Friday 1 November 2013

Surnames in the County of Antrim

I. Introduction

It is evident that if we could, in any particular district, point out the precise spots occupied by the members of certain families, we should be furnished with a key to many facts of great interest in ethnology, history, and social economics. On a physical chart, it is easy to distinguish the land which lies above a certain elevation by a contour line, or by a peculiar colour; and the depth of lakes and seas may be indicated in like manner. Why, then, should it not be possible to map out the habitations of certain persons, exhibiting their position to the eye, when they exist in a degree of density or absolute number sufficient to warrant this distinction. It has been thought that all this and much more could be done, without any unreasonable amount of trouble; and the present paper, with its illustration, is an attempt to show both the matter and the manner.

The largest official list of names connected with the County of Antrim is the Roll of its parliamentary constituency. Before the passing of the Reform Bill, such a list would have been more extended; but it may be questioned whether, on the whole, it would have contained a more perfect picture of the people by their names. The fluctuations in agriculture and commerce occasion, from time to time, a breaking up of the strata of society, and the arrangement of the materials in new layers and relative positions. But the materials are still all there; and there is no great convulsion to eliminate one element or set of elements, or, on the contrary, to introduce new ones. All classes of a mixed community have their share of elevation and depression. And, in the course of generations, families of every name have their per-centage of loss from emigration, or cessation of male issue, and of gain from casual settlement or change of name. There are, however, particular families nearly all of which are land-owners, while others drain off their superabundant population in the ordinary channels of trade and commerce. It is sometimes said, too, that many of native Irish descent are farm servants and cottagers, not at present rising into the grade of land-owners or county voters. This may have been true at one time, or may be partially true still; but on the whole, the county constituency forms an exceedingly fair epitome of the whole population.

The List for 1857 -- containing all those who are rated at £12 per annum to the poor -- comprises 9,538 names; and the inhabited houses in the county were in 1851, 58,281. This was a slight diminution from 1841; but, as that diminution has not gone on, this number may be fairly taken to represent the households or families in the present year. Practically, then, each name in the "List" represents six families, and (adopting the proportion of the Government Census) thirty-six individuals.

There are also fourteen baronies or "half-baronies" in the county; and, in each of these, the names from all the townlands are arranged alphabetically. All those names which exist in groups of sixa or upwards have been selected for examination; those which do not exist to that extent in any of the baronies being for the present disregarded. No leading name, therefore, in the county, or in any large district of it, has been overlooked; and, though it is simply possible that one of minor importance, but grouped in a barony, might take the place of one of major importance, more widely diffused, in the present instance no such fact has occurred. Many existing names are unimportant both in numbers and the influence of the persons; while others represent important persons but are of rare occurrence. It should be carefully borne in mind that the printed "List" contains land-owners merely, and of these none of the lowest class.

There are 186 separate surnames which fulfil these conditions, every one of which is laid down upon the accompanying map. Some of them, as might be supposed, occur frequently, reaching the number six or upwards, in several baronies; and, in all such instances, they are given on the map. We have thus 186 separate words laid down, in all, 333 times.

The actual number of distinctb surnames occurring in the whole list was not ascertained; but the number of those in each of the baronies was reckoned. The largest number is in Upper Belfast, where they amount to 410; and the smallest in Upper Glenarm, where they are only 144. The average number of separate surnames is 217 to a barony; and there are probably about 700 in the whole county.


Arranging the whole 186 names in tabular form, and placing opposite to each the number representative of it in each barony, the sums exhibit to us in a moment the leading county names. There are twenty-one names, for example, which occur 50 times or upwards in the whole list of the county, and up to 129 times. That is to say, (adopting the proportions already laid down), these twenty-one names represent from 300 to 774 households respectively, and from 1,800 to 4,644 individuals. The only name which reaches this highest limit is THOMPSON, which is, therefore, the leading name in the county. The others of the twenty-one, given in the order of their frequency, are Wilson, Stewart, Smith, Moore, Boyd, Johnson, McMullan, Brown, Bell, Campbell, McNeill, Crawford, McAlister, Hunter, McAuley, Robinson, Wallace, Miller, Kennedy, and Hill.c

