility of somebody finding the body.  He thought
about a more
permanent way to get rid of the evidence.
He would bury the body in the graveyard.

He moved the putrid lower limbs to a hole he had dug in the graveyard.  Then he tried to repeat the procedure, this
time with the upper part of the body, but he couldn’t bear the
repulsion as the
body was in an advanced state of decomposition. Instead he hid the
under the floorboards.  That was the last
act committed by Menzies before he himself was brutally murdered.

Since then
guests staying at the castle have reported the apparition of the upper
part of
a woman’s body. One visitor stated that one night, while he was
sleeping, the
feeling of something extremely hot burning his cheek woke him up.  Being fully awake, he saw the upper half of a
woman’s body disappearing through the locked door. The lower part of
the body has
been seen in the corridors and outside the castle, in an alley of lime
and even in the old castle graveyard.

Menzies, Means and Minnis in America Today

US Family Numbers Mostly Found Mostly Originating
Menzies    1,600 California Scotland
Means    6,000 Texas various places (incl. Ireland)
Minnis    1,400 California Ireland (Scots Irish)

The Menzies Family at Minamurra House, Jamberoo.  In January 1839 a young Scottish couple – Dr.
Robert Menzies and his recent bride Margaret – arrived in Sydney aboard
the Earl Durham.  Like so
many other free immigrants of the
time, they had journeyed to New South Wales with the intention of
settling on a
farm and making a future for themselves and their family there.

After a brief
stay in Sydney the Menzies moved onto Liverpool and began their search
land.  They eventually decided on 600
acres at Jamberoo, near Kiama, on the coast approximately seventy miles
of Sydney. The Menzies went on to name their property Minamurra
after the Aboriginal term for the stream which flowed
through it. The house they built there in the early 1840’s still stands
and is
one of the oldest in Illawarra.

They had high hopes of perhaps even acquiring a
small fortune within a decade or so, selling up at a profit, and
retiring to
their beloved family and friends back home in Scotland.
However, such was not to be the fate of the
Menzies.’  Their residence of a mere two
decades in the colony was to end in tragedy, despite an initial period
adventure and promise of a prosperous future.

Dr Robert Menzies had been a
hard-working medic of somewhat precarious health. His untimely death at
the age
of forty-nine in 1860 was perhaps foreseen.
But Margaret’s death the following year could possibly be
attributed to
heartbreak and to the shock of having seen both her beloved husband and
pass away at Minamurra in 1859, the
latter shortly after arriving in the colony.

Their story has been told in a
small 1962 booklet entitled The Story of
Dr and Mrs Robert Menzies 1839
‐1861 by
Arthur Cousins, a local historian. 

The James Menzies They Called Old Bones.  In his first few years as a Christian missionary in China, Menzies became fluent in the language and used
his engineering skills to build homes and dig wells.
By 1914 he was based about 500 kilometres
south of Beijing in Zhangde, a city in Henan that is now known as

spring morning he went for a ride on his old white horse along the Huan
where cotton farmers were plowing their fields and turning up ancient
shards.  Already fascinated by
archaeology, he was studying the shards as several half-naked children
collected willow-tea leaves nearby.  One
boy asked Menzies if he wanted to see “some dragon bones with
on them.”  The missionary said he
did and he was led to a hidden gulley where one slope was white with
bone particles.

He had stumbled upon Yin, the ancient capital of the
Shang dynasty.  When archaeologists
excavated the site, never
before been visited by scholars, they discovered the remains of a vast
Age city built by an astonishing civilization.
Yin stretched across 24 square kilometres and had a population of
100,000, one
of the world’s biggest at that time.
Finding it made the Shang China’s first documented dynasty.

for the
“dragon bones” when Menzies first visited Yin, few people realized
their true importance, even though they had been ground up and used in
traditional medicine for centuries.  Menzies
understood the crucial importance of these fragments, commonly called
“oracle bones,” because the Shang people believed that they could
tell the future.  Over the next
twenty-two years Menzies became an obsessive collector of oracle bones
other ancient artefacts.

Fellow missionaries would call him “Old Bones.”


Menzies Names

  • Robert de Meyners was appointed Chamberlain of Scotland by Alexander II in 1249. 
  • John Menzies started up the newspaper chain of John Menzies in Edinburgh in 1833. 
  • James Menzies from Canada was a Christian missionary to China in the early 1900’s.  He was also the
    foremost non-Chinese scholar on the Bronze Age culture in China. 
  • Sir Robert Menzies has been Australia’s longest-serving Prime Minister, from 1939 to 1941 and from 1949 to 1966.

Select Menzies Numbers Today

  • 5,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Perthshire)
  • 2,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 7,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)


Select Menzies 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.




Click here for return to front page

Leave a Reply