Ross Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Ross Meaning
Ross is a Scottish Highland clan name and also describes
the territory in NW Scotland that was once called Ross-shire and is now
and Cromarty. The name is thought to have come either from the
word ros, meaning “headland” or “promontory,” or
(less likely) from the Norse word hross or “horse.”
The Ross
name could have different roots outside of the Highlands:

  • from an Anglo-Norman de Ros family which
    settled in Ayrshire
  • from the Welsh rhos, meaning “moor” or
  • or from the Middle English rous or

Ross in Ireland may denote the O’Donoghue Mor sept
who built Ross castle in county Kerry in the late 1400’s.
And there were some Rosses from Ross-in-Wye
in England. However, in all of these cases the Ross numbers were
not that

Ross Resources on

Select Ross Ancestry

Scotland. Easter Ross in Ross-shire emerged as the stronghold
for the Earls of
Ross and clan Ross
in the 12th century. The first Earl
of Ross may have been Malcolm MacAedth around 1155. The first
recognizable clan chief was Fearchar who supported the
Scottish king in 1214 in dealing with rebellions in Ross-shire.

The title of the Earl of Ross and Ross clan leadership went
together until clan leadership passed to the Ross lairds of
Balnagowan in 1372. They adopted the Ross surname but they were
no longer the Earls of Ross.
From their base at Balnagowan castle
(now the
home of former Harrod’s boss Mohammed Al-Fayed), they
did hold onto the Ross clan leadership for more than three
years. Feuds
with the neighboring MacKay and
Sutherland clans were to characterize much of that time.

Ross, the 12th Laird of Balnagowan,
incurred a heavy debt when he raised a regiment of clansmen in support
Charles II. It all ended in
disaster. He took
a thousand clansmen to fight with him at the Battle of
Worcester in 1651. After the defeat he was
taken prisoner and
died in the Tower of London, while many of the surviving clansmen were
transported to the colonies.

The next
Laird died childless and even further in debt and the
estate had to be sold:

  • first to the Ross family of Hawkhead, an unrelated Norman de
    Ros family from Renfrewshire in the Scottish Lowlands
  • and then in 1745 to the
    Lockhart family of Carstairs in Lanarkshire who adopted the name of
    Lockhart-Ross. These Lockhart-Rosses
    became noted for their eccentricities. The line lasted until 1942.

The Highland defeat at Culloden in
1746, followed by the clearances, really marked the end of the Highland
way of
life for the Rosses of Ross-shire. Malcolm
Ross led the protests in
1792 when sheep were first introduced into the Ross lands.
Atrocities began with the clearances at Glencalvie in 1845.

“In 1845 Ann Ross was
forty. She was beaten up while she laid
on the ground at Strathcarron. She was
later charged with ‘mobbing and rioting, breach of the peace, and
assault on
officers.’ She was sentenced to twelve

The atrocities culminated
in the slaughter of Ross women, the massacre of Rosses, at
Strathcarron in 1854. Then
were the
Ross-shire sheep riots in 1872.

The Highlands still accounted for over half of
the Rosses in Scotland in the 1891 census. But the 18th and 19th
centuries had
witnessed a Ross and Highland dispersal – south to lowland Scotland
to England,
and more overseas.

America. The
Rosses of Philadelphia were unlikely Revolutionary heroes, but became
so. The Rev. George Ross, the Anglican
who had come to New Castle in Delaware in 1705, was the son of
Blair, the Laird of Balbair in Ross-shire:

  • his son George Ross was Tory for much of
    his life. However, disgusted with British intransigence, he changed
    his views and was one of the last
    signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
  • while his
    granddaughter-in-law Betsy Ross is widely
    credited with having made the first American flag, supposedly at the
    request of
    George Washington.

Another patriot at this time was John
Ross of Tain in Ross-shire who had come to Philadelphia as a merchant
in 1763
and later espoused and helped finance the American cause.
George Washington and other leading
personalities of the time came to dine at his home at Grange Farm

A notable John Ross of the next generation was Chief of the
Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1860. He
was in fact only one-eighth Cherokee, being the son of a part-Cherokee
and a Scottish father, Daniel Ross, who had come to
Cherokee country in
1780’s from Baltimore to trade.

More recently, Ross in America can be a Jewish adopted

  • Barney Ross, from New York Jewish roots, was
    world boxing champion at
    various weights in the 1930’s
  • while Steve Ross, the CEO of Time Warner,
    also came
    from a New York Jewish family; and Stephen Ross, the real estate
    developer and
    owner of the Miami Dolphins, was born into a Jewish family in Detroit.