The list suggests two reflections, the one positive in its character, the other negative. The first is, that in a county the general character of which is Scotch, and the leading creed of which is Presbyterian, some of the most prominent names are English. For example, in the first six names four are English, Thompson, Wilson, Smith, and Moore; while Stewart and Boyd are Scotch. If we take the ten names at the top, six are English. This is partly explained by the fact that English forms of spelling are now adopted, the Scotch names (but not their creed) being fused up and assimilated. In this way, Broun becomes Brown, and Muir,d Moore; just as the Scottish Johnston or Johnstone is assimilated to the English Johnson. Other names, by dropping the Irish and Scotch prefixes, have become English in appearance though they are not so in reality; as O'Neill, Neill, McCook, Cooke; McConaghy, Conaghy, or Conway; McKendry, Hendry, or Henry; MacGregor, Gregor, or Greer. Besides, in the lapse of two centuries, and in the caprices of taste, as well as the varying conveniences for public worship, it is not unlikely that some of English origin and name may have become Presbyterian in religion. All these reasons, however, are to be regarded as exceptional in their occurrence, though serving singly or in cumulo to explain the curious fact noticed.

The other fact is the remarkable absence or limited prevalence of certain names which almost every one is prepared to expect, from situation, historical association, or other cause. For example, O'Neill, which is Irish, is twenty-seventh in order, while MacNeill, which is Scotch, is twelfth. Campbell, which from the proximity of Argyle, one might expect to equale any other, is eleventh only; while MacDonnell, which figures very prominently in the history of the seventeenth century, comes in as fifty-sixth! MacDonald is a totally distinct name, yet, even if we add the two together, the result is unimportant. Hamilton, also, which is very prevalent in Ulster generally, and which was very influential from the beginning of the seventeenth century, might be expected to be about as numerous as Stewart; indeed, it has been said that Stewart and Hamilton are the two leading names of the county: yet the latter occupies only the forty-third place.

The following general facts may be put upon record. There are six surnames which comprise 633 in the printed list; and ten which embrace 913, or nearly one-tenth of the whole. If we take the first fifteen, they embrace 1,215 names, or more than one-eighth; and the forty-one which have been given in their order in the text and note, embrace 2,384 names, or one-fourth of the whole. The first 67 comprehend 3,179, or one-third of the whole; and the first 157f extend to 4,768, or half of all the voters, householders, and individuals in the county. Of course, the remaining half of any of these is spread over about 550 surnames.

The next point of interest is the distribution of these surnames. There is only one which is found in the whole of the fourteen baronies; and that is not the highest, but the second, viz., Wilson. Thompson is, of course, found in large numbers where it does exist. The following, however, are all well distributed, being found in thirteen baronies, viz., Campbell, Johnson, Kirkpatrick, Martin, Thompson; though one of them (Martin) occurs only thirty-third in the list of frequency. Again, Graham, Hunter, Kennedy, McKeown, Moore, Patterson, Robinson, Smith. Stewart, and Wallace, are found in twelve baronies; one of them (McKeown) is forty-sixth in the order of frequency.

If we view these names in another aspect still, as occurring with the degree of frequency necessary to entitle them to a place upon the map, the facts take a form somewhat different. Thus, Smith is in reality the best distributed, for it occurs in groups varying from nine to fourteen, in nine different baronies; and it is accordingly printed on the map at nine places. Thompson and Wilson occur eight times in like manner; Boyd and Moore seven; Brown six; and Bell, Campbell, Crawford, and Hunter, five. These facts will help to illustrate a previous statement, to the effect that 186 names are printed in 333 places on the map.

The worst distributed name in the whole county is Coates, which occurs only in Upper Belfast, and there to the extent of ten printed names or sixty families. The next to it is Pinkerton, which has twelve printed names in Upper Dunluce, and one in Lower; then McCaughan, which has only two names out of Carey, and nineteen in it, representing 114 families. McCann has ten printed names in Upper Toome, and three out of it; Turtle has ten in Upper Massareene and four out of it. None of these names occur in any other instance in the printed Roll.


The groups of names in baronies sometimes attain considerable dimensions. The largest clusters occur in Carey on the extreme north coast, where the population is peculiar, and the surnames few in comparison with the absolute numbers. There the name McMullan occurs thirty times in the printed list, representing a population of 1,080. This is not equalled in any other part of the county. In the same barony and near neighbourhood, the name McCurdy appears 27 times in the printed list, representing a population of 972. It is somewhat remarkable that both of these names are local, and that they have never represented, to any appreciable extent, either the intelligence or influence of the county. The next is MacAuley, which is better known, occurring in large numbers in Lower Glenarm, and somewhat less frequently in Carey; while Wilson, which equals McAuley in numerical strength, has its principal centre in Lower Belfast.

