Clan MacKenzie
Septs and Related Names

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Introduction to Septs

Septs were once clan branches living away from the clan lands who may have continued to use the clan surname, or who may have adpoted a different surname - perhaps one remembering the ancestor who had moved to seek his fortune elsewhere. In Ireland this remains the definition of a sept, and since many such septs became in effect separate clans, the distinction there between a sept and a clan is not clear.
      In Scotland too, branches moving away from their parent kindred could very well emerge as new clans, if they became powerful enough. Many however ended up as tenants or followers of another chief, and thus a part of his clan that bore a different surname to his. In due course this became the definition of a sept in Scotland - i.e. a branch of a clan that had a different surname from that of the clan itself - but not all septs had moved to become attached to their new clan. Many smaller clans stayed where they had always been and were swallowed up by a larger clan who obtained possession - by conquest, marriage or grant - of the lands they lived on. Since the MacKenzies emerged relatively late as an independent clan, and then rose rapidly to a position of great power in Ross & Cromarty, this is the means by which most of their septs seem to have been acquired.
      Though a "sept" is properly, in effect, a clan within a clan, the concept has been stretched to include as "septnames" a whole host of apparently separate names which are in effect just different-language or phonetic versions of the clan surname, or of the surnames of the septs. We can see this from the following list of Clan MacKenzie septnames that has often been used in the past:

Charles, Charleson, Clunes, Clunies, Cross, Iverach, Iverson, Ivory, Kenneth, Kennethson, Kinnach, Kynoch, Macaweeney, MacBeolain, MacBeath, MacBeth, MacConnach, MacCure, Maceur, MacIver, MacIvor, MacKenna, MacKenney, MacKerlich, MacKinna, MacKinney, MacKinnie, MacLeay, MacMurchie, MacMurchy, MacQueenie, MacThearliach (MacThearlaich), MacVanish, MacVennie, MacVinish, MacVinnie, MacWeeny, MacWhinnie, Makiver, Murchie, Murchison, Smart, Tuach. 

This list of 43 apparently separate surnames, actually represents only 11 truly different names - with 16 of the 43 being variants of the clan surname, and another 16 being variants of the 11 sept surnames.   

The names discussed below are the 11 separate names from the above list (not many of which would actually have represented clans within Clan Choinnich, but all of which appear to have had a genuine connection of some sort with the MacKenzies), plus 3 more (Kemp, Rioch and Tallach) that probably should be included for the reasons given, and two (MacKenna/MacKinney and Mawhinney) that while actually being phonetic versions of the clan surname, are usually taken to be entirely separate names - in part because they are mostly found in the south of Scotland, far from Mackenzie territory.  

Full lists of phonetic versions and spelling variations of the clan and sept surnames can be found here


This name is said to come from a place - probably Clunes in the Aird, which was an early home of the Mackenzies' allies the Macraes - and was borne by an important family in the burgh of Cromarty that first appears in its records as far back as 1533. There they became the lairds of Neilston, but they also owned estates in Tarbat, Nigg, and Rosskeen - all parishes, like Cromarty, dominated at the height of their power by the MacKenzies. A branch of the Neilston family, with strong military connections, settled at Crackaig in Sutherland.  


This name is reported to have been brought to the northern Highlands by ironworkers imported either from Fife or England to work at the smelters established in the early 17th century on the shores of Loch Maree. In the mid-18th century a son of the last of these ironworkers is said to have been a bard living at Kernsary. The 19th century OPRs and censuses show the name to have been most common then in the neighbouring parishes of Gairloch and Contin, most of which was MacKenzie territory.


This name is said to come from the Old Norse/Old English, kempa/cempa meaning “warrior” or “champion”. It was to be found in Dingwall from at least 1510 when, according to a Latin inscription in its ruins, St Clements Chapel was founded by William Kemp, and Kemps were burgesses of Dingwall later in the 16th century. In the 18th century a Kemp family, who inter-married with local MacKenzies, were the lairds of Comrie in the parish of Contin. 


This name comes from the Gaelic beatha (“life”), and MacBheatha (“Son of Life”) is the equivalent of beathagnos-a (“descendant of life”) from which come the surnames Beathan/Beaton and MacBean/MacBain. As such it was a surname in many parts of the Highlands, and especially in the Hebrides where it was borne by a race of hereditary physicians. The MacBeaths associated with the Mackenzies are said to have been the lairds of Gairloch before it fell to the MacLeods and eventually to the MacKenzies. 


This surname comes from the Gaelic name Beolán/Beollán which appears a number of times in Irish records. In Scotland a 9th century "king" called Bjólan appears in a Norse saga, and man called Beollanus is recorded in a 12th century Latin charter in Kinross. O'Beollain or Builton/Buillon is said in some 17th century histories to have been the original surname of the Earls of Ross, but one early account of the MacKenzies says that the MacBollans, along other ancient clans in Kintail, were of Norse origin. There are no contemporary records in Scotland of this name with the "Mac", though phonetic forms without it (Bolan & Boyland etc.) do appear. 

