Sinclair Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Sinclair Meaning
The root of Sinclair is the French Saint Clair, from one of a number of
place-names in Normandy (Saint-Clair-sur-Elle in La Manche
or Saint-Clair-l’Évêque in Calvados). There were
St. Clair families in France, including the St. Clairs with links
to the Knights Templar
in popular mythology
A Saint Clair came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066; the
name of
Hubertus de Sancto Claro was recorded in the Domesday
Book of 1086; and by that time the St. Clairs had arrived in

Sinclair Resources on

Sinclair Ancestry

William de Saint Clair accompanied Margaret to Scotland in 1068
where she eventually married King Malcolm. In return for his
efforts, the king was said to have
granted Saint Clair the barony of Roslin or Rosslyn near Edinburgh in

These Saint Clairs led the Scottish fighting against the Vikings in the
northeast of the country during the 13th century. Did they in
fact have Viking blood themselves? They had become an important
family in Scotland
by the mid 14th century. Henry
the first to adopt the Sinclair name (pronounced then Sinkler), was
made the
Earl of Orkney
by the King of Norway in 1375.

“Henry Sinclair was a notable
seaman. He is best known today
because of a modern legend (probably untrue) that he took part in
explorations of Greenland and North America
almost a hundred years before Christopher Columbus.”

His grandson William expanded the family’s lands. became the first Earl
of Caithness, and was Lord Chancellor of Scotland from 1454 to
1456. It was William who built Castle Sinclair Girrigoe, the clan
stronghold on a seacliff outside Wick. He split the family
lands, giving the lands of Caithness to his elder son and the lands at
Roslin in Midlothian to his younger son. These Sinclairs played
their role in subsequent Scottish history, royalist during the Civil
War, Jacobite supporters in 1715, but British government supporters in

One branch of the Sinclairs in Caithness, the Sinclairs of Ulbster,
produced Sir John Sinclair, author of the monumental Statistical Account of Scotland, and
his great great grandson Archie Sinclair, leader of the British Liberal
party in the 1930’s. The Sinclairs of Longformacus in
Berwickshire were a branch of the Roslin Sinclairs. This line
stopped about 1800, shortly after the main Roslin line had ended.

Because of its history the
Sinclair name is both Highland and Lowland. The 1891 census

  • 35 percent of Sinclairs in Caithness, Orkney and Shetland
  • 15 percent in Midlothian
  • 25 percent in Lanarkshire
  • and another 25 percent elsewhere.

Ireland. Sinclairs came to
Ireland as part of the Scottish plantations of the 17th century.
William Sinclair of Roslin arrived in 1620. He built his
Newton Manor
, in county Offaly. The Rev. John Sinclair
arrived from Caithness in 1663 and settled at Holyhill in
county Tyrone.

“After the siege of Derry in 1689,
James II’s fleeing troops arrived at Holyhill. They were about to
burn it down when the commander of the troops issued an order that it
should be left untouched. He was a Hamilton and it is thought it
was because the Rev. John Sinclair’s first wife was a Hamilton that he
saved it from destruction. The commander was on the Donegal bank of the
Foyle at the time. So his messenger had to swim across the river
to deliver it.”

These Sinclairs had established themselves in both Tyrone and
Donegal during the 17th century and by the 1770’s had set up a thriving
linen business at Holyhill. However, the Sinclair name is not
common in Ireland today.

. The son of Daniel and Elizabeth
Sinclair in Caithness styled himself Arthur St. Clair and
came to America in the 1760’s with the British army. He later
fought on the American side in the Revolutionary War and rose to become
one of its generals. He was then made governor of the Northwest
territory. But his career ended with an ignominious defeat
against Native American forces

Arthur Sinclair arrived in Virginia from Scotland also sometime in the
1760’s. His son Arthur was an early American war hero, commanding
a US naval squadron on Lake Ontario in the War of 1812. His
grandson Arthur was with Commodore Perry in Japan in 1854 and later
served in the Confederate navy. His great grandson was the
novelist Upton Sinclair.

Another Sinclair family, this time from Inverness, came to Hampshire
county, Virginia in the 1790’s. These Sinclairs later moved onto
what became known as Sinclair Ridge in West Virginia.

Some Sinclairs are Jewish. Anne Sinclair, for instance, was born
Anne Elise Schwartz to Jewish parents in New York in 1948. She is
today a French TV and radio interviewer married to the controversial
French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Sinclair could become Sinkler or Sinckler in Barbados.
One line of Sinckler planter families began
with James Sincker of St. George parish in the mid-1700’s.
A descendant the Rev. E.G. Sinckler was the Curate
of St. Leonard’s from 1855 until his death in 1881.
It was said during his
time that St. Leonard’s had the best organists and one of the finest
choirs in
the West Indies

Canada. William Sinclair from
Orkney had joined the Hudson Bay Company in 1792 and moved out
west. He married a local Indian girl and they raised a large
family. Their most famous son was the fur trader James
Sinclair. In 1841 and again in 1854 he successfully led parties
of emigrants from the Winnipeg area across the Rockies to settle in
Oregon territory.