Whenever the group of names in one barony amounts to fifteen or more, it is printed on the mapg in SMALL CAPITALS; where it ranges from ten to fifteen, it is printed in BLOCK TYPE; where it amounts to eight or nine it is in ordinary Roman Letter; and where only six or seven, in Italics. Each of these forms may occur in several of the divisions of the county, according to the facts. Again, at the point where a name reaches its highest limit it is preceded by a †, showing the nucleus or point of concentration; and, if it attain the same limit in two baronies it is so marked in both; as Boyd in Carey and Upper Belfast. It is curious, also, to observe the gradual decline of a name, as we recede from its culminating point. Thus, MacAuley reaches a high maximum in Glenarm; it is still of the second rank in the similar region of Carey; it sinks just below the fourth in the adjoining districts of Kilconway, Toome, and Antrim; and everywhere else it is practically unknown. Again, McMullan reaches the highest point attained by any in Carey, but it is shaded down to the third and fourth rank in the surrounding baronies of Lower Glenarm, Upper Dunluce, and Kilconway, beyond which, it practically disappears. A careful examination of the map will, no doubt, bring to light other instances, perhaps more curious and illustrative.

Nineteen names reach their culminating point in numbers of the highest class, (fifteen or upwards); of these nine are in Carey, and three in Upper Massareene. Nineteen others reach their highest in numbers of the second class, (ten or upwards); of these five are in Lower Belfast. The great preponderance of native Irish in Carey, and of English in Upper Massareene, and the condensation of population in and around a large town, afford a sufficient explanation of these facts.

When a name occurs at only one point, that is, reaches any of the four limits in a single barony, it is preceded by a peculiar mark ∴ to define its exclusive position. These, therefore, are not so much culminating points as solo centres of particular surnames; and it is evident that their positions afford material for inquiries of a most interesting kind, respecting origin, immigration, and the acquirement and possession of property. In general, these names are in Italics, or reach only the lowest numbers; but this is not always the case.

The force of cohesion, like other facts, is seen strongest in Carey. There, McCormick, McCaughan, and McKay, jointly represent a population of more than 1,000: they attain to numbers of the very highest class; yet they appear nowhere else upon the map! No other instance occurs of exclusive names reaching this limit. But so many as nineteen of them, in different parts of the country, combine so as to reach the second limit. Six of these occur in the English district of Upper Massareene, of which four are purely English; three in Upper Dunluce, which have a Scottish echo, Getty, Knox, and Pinkerton; two (Eslar and Owens) in Lower Antrim; two Macs in Upper Toome; McKinley and Sharpe in Carey; and Bryson, Coates, Gaston, Robb, at other points. Of the "exclusive" names, therefore, only twenty-two reach the first or second class; while 102 others are in the third and fourth.

The English district has just been noticed, lying up the Valley of the Lagan, and along the low country to the shore of Lough Neagh. It was described in a former number of this Journal, [vol. 1, p. 246,] and the following remarks tend to corroborate those made on that occasion. The leading names in Upper Massareene are Bell, Johnson, and Thompson, all of them English; and the holders of them are English in their religion, traditions, and habits. In like manner, the names of the second class, just alluded to, are Green, Hall, Higginson, McClure, Watson, Turtle; not one of which appears at any other part of the county. Beside and among them, too, we meet with such names as Belshaw, Nelson, Falloon, Peel, Martin, and Moore, some of which occur elsewhere, but all of them telling the tale of their origin.

The moment we ascend the hill towards the region of "cold clayey Killead," we meet with a set of Scotch names. There are Erskine, Graham, Robb, Stewart, McConnell, and Crawford; while McCullough, Armstrong, and Mairs lie on the border.

The purely Irish districts exhibit the usual characteristics. In Carey there are fourteen names of the first rank and six of the second; which is more than equal to all those classes in the whole remaining thirteen baronies. So many as thirteen of these are Macs, those of the first class being specially so. Again, in Lower Glenarm, a comparatively small portion of which is arable and habitable, there is only one decidedly English name of fifteen which appear on the map; and even this may be accounted for. It is the name Black; and such translationsh of Irish names into their Saxon equivalents are not unusual to the present day. Morrow is merely a softening of the Hibernic MacMurrough.

