Murray Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Murray Meaning
has both Scottish and Irish origins.
Scottish Origins.  The Murray clan in Scotland descends from a Flemish nobleman Freskin who
had crossed the North Sea in the 12th century and been granted lands along the Moray Firth coastline.  His family took the name Moray which became over time Murray.  The name may have come from the Pictish word moritreb,
meaning “seaward settlement,” which described the ancient province of Mormaer in Moray.
Irish Origins.  The Irish Murray dates from an earlier time.  The Siol Muiredhaigh (pronounced Sheel
Murray) was the territorial and dynastic name for clans descended from Muireadhach Muilleathan (Murray the long-headed) who died around the year 700.  The name Muiredhaigh,
meaning “lord” or master,” was a fairly common personal name in The Annals of the Four Masters.
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Murray Ancestry

The early Murrays became the lords of Bothwell in Clydesdale and Andrew
Murray led the Scots in their uprising against the English in
1297.  However, the last of this line died of the plague in 1360
and the Murrays then splintered into various groupings.

The main branch, based in Perth, were the Murrays of
Tullibardine.  They assumed clan leadership in the 16th century,
taking the title of the Dukes of Atholl.  Also from Scone in
Perthshire were the
Murrays of Stormont who later became Earls of Mansfield.

Then on the Scottish
Borders were:

  • the Murrays of Cockpool in
  • the Murrays of Broughton in Wigton
  • the Murrays of
    in Selkirk
  • and the Murrays of Stanhope and
    Cordon in Peeblesshire.

also remained some Murray pockets in the Highlands, at Abercross on the
banks of the river Briona in Sutherland.

The Jacobite
rising of 1745
found the Murrays divided, with the clan
chief supporting the British Government and his son, Lord George
Murray, the Jacobites.  After the defeat at Culloden, many Murrays
fled Scotland, with a number departing for
America.  The American writer William Faulkner was said to have
told a friend: “My great grandfather Murray had his grandfather’s
claymore which he had carried at the battle of Culloden.”

As the 19th century proceeded, the Murray demographics within Scotland
changed, with a greater concentration around Edinburgh and
Glasgow.  Murrays left as well for Canada, Australia, and New
Zealand at this time.

Ireland.  The O’Muiredhaighs or Siol Murrays who
took their name from the ancient Siol
were to be found in
northern Roscommon, as place names there such as Ballymurray,
Cloonmurray, and Kilmurray testify.  The clan seat was at Moate
Park in Ballymurray.  But it was confiscated by the English in the
late 17th century.   The Irish Murray surname has also
appeared in Monaghan and county Down.

Scots Irish.  As
the Irish Murrays were losing their lands, the Scots Murrays were
stepping in.  The Murrays of Broughton obtained a plantation grant
SW Donegal in 1610 and held onto these lands against competing
claims.  They remained mainly absentee landlords.  Later,
another Murray gained some notoreity in the area.  In 1860, a
Scottish land steward
at the Adair estate
, James Murray, was brutally murdered by
tenants who were upset at being evicted from their lands.

Meanwhile, the Murray name was becoming established in Ulster through
Scots Protestant immigrants. County Wicklow was also a Murray
outpost, but of Scots Catholics who had fled Scotland after the defeat
at Culloden.

Some Scots-Irish Murrays had left for America in the 18th
century.  But the emigration really gathered pace as the 19th
century proceeded.  The
following were some of the Murrays who left:

  • William Murray and his brother Richard from Wicklow to Baltimore
    (America) in 1795
  • John Murray and his family from county Offaly to Prince Edward
    Island, Canada in 1818
  • John
    and Jane Murray from county Monaghan to Ontario, Canada in 1832
  • Charles and Susan Murray from county Fermanagh to NSW, Australia
    in 1839
  • Michael Murray from Waterford to
    NSW, Australia in 1860.

England.  The 18th and
century saw an overflow of Scots Murrays into northern England.
Many went to work in the Durham mines, first in the Derwent lead mines
near Hunstanworth and then in the coalfields. William Murray, the son
of a flour merchant, founded the Murray engine works and iron foundry
in Chester-le-Street, the economic mainstay of that town for much of
the 19th century.  Meanwhile, some Irish Murrays made their way to
industrial Lancashire.

