ABERDEEN-L ArchivesArchiver > ABERDEEN > 2008-01 > 1201362814
From: Gavin Bell <>
Subject: Re: [ABERDEEN] Fergus de Brus
Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2008 15:53:34 +0000
Colin Ferguson wrote:
>... [effusions of the Rev. Pratt snipped]
>Given that people often name their children after notable persons I am
>sure that names Fergus and Bruce were once common name amongst the
>citizenry of Aberdeenshire.
If so, there is precious little evidence of this in the written record.
I have been involved, for some years past, in transcribing and indexing
large numbers of personal names from various surviving historical
records, and I would have to say the forenames "Bruce" and "Fergus" are
not common in that data. A quick look in two sizeable databases of
names I have to hand give the following scores:
The MI Index (over 125,000 names gravestone inscriptions from
throughout northeast Scotland, dating from the late 16th century onwards):
Fergus: nil (although there were 11 people with "Ferguson" as a forename.
The 1851 Census for Old Machar (over 31,000 names):
I don't have immediate access to other large databases, but on the basis
of what I have seen, in sources dating from the 17th, 18th and 19th
centuries, these forenames are extremely rare in the written record.
>Imagine a man named John has two sons,
>Fergus and Brus. Further imagine each of his sons named their first
>born son after their father. Consider how difficult it would be at a
>family gathering to speak of John, nobody would know for sure which
>John you were referring to unless you added some sort of qualifier -
>fore example, John the older, John Fergus' son and John de Brus. You
>can see from this simple example of a how as surnames developed this
>family could split into two branches surnamed FERGUSSON and BRUCE.
That may well have happened. But what is vanishingly unlikely is that
it only ever happened, for any given name or group of names, *just once*.
If, as you contend, Aberdeenshire was once awash with Bruces and
Ferguses, then when the fashion for taking fixed surnames arrived, the
overwhelming likelihood is that there were completely unrelated
individuals in many places who said: "My father was Fergus - I know,
I'll call myself 'Ferguson'", and others who did something comparable
with Bruce. Stopping a patronymic chain (John, son of Andrew > David
son of John > Alexander, son of David) at a given point is reckoned one
of the common mechanisms for the creation of surnames. In this case, if
the clock stopped with Alexander, then the family became "Davidson". If
it was David who decided he wanted one of these newfangled surnames,
then the family would have been "Johnson". But this did not happen just
once for any particular name - it happened many times, in different
places, at different times, among many different unrelated Johns,
Andrews, Davids and Alexanders.
You may well have identified a group of BRUCEs and FERGUSONs whose DNA
proves them to be linked at some point in the past. But it is unlikely
that this will apply to all holders of those two names.