This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 27th October 1997, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called SCOTT?

This is a location name and means "one who comes from Scotland". From the earliest dates, movement of people between the two Kingdoms of Scotland and England - which, after all, were constitutionally independent of each other until the Act of Union, 1706 - was quite extensive. Certainly the presence of Scotsmen in the Northern Counties would not have been unusual and even as early as the year 1273 the records mention "Roger le Scot" as living in London.

The name has several variations: from the full "Scotland" through "Scot" and "Scott" to the less familiar forms of "Scollan" or "Scutts". Most of these names can be found in the local directories. It may be pointed out that the double "-tt" in "Scott" has no significance.

All over the English-speaking world, and especially in the United States, to have an ancestor who came from Scotland is deemed quite something - and why not! Surprisingly, though, the first people to be called "Scots" were originally to be found living in Ireland. If you had been around in the days of King Alfred the Great, the word "Scot" was used to describe an Irishman and even 500 years later an Elizabethan writer mentions "A chief among the Scots of Ulster". Even so, it is a fact that from the 5th century onwards numerous Gaelic people from the North of Ireland crossed over the water and settled on the opposite shore, and, finding it had no name, simply gave it their own - i.e. "the land of the Scots".

Nevertheless, how these people came to be called "Scots" is something of a mystery. Although there are innumerable references to tribal names in the old chronicles, there is no particular tribal name belonging to the "Scots". As it happens though, there is also no tribal name given to the people who once inhabited the Northern regions of this Island, but who were, instead, simply called the "Picts". We say 'simply' because the word "pict" is derived from the same Latin words which today give us "picture" and "pictorial". The early historians were very much taken with the practice followed by these wild northern people of painting and tattooing their bodies and so they called them the "Picts" or, "the Painted People". Their counterparts in Ireland also ornamented their bodies. Since they did not have the advantages of the sophisticated equipment found in modern tattoo parlours they had to make do with slashing and scarring the flesh and rubbing in primitive dyes. In their language there is believed to have been a word, rather like the Welsh "ysgwthr" which signifies to "cut" and to "carve". The pronunciation was more or less like "iss-got-hur" (Welsh speaking readers, please excuse!) and gradually the beginning and the end of the word disappeared and all that was left was something like "ess-gott" and from that came the word "Scot". As it so fell out, the two races, the Picts and Scots were united under Kenneth MacAlpine in 843 A.D. and the name "Picts" to designate a distinct people disappeared.

So persons whose name is "Scott" or one of its variants can work backwards and claim that they had ancestors who came from Scotland. And those ancestors, in turn, would have had their ancestors in Ireland. Still working backwards, the earliest name given to such ancestors would have been "the Tattooed People".

In spite of its tempting similarity both in form and meaning, the word "Scotch" used to describe the act of cutting and scarifying and damaging something is not related. There also exists an old word for a tax or a fine which still survives in the expression "To go, Scot free". It is doubtful whether any connection could be made.

It is a point of interest that for long it has been the custom in Scotland for a child to be given, as a middle name, the maiden name of its Mother. That is why "Scott" has been so frequently encountered in this way. Still more recently, there has developed a tendency to promote such middle names to first names and since about the 1970s, "Scott" has established itself as a boy's name.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 31st January 1994.

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