London had been receiving Murrays a century or more

  • John Murray, known as Sour John of the Spiceries,
    arrived in the 1590’s and made his money as a spice merchant.
  • William Murray of Stormont came in 1730 from Perth
    and rose to become Lord Chief Justice.  His nephew David was a
    British ambassador at the time of the American Revolutionary War.
  • and John Murray founded the publishing house
    which bore his name in London
    continued under his family for seven generations.

America.  The American
Revolutionary War divided Murrays as the ’45 rebellion had thirty years
earlier. James
for instance, who had arrived in America in the
1730’s as a planter along the Cape Fear in North Carolina, was and
remained a Loyalist.  He departed Boston in 1776 for Nova Scotia
he ended his days in poverty and in exile.

But his nephew John
Boyles Murray, who had arrived in Boston in 1770, cast his lot with the
colonists.  After the war he and his son James prospered in New
York as merchants.   Meanwhile, other Murrays from the Cape
Fear area made the trek in 1769 to Georgia where, according to Alton
Murray’s Kindred Murrays,
they apparently fought on the American side.

The Murray Quaker family of New York, after whom the
Murray Hill neighborhood in Manhattan is named, was another family
Some were known for their support for the
patriots; whilst others, including the eldest son Lindley, were led by
their loyalist sympathies to return to England.  Lindley, however,
had the last laugh.  His
English textbooks later became bestsellers in America.

Meanwhile, on the sea islands of South Carolina, James Murray was,
according to the family tradition, “killed by the explosion of a cannon
while defending the island from the British enemy, leaving one
child.”  That child, Joseph James Murray, was the forbear of the
Murrays still living on Edisto island (including the writer Chalmers Murray).
Their family history is recounted in J.G. Murray’s 1958 book, The Murray Family of Edisto Island.

The Scots-Irish Murrays had been tobacco planters at Cross Roads in
North Carolina since the 1740’s. Andrew Murray of this family became
well-known after the publication of Alex
Haley’s book Roots.  It
transpired that Haley’s great grandfather, a slave and blacksmith
on his plantation, had taken his Murray name.

African Americans
The Murray name has been more evident as an African American name in
Maryland.  Perhaps the presence of William Murray and his family
in Cambridge, Dorchester county, a place where there had been a
thriving slave market, was a contributing factor.  In any case the
state of Maryland produced:

  • Anna Murray, the freed slave who married the abolitionist
    Frederick Douglass
  • Daniel Murray, the son of a freed slave who became an authority
    on African American affairs in Washington
  • Donald
    Gaines Murray, the first African American to gain admittance to the
    University of Maryland’s law school (after a protracted legal battle in
    the 1930’s)
  • and Pauli Murray, an early civil rights campaigner.

It was therefore appropriate that the Baltimore Orioles should be the
home of Eddie Murray, the best switch-hitter of his generation, for
most of his baseball career.

Canada.  Alexander Murray,
a Scots army captain based in Nova Scotia, made a decisive early
contribution to the development of the colony.  In 1755 he
superintended the evacuation of the Acadian population.

Later came
Murray settlers, mainly Highlanders it would appear.  Walter and
Christian Murray arrived in Pictou county on the Hector in 1773.  Peter and
Elizabeth Murray who came in 1819 settled at Spiddle Hill.  The
present-day Canadian songstress Anne Murray hails from a small town in
Nova Scotia.

Three Murray brothers set out from Glasgow in 1840 to seek their
fortunes in Canada.  History records only one of these brothers,
Alex.  He joined the Hudson Bay Company and established a fur
trading post at Fort Yukon in what was then Russian territory.
His sketches of the trading post and the people who frequented it
provide an interesting souvenir of that time.

Two other Murray brothers, Thomas and William, were the sons of Irish
immigrants in Goulbourn township, Ontario.  They are best
remembered today for the nickel deposits in the Sudbury region known as
the Murray mine.

South Africa.  Murrays
were early settlers in what was then Cape Colony:

  • John Murray had
    arrived from Scotland in 1807 to assist his brother Samuel in a store
    he ran on Strand Street.  He and his wife Martha had nine children
    and there are many descendants of this family in South Africa
  • The
    Rev. Andrew Murray
    , also from Scotland, came in 1822 and
    settled in the Graaff Reinet area
  • and another Murray
    family, Alfred and Mary, arrived from England in the 1830’s.
    Alfred was not born a Murray but, strangely, had adopted the Murray
    surname for some reason on his wedding register.