Alexander Sinclair
from Caithness
was the forebear of the
Sinclairs of Goshen in Nova Scotia, arriving there in 1816. His
lineage was covered in the Rev. Alexander Sinclair’s 1901 book The Sinclairs of Roslin, Caithness and

Jimmy Sinclair arrived in Vancouver from Scotland with his
family as a young boy in 1911. He entered the Canadian
Parliament and became a Cabinet minister in the 1950’s. His
daughter Margaret, considered a wild child by the press, was married to
the Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.


Sinclair Miscellany

The St. Clairs and Some Fancy Mythmaking.  The St.
Clair family has gotten connected in popular myth today with the Templars, the Priory
of Sion, and talks of bloodlines in books such as Holy
Blood, Holy Grail
and Dan Brown’s best-seller The Da
Vinci Code.

books have been responsible for some of the difficulties encountered at
Chapel and for the overcrowding that still continues there.   Rosslyn Chapel featured prominently in The Da Vinci Code as it was thought
to have harbored dark secrets of the Knights Templar.

Some writers have taken the St. Clair connection
even further.  The Templars, they claim,
had the motive, the method, and the strong motivation to come to North
Led by Prince Henry Sinclair, they
established both a safe haven for the Merovingian Dynasty and mining
which led to a military edge over their opponents back in Europe.  These Templars apparently left clues all over
North America recognizable to those Templars who might follow.

The St. Clairs in the 14th Century.  Such
documents as the Declaration of Arbroath indicate that
the St. Clair family was an important one in Scotland at the time.  As signers, they were one of fifty one of a
group of Scottish leaders.

These St. Clairs were often called
to Norway and England.  Henry Sinclair’s
of Jarl in Norway was considered an important one there.
He was recorded as sending his half
brother, David Sinclair, son of Isabella Sparra in Orkney and Shetland,
away to
England with the following pledge:

all who shall see or hear these
presents, Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and Lord of Roslin, safety in
Lord!  I concede to my brother, David
Sinclair, for life, because of his claim through our mother Isabella
Sparra in
Orkney and Shetland, all the lands of Newburgh and Auchdale in
to return to me if his heirs fail.”

than fifty years after Henry’s death his grandson William commissioned
genealogy of the Sinclair family, full of praise for his ancestors’

Did he mention his
grandfather’s supposed maritime exploits?  He did not.  This
story instead seemed to have surfaced much later, with a 16th century
Venetian document called the Zeno narrative.  The document was
allegedly compiled from letters the navigators to America wrote in 1380
to a relative living back in Venice.

The Earls of Orkney.  The Earl of Orkney was originally a Norse jarl ruling Orkney, Shetland, and parts of Caithness and Sutherland.  In 1379
the Earldom of Orkney, without Caithness, was granted by the King of
Norway to Henry Sinclair, a son-in-law of the Gaelic mormaer Maol
Iosa.  Earl Henry ruled until his death in 1401.  It was said
that Earl Henry’s little court in Orkney was one of the most elegant
and refined in Europe and was adorned with the official services of
many Scottish nobles.

He was succeeded by a son Henry who was followed by his
son William to whom the Earldom of Caithness was granted by the King of
Scotland in 1455.  However, Orkney and Shetland were then pledged
to King James III of Scotland and James took the Earldom of Orkney for
the Crown in 1470.  William was thereafter Earl of Caithness alone
until he resigned the Earldom in favor of his son in 1476.

The Sinclair name, however, has continued to be found in
Orkney and Shetland.  Laurence Sinclair, for instance, was a
burgess at Kirkwall in Orkney in the 16th century.  William
Sinclair was born at Estaquoy in Orkney in 1766 but left there at an
early age to join the Hudson Bay Company in Canada.  An early
account of the Sinclair Orkney connection was Roland William St.
Clair’s 1898 book The Saint Clairs
of The Isles

Sinclair’s Ballad.  Sinclair’s Ballad is a Norwegian
song about the massacre of Scots mercenaries hired by the
Swedish king in a war with Norway and Denmark.  These
Scots landed on the coast at Romsdal in
1612 and were ambushed by Norwegian farmers at Kringen in the

of them were slaughtered,
among them Captain George Sinclair of Stirkoke who led the Caithness
Company.  Tradition has it that he was
shot by Berdon Segelstad with a bullet melted from a silver button. The
where he fell was marked with a wooden cross.
A commemorative plaque was added in 1733. Zinclar
or Sinclair’s Ballad was
written by the Norwegian poet Edvard Storm in 1781.

ballad (in translation) began as

“Lord Sinclair crossed the salty sea,
To Norway his course was set;
Among Gudbrand’s cliffs he found his grave,
Where a bloody brow awaited.”

