About Surnames


© 2010 : Revised 24 April 2019
Loretta Lynn Layman, Author of "Barony of Lynn", The Scottish Genealogist,

Vol. LVII No. 1, The Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh (March 2010)
ynneage @ comcast . net


An important but often overlooked fact, particularly for the novice genealogist, is the entirely unsettled nature of the spelling of surnames that existed even through the end of the 19th century. As a result, there are many common but wrong assumptions about the spelling of family names.

Among the Lynns, it has sometimes been thought that Lynn signified Scottish origins, Lynne signified English, Linn meant Irish, Lind Swedish, and so on. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In reality, a single family may appear with different spellings on different occasions, or sometimes even within the same document. This phenomenon is seen in the Hunter Family Papers as published by the Scottish Record Society. These papers include a series of charters and resignations between the Hunters and a family of Lynns who owned a property called Highlees, as well as the Barony of Lynn, in Ayrshire. The Hunters were the beneficiaries concerning Highlees, and they took great care to preserve the documents, resulting in a 216-year record, beginning in 1452, in which the Lynn family name was spelled four different ways: Lin, Lyn, Lyne, and Lynn.  Further, the name is found written therein with a "y" fourteen times and with an "i" only once.  Three additional spellings of the surname of the Lynns, known as Lynn of that Ilk and/or Lords of Lynn, appear in documents outside the Hunter papers, their entire record spanning five centuries with seven different spellings: Lin, Lind, Linn, Lyn, Lyne, Lynn, and Lynne.  Such was the nature of spelling in centuries gone by.  It should be borne in mind, also, that this particular set of spellings occurred with one particular family of Lynns and that other Lynn families appeared sometimes with different variants of the name.  (See also the second paragraph at Introduction to "The Wraith of Lord Lyne", a folk tale about the historic family known as Linn or Lynn of that Ilk.)  All that being said, there are nevertheless several different genetic and national origins for the name Lynn or Linn, so that variations in spellings alone neither prove nor disprove that two persons are one and the same.

Similarly, McDaniel has been thought to be Irish and and McDonald Scottish. The fact is that McDaniel is merely an incorrect anglicizing of the name MacDonald, which could be either Scottish or Irish.  George F. Black, Ph.D., in his "Surnames of Scotland," attributes this derivation to a "faint assonance" between the names Daniel and Donald. Clan Donald USA lists McDaniel as springing from the primary sept name MacDonald, and points out that it occurred mainly in the American South.  However, the same "corruption" of the name occurred among Irish McDonalds, as proven by the Y-DNA studies of certain McDaniel men.  Contributing perhaps to the erroneous distinction between McDaniel and McDonald is the mistaken idea that "Mc" is Irish and "Mac" Scottish. In reality, the first is merely an abbreviation of the second. One Scottish author, a Clan Donald historian, in fact wrote his name both ways in the same book.  Also in that book, the author used "M'Donald" in one place.

In addition to the general inconsistency in the spelling of surnames, researchers who are just beginning to look for their "Scotch-Irish" roots should know that the term Scotch-Irish does not signify an intermarriage of Scottish and Irish (though such unions may have occurred).  Instead, it indicates that a person's ancestors were Scots who lived in Ulster (Northern), Ireland for some period.  Because of the popular misunderstanding, historians and serious genealogists are moving away from use of the term "Scotch-Irish" and using the more appropriate term "Ulster Scots".

Unfortunately, there are many false notions about surnames, leading some researchers to overlook records that pertain to the very families whom they seek.  It is crucial that one keep an open mind about "wrong" or unusual spellings.  For more information on the Lynns in particular, see Lynn of that Ilk.

Lynn History - Index

House of Lynn