The leading name in each barony, or the one which occurs most frequently, is followed on the map by the symbol ==; but, in three instances, (Lower Massareene, Lower Toome, and Kilconway,) there are two such names equal, both of which are given. "We have thus seventeen names in the baronies, instead of fourteen; of which Thompson occurs four times, Wilson three, and Moore twice. Those which occur only once as leading names are Crawford, MacAlister, MacAuley, McMullan, Miller, Smith, Stewart, and Wallace.

From this it is obvious that the design of the map is to exhibit the absolute, the relative, the local, and the exclusive. It is hoped that it will also be found to be eminently suggestive of other principles which are not noticed here.

To be continued...


[a] This plan appears to be slightly defective, as six names in a small barony, or one thinly populated, might be equivalent to eight, ten, or twelve in a larger or more populous one. No other plan, however, is on the whole open to so few objections.

[b] Names which are identical to the ear, or nearly so, but which differ to the eye (i.e. in the printed spelling,) have been treated as practically the same. Aikin, Aicken, Aitken; Corry, Curry, Currie; Graeme, Graham; Higgison, Higginson; Johnson, Johnston; Macauley, McAuley; Magill, McGill; Rainey, Reaney, Rennie; Stuart, Stewart; Thompson, Thomson; Warwick, Warrick. Some of these are merely varieties in dialect or fancy; and all who have attended to the subject know that the varied forms of the present day had their origin in the unsettled orthography of former times. Thus Shakspeare is spelled in seventeen ways in the Stratford registers; Drummond is found in about eighteen forms in ancient and modern documents; and Hume with at least fifteen varieties, [Hewme, Hom, Home, Huom, Hoome, Houme, Howm, Hume, Huyme, Hwme, Hwime, &c.] I have seen a letter from an Irish rector, in which the name of his own parish was spelled in four different ways; and I know a Scotch family resident in England, the members of which spell their patronymic in three ways!

[c] The following are the next 20, extending in all to 41 in the order of frequency. Craig, Black, Kilpatrick, Ferguson, Anderson, O'Neill, Graham, McBride, White, Hamill, Reid, Blair, Martin, McKay, Patterson, Dunlop, Kerr, McCormick, McKendry, Alexander. The first 21 occur in the list 73 times on the average: they thus represent, all round, 438 families and 2628 individuals each. The remaining 20, mentioned in this note, occur in the list 42 times on the average, ranging from 35 to 49: they thus represent, all round, 252 families, and 1512 individuals each. [See list at the end of the Paper.]

[d] A curious case of the force of dialect in family surnames is the following. The old English word "eld" is obsolete, but its comparative "elder" is current; and we have accordingly Elder as a surname in England, Auld in Scotland, and Ould in Ireland.

[e] It is somewhere recorded that a Scotch regiment was quartered at Carrickfergus in the seventeenth century, which contained no fewer than 110 John Campbells.

[f] Within the last few days I have been occupied in analysing the surnames of a parish in the north of Lancashire, the population of which at present is about 3,000. I arranged, in alphabetical order, every name occurring in any of the registers, except those of persons married from other parishes, from 1595 to 1615. Even among the scanty population of that period, I find more than 120 different surnames.

[g] In the Roll of names, the townland of residence is attached to each. By means of these the parish in which the name appears to preponderate has been ascertained, and therefore it has been marked at that part of the barony. Thus not only in the whole county, but in each of its great divisions, the relations of place have been preserved as far as possible.

[h] So late as 1465, we find this enactment in the Irish Statutes, 5 Edward IV., Chap. 3. "That every Irishman that dwells betwixt or amongst Englishmen, in the counties of Dublin, Myeth, Urriel or Louth, and Kildare, should take upon him an English surname of one town, as Sutton, Chester, Trim, Skrine, Cork, Kinsale; or colour, as White, Black, Brown; art or science, as Smith, Carpenter; or office, as Cook, Butler; and that he and his issue should use such name under the penalty of forfeiting their goods yearly." The principle was carried out at other times and places; and to a limited extent is, still followed.

The above article is reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 5, 1857.


  1. Wow! What a goldmine for genealogists plus amateurs like me.Seeking Joseph Junkin who emigrated from Antrim in the 1720's to Pennsylvania. I'm Joseph Junkin also and need help in researching his ancestry. A covenanter and wife with roots in Strabane whose mother's sampler I have.She was at the Battle of Derry according to family lore. Many thanks for your work and great blog. Joseph Junkin (

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.