It reached its climax with the following verse:

“The first shot did Lord Sinclair strike.
He roared and then his spirit yielded;
Each Scot cried out as their leader fell:
God free us from this woe.”

William Sinclair and His Irish Estate at Newton Manor Court.  William Sinclair of Roslin arrived in Ireland in 1620 and received as a Scottish
planter 1,000 acres of pasture and woodland on the lower slopes of the
Bloom mountains in county Offaly.  There
Newton Manor Court was built.

However, it
is unlikely that William and his wife and family ever lived there.  Conditions were tough enough in Scotland if
you were moderately wealthy, but it would have been much more difficult
on the
Slieve Bloom mountains which was many hours away from the relative
comfort and
safety of Dublin.  It is more likely that
he employed an agent to build the house and look after the land.

In fact, whilst he was holding Newton Manor,
William settled his family on the townland of Mullamore in another
at Ballyloughmaguiffe in county Tyrone. Why he did this is not known,
but it
could be that he was hedging his bets.  Conditions
in Offaly were very unsettled and he may have been looking for greater
for his wife and children.  William was
recorded as living at Mullamore and his eldest son George was listed in
Muster Roll of county Tyrone in 1630.

Sinclair family had sold Newton Manor Court by that time.
It passed into other hands and has ended up
in ruins.  However, recently Peter
Sinclair, a descendant of the original owners, has been instrumental in
the Newton Manor Court Trust to preserve the ruins of this unique
plantation house.

Arthur St. Clair’s Sad End.  Arthur St. Clair was
made commander-in-chief of the army in the Northwest Territory in 1791.  He soon moved against the Indians on the
Wabash, even though he was so lame from gout that he had to be carried
on a
litter.  He and his troops marched
northwards from Fort Washington (now Cincinnati) in search of them.

Early one morning, after the troops had slept
fitfully after a wearisome march and were preparing for breakfast, they
suddenly attacked by Indians.  The
slaughter among
the troops was dreadful.  Most of the
officers were slain or wounded.  The
remaining remnants fled in confusion and it was with great difficulty
that St.
Clair escaped on a packhorse, having had three horses killed under him.  He had lost nearly half of his army, over 800
men killed and wounded.

Blamed severely,
a committee of Congress nevertheless vindicated St. Clair; but he
resigned his
commission. He was broken in health,
spirits, and fortune, and, retiring to a log-house on the summit of
Ridge among the Alleghany mountains, he passed away the remainder of
his days in poverty.

Early Sinclairs in Nova Scotia.  Donald Sinclair,
a merchant in Thurso, lost his wife in 1806 and decided to emigrate to
Americas.  He boarded the Long
Mhor America
a year later in
1807.  The ship was wrecked off the coast
of Newfoundland, with the loss of nearly all on board.
But Donald and his two sons survived and they
made a new home for themselves at Sherbrooke in Nova Scotia.

Alexander Sinclair had lived nearby in
Scotland at Latheron.  He sailed with his
family for America in the spring of 1816, the year after the battle of
Waterloo.  He landed in Halifax in June
and came in a schooner to Sherbrooke.  He
lived there for a few years in a rented farm about half a mile below
the foot
of Lochaber lake.  About 1820 he removed
with his family to the district then known as the Backlands of St.
Mary’s, but
now known as Goshen.


Sinclair Names

  • William de Saint Clair came to Scotland in 1068 and was the forebear of the Sinclair clan in Scotland.
  • Sir John Sinclair was a late 18th century Scottish writer on finance. the first – in his pioneering work Statistical Account of Scotland – to
    use the word statistics in English.
  • Upton Sinclair was an American writer who became well-known through his 1906 muckraking novel The Jungle.
  • Sir Clive Sinclair was an early producer and marketer of home computers in the UK in the 1980’s.

Select Sinclair Numbers Today

  • 24,000 in the UK (most numerous
    in West Lothian)
  • 9,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 26,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)


Select Sinclair and Like Surnames.

The Norman Conquest brought new rulers to England and they brought their names and language, a form of French, with them.  Over time their names became less French and more English in character.  Thus Hamo became Hammond, Reinold Reynolds and Thierry Terry and so forth.  The names Allen, Brett, Everett, and Harvey were probably Breton in origin as Bretons also arrived, sometimes as mercenaries.

The new Norman lords often adopted new last names, sometimes from the lands they had acquired and sometimes from places back in Normandy.  Over time the name here also became more English.  Thus Saint Maur into Seymour, Saint Clair into Sinclair, Mohun into Moon, and Warenne into Warren.

Here are some of these Norman and Breton originating names that you can check out.





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