Ross, born in Morayshire, came to Canada in 1805, became a fur trader
headed west with the North West Company.
By the 1840’s he had settled in the 1840’s in the Red River
colony in
present-day Manitoba where he authored a number of books about the

Indian Ocean. The Ross name was attached to the Cocos islands in the Indian
Ocean. John Clunies
arrived there in 1825 and he and his descendants were running the
islands and
trading their copra for the next one hundred and fifty years


Ross Miscellany

The Earl of Ross and Clan Ross.  The first Earl of Ross, Malcolm MacAedth, lived in the 12th century and died in 1168.  He must have been a man of some importance as he was referred to as one of
the “seven
Maister Men of Scotland” who served at the crowning ceremony for the
King at
the Stone of Scone.

Malcolm MacAedth allied
his family to the Irish O’Beolan family through the marriage of his
daughter to
an O’Beolan priest.  The resulting O’Beolan
Earl of Ross line lasted until 1372.  The
O’Beolans lost the earldom in almost the same way in which they had
gained it,
through the ancient transference of title through a female.
The Rosses of Balnagowan in Ross-shire then succeeded
the O’Beolan Earls as chiefs of clan Ross.

Over the next century they were to forfeit the Earldom to the
Crown and
there were battles in the Highlands in which the Earldom was wasted and
by other clans.  Attempts by John Ross of Balnagowan to recover
the Earldom
all failed.  Thus clan Ross and the Earl of
Ross title became forever separated.

The Eccentric Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross.  A gossip column in the American paper The Washington Post
remarked that the Lockhart-Ross family was noted for its
none more so than Sir Charles Lockhart-Ross in the years between 1790
and 1814:

Charles was so passionately fond of
poultry that he insisted on having all the rooms at Balnagowan castle
with straw so that he might enjoy the pleasure of watching the chickens
and scrape among it.  In his days there was not a room in the
castle in
which one was not apt to tread upon a sitting hen or a new laid egg
among the straw.  One of the very first
things that his successor was obliged to do on succeeding to the
property was
to floor and wainscot afresh every room in the castle.”

later Sir Charles, the last of his line,
inherited the Balnagowan estate in 1883.
By then it had grown large and included some of the best
and sporting acreage in Scotland.  This
estate was still intact in 1942 when he died in America.
He had created some complex American corporations for
the estate and even had Balnagown declared U.S. territory in order to
avoid British
taxation.  For these actions, he had been
outlawed by a British court and spent many years in exile. 

The Massacre of the Rosses.  In 1854 it had been decided to clear the Greenyards area in Strathcarron, Ross-shire.  The
women there heard that there were men coming with writs of eviction.  So they met the men, searched their pockets,
burned the writs and let the men go.  The men then told the court
that they had
been attacked by a mob of disorderly people.

Two weeks later two or three men arrived claiming to have writs of
eviction. They were met by the women who refused to let them past. The
men got
nervous and one pulled a pistol. A boy in the crowd, seeing the pistol
aimed at
his mother’s head, took out his own rusty pistol. The men left
peacefully but
told their superiors that they had been met by riots.

On March 31 constables from Ross and
Inverness set out to clear Greenyards. They were again met by the
Accounts differ as to whether the Riot Act was actually read.  However, the Procurator Taylor gave the order
to ‘knock them down.’ The police attacked the women, kicking them and
them with ash batons. After the attack the houses were burned and
taken back to Tain jail where they were charged with rioting and

Betsy Ross and the American Flag.  Betsy Griscom had been brought up in Pennsylvania in a Quaker household.  In 1773, at the age of 21, she eloped with a non-Quaker, John Ross.
They were ferried across the
Delaware river and got married in New Jersey.
This marriage caused an irrevocable split with her family.

Less than two years after their nuptials, the
couple started their own upholstery business.
Betsy and John then felt the impact of the war.  John Ross
joined the
Pennsylvania militia.  While guarding an
ammunition cache in early 1776, he was wounded in an explosion and died
afterwards.  Betsy was left alone to run
their upholstery business.

often tell her children and grandchildren of that day in May 1776 when
members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress came to
call upon
her. These representatives – George Washington, Robert Morris, and
George Ross – asked her to sew the first flag.  Betsy
Ross already knew George Ross as she had married his nephew.  Betsy was also acquainted with General
Washington.  Not only did they both worship at Christ Church in
but Betsy’s pew was next to George and Martha Washington’s pew.

to Betsy, General Washington showed
her a rough design of the flag that included a six-pointed star.  Betsy demonstrated how to cut a five-pointed
star in a single snip,   Impressed,
committee entrusted Betsy with the making of the first flag.

