The history of the Scottish surname McLaren, McLaurin, McLaurence and its many spelling variations has not been seriously researched since the advent of the internet. The Digital Age has brought to the light of day ‘Primary’ sources that for centuries languished in library reading rooms and castle basements. What these records have revealed is a surname history very different and far more fascinating than the traditional stories in the modern Clan MacLaren narrative. The comments below by Scottish Gaidhlig and history scholars also perked my interest.

In ancient days, the bishops of Argyle made Lismore their fertile and peaceful abode, and there the forebears of Duncan McLaren lived for generations.” “The Life and Work of Duncan McLaren”, J.B. Mackie

“it is an ancient Argyll name!” Brigadier John MacFarlane, the last native speaker of the Lorn dialect of Argyll Gaelic. President, “The 1745 Association”, 2018

This is a narrative of the surname McLaurence based on extant records used in the past and present to identify people within a ‘Kindred’ in Scotland with multiple other surnames including McVicar and McCallum by blood, McPatrick and MacRorie by geo-political association. This particular Kindred lived originally in Argyll primarily in a triangular shaped region called Lorn.

The white shading highlights the McLaurence Kindred original territory of Lorn

In the 16th century many of the south Lorn Kindred found themselves with the Campbell, Earl of Argyll or his uncle Campbell of Glenurchy as their superiors in Argyll. The Campbells ruled under the “clan” system at this time as opposed to the later ‘feudal’ system. As the Campbell sphere of influence increased into Perthshire with marriages into the Stewart families, they settled many of the Kindred into Perthshire. What Martin MacGregor describes as the “Central Zone” The initial McLaurences in Perthshire were primarily settled along the shores of Loch Tay and in western Balquhidder.

An example of an influential member of the Kindred within the Campbell realm is Simon Laurenceson (McLaurence) he was a witness in 1464, in the company of the Argyle Campbell Earls and Lords. Several of the Kindred’s men played an important role in the expanding Campbell empire from at least the mid 1400s with Simon McLaurence being a Campbell “Servitor” or Lieutenant who in the document below is a witness.

ITEM(13) Aug 1464. Instrument of sasine propriis manibus by procurator for David, Earl of Craufurde, in favour of [Isabella] Stewart, spouse of Colin, Earl of Argyll, and Marion [Stewart, spouse of] Duncan Campbell, son of Colin Campbell of Glenurquha, kt, in lands of Rothybrysbane. Incomplete. Notary: John Herd, priest, Glasgow diocese. Witnesses: Sir Robert Morisone, chaplain, George Strevelyng, John Skrogy, John Patricksone, William [ ], Simon Laurenceson [McLaurence], Alexander Chevisance, Walter Rate, William Lesle, John Patonsone, and Andrew Gyrvale. Campbell Family, Dukes of Argyll, NRAS1209/1108

The surnames MacLabhruinn, McLaren, McLaurin, M’Laren, McLaurence, McClaren, McLerran, Maclaren, McLarine and many more variations mean ‘son of Lawrence, the Irish Gaidhlig version is MacLabhrás. N’Lauren means ‘daughter of Laurence’, N’ or NicLauren means ‘daughter of’. W’Laurane, V'Laurane and MhicLabhruinn mean ‘son of son of Lawrence’. The modern Gaelic spelling is MacLabhrainn.

The spellings McLerran, McLearan, McClerun with the ‘ e ’ following the ‘ l ’ should properly be spelled with an acute ‘ é ’ pronunciation in english ‘hey' or french résumé.

And to complicate matters: Is the name used as a lineage name or an established surname?

“Yes, it seems obvious to me that the spelling MacLaurin arose from the Gaelic pronunciation MACHD-LA-OO-RIN” Ronnie Black 26/3/2016

D.C. McWhannell Ph.d. who has been a huge help with the subtleties of the Gaelic language submits the following:

“Etymology, In Macbain’s Etymology of Gaelic (1911) a date for the use of Labhran in Scotland is given as 1467.
“Laurence, G. Labhruinn, M.G. Labhras (1467). Ir. Laurint (Saint), from Lat. Laurentius, St Laurence, the ultimate stem being that of lat. Lauras, a laurel. Hence M’Labhruinn, or Mac-laren”

In ms 1467 it is in the genitive “mhic Lamrainn”. Should the m be lenited then it be can be sounded as v or w depending on the dialect and/or the position of the lenited m. This ms 1467 rendering may thus be considered equivalent to “mhic Labhrainn” and hence the father was named ‘Labhran’.

It is clear that the given name Labhran had arrived in Argyll by the time of bishop Laurentius’ birth circa 1224 while the name had been in use in Ireland (Labhrás) since around 1180 and in Scotland (Labhran) since around 1200.

The seemingly earliest extant individual sloinneadh (a designation, patronymic and explanation of kinship) in Argyll gives vicar Dubghall as a grandson of a Labhrunn (cognate with Labhrann/Labhran).