Australia.  John Murray from Scotland was one of the earliest explorers of the
coastline of Australia.  In 1804 he discovered Port Philip, the
bay on which the city of Melbourne was to be sited.  Then came
Murray convicts, mostly from Ireland the records would

Early Murray settlers were from both Scotland and

  • Alexander Murray from Dumfriesshire was a pioneer
    sheep-breeder in South Australia.  Together with his brother John,
    he founded the famed Murray Merino flocks.  His son George rose to
    be Chief Judge of the state.
  • meanwhile Terence Murray came via
    Ireland and the Army to raise sheep at Yarralumla near Sydney.  He
    later became active in New South Wales politics and married into the
    Anglo-colonial establishment.

New Zealand.  Two Murray
brothers, George and James, left Scotland in 1863 to start a
new life as farmers in New Zealand.  It was said, once in New
Zealand, “that one gave up the porridge and the other the Bible.”
A third son, John, rose to be head of the Bank of New Zealand.


Murray Miscellany

The Outlaw Murray of Philiphaugh.  The incident of the Outlaw Murray refusing homage to the King
but finally giving way on being installed as Sheriff of Ettrick Forest
has long been considered to be merely a picturesque legend perpetuated
by a well known ballad.

“Who ever heard, in ony times,
Siccan an outlaw in his degree,
Sic favour get before a King,
As did Outlaw Murray of the forest free?”

However, the story may also have been true as well.

This Murray, John Murray, lived at Hanginshaw in Effrick
Forest and came from one of the oldest families in Selkirrkshire.
Legend has him as a man seven feet tall who commanded his own retinue
of followers.  He may have been the origin of the term
“muckle-mouth” Murray or big mouth Murray.

He was outlawed, but possibly for different reasons.  In
1460, he was in fact recorded as the Queen’s herdsman in Ettrick Forest
and, a year later, obtained a
charter for Philiphaugh.  He did give his submission during the
occupation of Ettrick Forest.  And the Murrays of Philiphaugh were
certainly Sheriffs of the Forest before 1530.

Sour John of the Spiceries.  John Murray went to London as a young man, pushed his way in trade, and became a rich merchant.  His dealings were probably in
East India goods as he was ordinarily known as “Sour John of the Spiceries.”

He would appear to have entertained some expectation of being
buried in grand style in his local churchyard of Newlands back in
Peeblesshire.  When he did return to Scotland, he occupied himself
in constructing a mausoleum to receive his remains, bearing an
inscription in Latin and Greek which read as follows:

“This stony fabric is erected as a
memorial in gratitude here, because I am purified by the holy fount.”

Sour John of the Spiceries died in 1625 at Halmyre and was
laid to decay in state in the aisle which he had prepared for his
reception.  But every vestige of posthumous finery has long since
gone and nothing is left to distinguish the spot from the graves of

Clan Murray and the ’45.  During the Jacobite uprising, Murrays fought on both
sides.  The Chief of Clan Murray, the Duke of Atholl, supported
the British Government; but three of his sons chose to support the
Jacobites.  This resulted in the forces of the chief and his sons
fighting against each other in battle.  At the battle of
Prestonpans in 1745, two Murray regiments, the 46th and 42nd, fought
for the British Government.  On the other side was another Murray
regiment led by the Duke of Atholl’s son, Lord George Murray.
Lord George Murray was in fact the Jacobite general who was responsible
for their early successes in the campaign.

William Murray had fought on the Jacobite side in 1715
and returned in 1745, landing in Scotland at the same time as Bonnie
Prince Charlie.  Meanwhile, John Murray of Broughton served as the
Prince’s secretary.

After the defeat at Culloden in 1746, William Murray was captured but
died in prison later that year in London.  Lord George Murray
escaped to the continent and died in obscurity there.  John Murray
earned the enmity of the Jacobites by turning King’s evidence.
Other Murrays fled Scotland.  One group ended up in Wicklow,
Ireland.  Others left for America.

John Murray and Lord Byron.  The first John Murray of the publishing dynasty that bore his name had been born in Edinburgh, the only surviving son of Robert
McMurray.  According to the family legend, Robert had appended the
“Mc” to distance himself from his brother who had fought for the
Jacobites in the 1715 uprising and ended up a wanted man.  John
had dropped the “Mc” once he had established himself in London.