In June 1777 the Continental Congress,
seeking to promote national pride and unity, adopted Betsy’s flag as
national flag.

Daniel and John Ross.  Daniel Ross was from Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands and had come with
his parents as a child to America in the 1770’s.
They settled at Baltimore.  Young
Ross was soon orphaned, however.  Now a
young man, he left Baltimore with a
companion for Hawkins county in Tennessee.
There they constructed a flat boat which they loaded with
and set off down the Tennessee river to the Chickasaw country to trade
with the
Cherokee Indians.

he met Molly McDonald.  They married in
1786 and settled near her family home to start a family.

Their son John Ross was born at Ross
now Chattanooga, in Tennessee in 1790.
There were rumors that young John had blue eyes.
But all portraits have shown him as
brown-eyed.  As
John grew older his father Daniel established a trading store at
Chattanooga Creek
near the foot of Lookout Mountain.

the influence of his grandmother Anna, who was half Cherokee, John was
the Cherokee ways and he developed a deep love for the Cherokee people,
traditions and the Cherokee way.  He was
to serve as Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 to 1860.
His father Daniel lived to see him made
Chief, but died two years later in 1830. 

Ross in the Cocos Islands.  The Cocos Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean were uninhabited until the 1820’s when a small settlement was established by a
Scottish adventurer named John Clunies Ross from the Shetland Isles who
traded in the area with his brother Robert.  John
set about planting hundreds of coconut
palms on the islands and brought in Malay workers to harvest the nuts.

generations of Clunies-Rosses built up a business empire based on
copra, the
dried flesh of coconuts traded for its oil.  Their
tenure over their exotic adopted home
was confirmed in 1886 when Queen Victoria granted them possession of
islands in perpetuity.

themselves the “Kings” of the Cocos.   There
were five Kings in all.

Name King Reign
John Clunies Ross Ross I 1827-1854
John George Clunies Ross Ross II 1854-1871
George Clunies-Ross Ross III 1871-1910
Sydney Clunies-Ross Ross
John Cecil Clunies-Ross Ross V 1944-1978

Andrew Clunies-Ross, a brother to Ross III, established the
small settlement at Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island to mark the
families’ claim to that land.  He went on to explore the island
and started phosphate mining there.  He withdrew from Christmas
Island in 1899 when the British Christmas Island Phosphate Company took

Cocos Island, the Clunies-Ross
lived in a grand colonial mansion, Oceania House,
which still stands to this day.  John
Clunies-Ross paid
his Malay workers in Cocos rupees, a currency he
minted himself and which could only be redeemed at the company store.

their rule
lasted right up until 1978 when the last “King”, also called John
Clunies-Ross, was forced to sell the islands to Australia for £2.5

first John Clunies Ross had been born at Weisdale Voe on the Shetlands
in 1786.  The story goes that he met his wife Elizabeth Dymoke as
he was running away from a press-gang.  There is nothing left of
the area now but ruins, sheep, an old graveyard, and a plaque (marked
“birthplace of John Clunies Ross”).

forebear Alexander Clunies Ross had taken refuge in the Shetlands after
the failed Jacobite revolution in 1715 (he had lost his right leg to an
English cannonball at the battle of Sheriffmuir).  He had been
born Alexander Clunies.  He married Marion Ross, an heiress to
lands in Ross-shire, in 1690 and subsequently adopted the Clunies Ross
name.  However, he lost possession of their estates in Scotland
and he died an embittered man.


Ross Names

  • Hugh Ross, the first laird of
    Balnagowan, was in 1372 the first chief of the Ross clan to adopt the name Ross as his surname.
  • Betsy Ross is credited with having
    sewn the first American flag in 1776.
  • John Ross, also known as
    Guwisguwi, was chief of the Cherokee Indian nation from 1828 to 1860.
  • Sir John Ross and his nephew Sir James Ross were 19th century Arctic explorers, the latter leaving his name to Ross Sea in Antarctica.
  • Harold Ross founded the New Yorker
    magazine in New York in 1925.
  • Diana Ross emerged as the lead singer with the Supremes and then as a best-selling solo artist.

Select Ross Numbers Today

  • 60,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in Aberdeen)
  • 96,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 55,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Ross 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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