So we have Dubhgall son of Gille Chriost, grandson (or descendent) of Labhrunn. Assuming Dubhgall was born circa 1400 and using 30 years a generation gives Gille Chriost as b. circa 1370 and Labhrunn b. circa 1340. The dates 1340, 1370 and 1400 when the birth of the future clergyman occurred are consistent with the period for the formation of surnames.

The kindred of Labhrunn is not indicated however if this clergyman had male issue they might well have acquired the surname MacLabhruinn thus recalling their descent from a well known and probably respected clergy.”
Copyright D.C.McWhannell  3rd.January 2018

Finding the surname ‘MacLaren’ used by a Scottish tacksmen or tenant is rare before the 1600s, mainly they used a male-lineage naming pattern incorporating various forms of Mac and other prefixes, depending on the writer. Only the ruling class used their surname on a daily basis, the Lairds, Earls, Barons, Chiefs of that Ilk, etc.

Below is an example: A 1528 bond, a peace treaty in this case, signed at Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe between Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy as Chief to John McDougall of Kerarra, the McDougall clan chief. You will find the surnames Campbell and Stewart of the first two witnesses, those following will use their generational paternal names, this is a sure sign they are Gaels. Lowlander clerks and notaries used by the Campbells used a first and last name. Jhone M'Condoquhy Roy was a M’Dubhgall, a descendant of Allen M’Dubhgall, Lord of Lorn and an important Servitor to the Glenorchy Campbells in the sixteenth century, he and his family was rewarded with property in Benderloch, including Ferlochan.
“Indenture of manrent and protection between Duncan Campbell of Glenvrquhay as chief, and Jhone MakCwill [MacDougall] of Kagarra as vassal; the said Jhone being bound to keep the premises under a penalty of one hundred merks Scots: Colling Campbelle brother to the said Duncan, Allester M'Aine V'llene [Alister, son of John, grandson of Allen Stewert of Gerglinglaiss], Duncan M'Allane VAllan [Duncan, son of Allan, grandson of Allan], Duncan M'Condoquhy Wye Ewyne [Duncan, son of Duncan, grandson of Ewen], Jhone M'Condoquhy Roy [John son of Red Duncan] and Patrik M'Keller witnesses. Signed at the Castle of Glenwrquhay, 27 July 1528.” Black Book Taymouth, 1854

Another example of Gaelic naming patterns is found in the 1573 Bond of Defense from Grey Colin Campbell of Glenurchy (1512-1583) to ClanLawren, signed at Killin, Loch Tay.

“Malcum M'Dougall Reoch [Malcum, son of grizzled Dougall], and his probable great nephew Malcum M'Conochy V'Ane V'Doullreoch [Malcum, son of Duncan, grandson of John, descendant of grizzled Dougall]” (Black Book Taymouth, 1854)

Once I had the multigenerational paternal naming patterns figured out for the ‘Breadalbane Clanlawren’ and the ‘Balquhidder Clan V'Laurane’ I could find them occasionally in other documents kept by the Campbell Chiefs and the ‘newly formed by the King of Scots’, “Acts of the Lords of Council” in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. These documents were transcribed and published in the nineteenth century and are now available online to everyone.

The two branches of the McLaurence Kindred the ‘Balquhidder Clan V’Laurane’ and the ‘Breadalbane Clanlawren’, share this in common, they both first appear in 1559, in Campbell of Glenurchy bonds, after his nephew the Campbell Earl of Argyll transferred their protection to Glenorchy. It is clear that the McLaurence Kindred in Perthshire came from Argyll not Strathearn.

McLaurin Servitors using their Gaelic names, are also found as witnesses in Campbell of Glenurchy Bonds, they are Servitors of the Campbell Chiefs, high ranking individuals who offered valuable assistance to the Campbell Chief of Glenurchy The most commonly found Servitor was Johan McLawrence, Chamberlain Deputy of Kinclavin on Loch Tay, one of Campbell of Glenurchy’s command bases. Chamberlain Deputy would be a very important post equivalent to a Secretary of State.

From the combined genealogies of ‘Clanlawren’ in Breadalbane and ‘Clan V’Laurane’ in Balquhidder that I created from the ‘Campbell of Glenurchy Bonds’, it appears that the surname McLauren came from multiple ‘Lawrences’ in different generations not from a single eponym ‘Lawrence’ from the medieval age.

In Scottish heraldry which is administered by The Court of the Lord Lyon, the surname McLaurence has two distinctly different Clans. John MacLaurin, Lord Dreghorn in Argyll, matriculated Chiefs Arms 1781. Donald MacLaren in Balquhidder matriculated Chiefs Arms 7, Feb. 1958. There has been no ‘Clanlawren’ in Breadalbane heraldry found to date. Two separate Clans with almost identical surnames. Both sharing the same anglicizations and wide variations in spelling down through written history. 

Copyright Hilton McLaurin 2022 - All Rights Reserved

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