It was really his son, the second John Murray, who made
this publishing house one of the
most important and influential in Britain.  He was a friend of
many of the leading writers of the day and launched the Quarterly Review in
1809.   His home and office at 50 Albemarle Street in Mayfair
was the center of a literary circle, fostered by Murray’s tradition of
“four o’clock friends,” afternoon tea with his writers.

Murray’s most notable author was Lord Byron who became a
close friend and correspondent of his.  Murray published many of
his major works, paying him over £20,000 in rights.  In 1812
Murray published Byron’s second book Childe
Harold’s Pilgrimage
which sold out in five days, leading to
Byron’s observation: “I awoke one morning and found myself

In 1824 Murray participated in one of the most notorious
acts in the annals of literature.  Byron had given him the
manuscript of his personal memoirs to publish later on.  Together
with five of Byron’s friends and executors, he decided to destroy
Byron’s manuscripts because he thought the scandalous details would
damage Byron’s reputation.  The two volumes of memoirs were
dismembered and burnt in the fireplace at Murray’s office.

James Murray the Loyalist.  For James Murray, Britain was always the center of his
world and North Carolina the edge.  He had arrived
there in 1735 and become a planter along the Lower Cape
Fear.  An early letter of his expressed gratitude to an Edinburgh
relative for his continued correspondence, fearing that he “would be
forgotten in this remote part of the world.”

In 1763 Murray removed himself to Boston and lived there
through the Boston Tea Party and the early days of the
Revolution.  The letters he wrote at that time were moderate in
their tone.  But in them he wholeheartedly supported the British
Government.  The patriots seemed to him traitors.

“You will have heard long before this reaches you what a
spirit the Stamp Act has raised in these colonies which, for want of power on the part of the Crown, to check into these three great towns, Boston, New York and Philadelphia, has gone to very great lengths indeed, particularly in New York.

The truth is, we are children of a most indulgent parent who have never grown to manhood and have acted
accordingly.  The Stamp Act, so far from being a hurt to the colonies which they pretend to be unable to bear, will be a necessary spur to
their industry.  The difficulty will be to keep that industry from
being employed on articles that will interfere with the Mother Country
and to preserve the benefit and dependence of America to Britain as
long as may be.

But in the process of time, this extensive
fertile country, cultivated as it will be by millions of people healthy
and strong, must by the nature of things preponderate.  Our
comfort is that period seems to lie far beyond our day.”

Murray remained in Boston until 1776 when, on the evacuation of the
city, he left for Halifax, Nova Scotia where he died five years later
in poverty and in exile.

Reader Feedback – Murrays from Canada in KentuckyI am trying to find out which John Murray who immigrated to Canada in the early 1800’s is related to my great grandfather Frank Henry Murray who was born in 1887 in Canada.  He lived in Kentucky and his father was Charles H. Murray who was also from Kentucky. I cannot find which John is Charles’s father. There are several Charles Murray’s and several John Murray’s and I can’t connect any of them to my Frank Henry Murray who died in Michigan in 1952.

Cheryl (

The Murder of James Murray in Donegal.  James Murray had became a very unpopular figure with the
Glenveagh and Derryveagh tenants on the Adair estate.  He would
capture their animals
which trespassed and demand a ransom for their release; and, it was
said, he also sought compensation from them by falsely swearing that
eighty five of his employer’s blackfaced sheep had been killed or
stolen.  Then, in January 1860, he delivered notices to the
Derryveagh tenants to leave their holdings.

Thus his murder, discovered on November 15, 1860, was perhaps no
surprise.  The following was the account of the murder
which appeared in The Times
of London.

“It appears Murray left his cottage about ten o’clock on
Tuesday morning, accompanied by two or three dogs, to look after his
master’s estate.  He had travelled nearly a mile and a half from
home when he met his fate.

The tenants of the Adair estate had
been warned to turn out and search for the missing land steward, they being familiar with the district.  They
succeeded in finding him at the foot of a precipice about nine o’clock
on the Thursday morning and they at once brought the intelligence to a
party of police.

Murray was lying on his back on a ledge of one of the
rocks of the precipice, with his face turned upwards.  One of his
arms lay across his breast and the other by his side.  His hair
was dishevilled, clotted with blood, and the eyes were open.  The
body bore marks sufficient to prove that Murray had met his death by
violence.   The poor fellow seemed to have made a desperate
fight for life, for all along the edge of the precipice footmarks
indicated that a struggle had taken place.  The face of the
murdered man presented a sad spectacle.  Immediately under the
right eye was a frightful wound, as if inflicted by a blunt instrument;
and there was a similar wound on the right temple.  Murray’s
skull, upon examination, was found to have been completely smashed in.

The body was carried to the cottage which he had left
only two mornings before in health and strength.  One can well
imagine the feelings of his poor widow on receiving the remains of her
dead husband.”

Murray’s murderer was never caught.  But Adair, alleging a
conspiracy among his tenants, used the killing to complete the

Andrew Murray, A Revivalist in South Africa.  One of four children born to Andrew and Maria Murray, Andrew
Murray was raised in what was considered then the most remote corner of
the world – Graaff Reinet, near the Cape in South Africa.  It was
here, after his formal education in Scotland and three years of
theological study in college in Holland, that he returned as a
missionary and minister.  Murray consistently drew large crowds
when he preached and led many to trust Christ as their Savior.

When revival came to Cape Town, Murray initially was hesitant.  He
didn’t want to be swept away in the heart of emotion.  But one
Sunday evening during the youth fellowship meeting an African servant
girl rose and asked permission to sing a verse and pray.  The Holy
Spirit fell upon the group and she prayed.  In the distance there
came a sound like approaching thunder.  It surrounded the hall and
the building began to shake.  Instantly everyone burst into

Murray walked up and down the aisle, trying to quiet the people.
But a stranger in the service tiptoed up to him and whispered: “Be
careful what you do.  For it is the Spirit of God that is at work
here.”  And Murray soon learned to accept the revival praying.

Chalmers Murray and His South Carolina Sea Islands Novel.  “The finest picture of the Sea Island Negroes even
written: simple, vivid, and taut…raw and outspoken,” read the Library Journal’s back cover blurb for the novel Here Come Joe Mungin, written by Chalmers S. Murray in 1942.

Murray and his sister, natives of Edisto Island, had grown up on
their father’s farm in an area populated by blacks, the descendants of
the slaves of the Sea Islands, and were isolated from the other white
people on the island.  Murray knew the blacks well – so well in
fact – that his parents carefully “screened” the black boys he played
with.  His father made two thousand dollars a year operating a
general merchandise store “that catered largely to Negroes,” Murray
recalled in Turn Backward O Time In
Your Flight
, his 1960 reminiscence of growing up on Edisto
Island.  He had been born there in 1894.

Murray grew up around Negro spirituals and superstitions, he stored
knowledge of Negro myth and folk sayings, and he understood the area’s
Gullah speech and in his writings often seems charmed by it.  He
knew the ritual of the Negro churches and the difference in
sophistication the black preachers from Charleston had over the rural
Island black preachers.  During his work with the FWP he learned
Negro work songs, saw what they ate, witnesses their despair, observed
their rage and gained a gauge for their temperaments.  He was thus
well suited to write Here Come Joe
, his “raw and outspoken” novel of the Sea Island Negroes.



Select Murray Names

  • Andrew Murray of Petty and
    Bothwell led the Scots army against the English at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  He died of his wounds after the victory.
  • Donogh O’Murry of the
    Roscommon sept in Ireland was the Archbishop of Tuam in the late 15th century.
  • Lord George Murray of
    Tullibardine was the Scottish Jacobite general who fought against the English in the 1745 campaign.
  • John Murray from Edinburgh
    founded the London publishing house which bore his name in 1768.  It continued under his family for seven generations.  Sir John Murray was a
    pioneering Scots-Canadian oceanographer and marine biologist of the late 19th century.
  • John Middleton Murry was an early 20th century man of letters, married to the novelist Katherine
  • Arthur Murray founded his
    Arthur Murray dance studio chain in America.  He had been born Moses Teichman in Hungary and changed his name during the First World War.
  • Ruby Murray was a popular singer in Britain during the 1950’s.  She hailed from Belfast.
  • Bill Murray is a well-known American comedian and actor, best known for his performances in Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.  He was born in Chicago of Irish stock.
  • Andy Murray is the Scottish player who has won the Wimbledon tennis tournament twice.

Select Murray Numbers Today

  • 77,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Glasgow)
  • 67,000 in America (most numerous
    in Florida).
  • 100,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).


Select Murray 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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