In Gaelic this name is MacIomhair, “Son of Ivar/Iver/Ivor” - a popular personal name amongst the Norse. There were at least two clans in the western highlands & islands whose original surname appears to have been MacIver - one in Argyll connected to the Campbells, and one in Ross connected to the MacKenzies. The latter were lairds of Leckmelm on Loch Broom, Tournaig on Loch Ewe, and Gress on Lewis. The MacIvers of Leckmelm also at one time held the lands of Culkenzie in the parish of Rosskeen in Easter Ross. 

In the south of Scotland, MacKenna is often considered a separate surname, though records in Wigton clearly show it evolving from McKenze in 1473 & Makkingze in 1513, to Mackinnay in 1544, and Mackena/McKennah in 1684. In the Highlands, MacKinney is sometimes said to be a septname of Mackinnon, but there is a clear distinction between phonetic forms of MacFhionghuin - such as Makknine (1506), Makiynnan (1545), Makkynnane (1587), McKynnowne (1609), McKynnoun (1621), M’Kinnen (1673), and the northern Irish name McKennan (all of which end with ne, or n) - and phonetic forms of MacCoinnich/Mackennych which end in ha, ey, or ie (examples of which can be found here). See also below, the name Mawhinney

The northern MacLeays - not to be confused with the Argyll MacLeays or Livingstones - appear with the MacKenzies in early histories as Clann Lèibhe/Lèigh (i.e. Descendants of the "Leech" or Physician) and the first certain members of it are documented in Ross in 1498 as Kenyeoch & Donald M‘Conleif (i.e. M‘An-léibh). In 1504 Kenzoch M‘Coleif is recorded as the king's tenant in Comrie in the parish of Contin, where local traditions tell us that a crannog on Loch Achilty was known as the seat of MacLea Mor; i.e. the Great MacLeay. In the 17th century MacLeays are recorded as minor lairds in the parishes of Nigg, Alness, and Rosskeen.

This surname comes from the Gaelic personal name Tearlach which is considered the equivalent of the English name Charles - hence the patronymic "Charleson". An early account of the MacKenzies says that Clan Tarlich were one of the Norse tribes that originally inhabited Kintail, and the 19th century historian Alexander MacKenzie reports that  “… the MacTearlichs, now calling themselves MacErlichs or Charlesons, occupied Glenelchaig.” These names rarely appear in the registers of Ross-shire parishes, but the 1841 census does reveal a cluster of McThearlichs living in Kintail on the eastern shores of Loch Long and in neighbouring Glen Elchaig.  

This name is a phonetic form of the Gaelic MacMhanuis, “Son of Manus”. Manus/Magnus was a popular personal name amongst the Norse, so occurs mostly amongst clans with connections in the Northern Isles or Hebrides. The few early records of this surname on the mainland include the form Makvanis on the Black Isle in 1500 and McWeynish in Inverness in 1666. Alexander Mackenzie tells us that brothers John & Dougall MacVanish were servants of Kenneth MacKenzie of Kintail in 1600, and virtually all the examples of this name in the OPRs and the 1841 census appear in the Mackenzie-dominated parishes of Contin and Fodderty  

This is the northern Irish version of the name pronounced in Galloway & Ayshire as MʻWhunye. It can clearly be seen in local records to have evolved, like McKenna, as a phonetic form of MacKenzie/McKenze: So MʻQuhinze (1502), Makquhynze (1526), McQuhinnyMcKwhinney (1684), MʻWhinnie (1739). We don't know whether the MacKennychs, McKennyes, MʻWhinneys found in Galloway from the 16th century onwards derived their patronymic name from a local Coinneach, or whether they were far-flung members of Clann Choinnich; but since other Highland clans had branches in Galloway, which was once ruled by Gaels, it's quite possible. 

Murchison is an Englished form of the Gaelic MacMhurchaidh (Son of Murchadh) - of which MacMurchy is a common phonetic form. Murchadh, which was usually Englished as Murdoch, appears a number of times in the early generations of the Mackenzies' chiefly pedigrees, and the first records of the name Murchison, in the 15th century, may be as the patronymics of Mackenzie chiefs. By the 17th century a branch of the clan using Murchison as a surname was established in Kintail and Lochalsh, headed by a father and son who were both priests and constables of Eilean Donan Castle. In the aftermath of the 1715 Jacobite Rising, a member of this family, Colonel Donald Murchison, served as Factor for the exiled Earl of Seaforth, defying government troops to collect the chief's rents and transmit them to him in France. Later members of this family were the Lairds of Tarradale in Easter Ross.    

This is a common descriptive surname derived from the Gaelic riabhach, meaning brindled or grizzled, and there are other clans - notably the MacDonalds on Skye - who claim it as a septname. The name appears in Easter Ross as Rewach in 1583, Reoche in 1613, Reach in 1672, and Rioch in 1694 - when the bearer of it is a tenant of MacKenzie of Ballone. It was also the name of the Lairds of Pitcalzean, in the parish of Nigg, in the 17th and 18th centuries. The connection with Clan Choinnich is made clear in late 18th century OPRs when many fishermen in Kilmuir Easter alternated their surnames between versions of Reach/Rioch and MacKenzie, apparently believing they were descendants of a 14th century cousin of the MacKenzie chief who was known as Murchadh Riabhach.

This surname, which is said to come from the Old English personal name Smert, appears in the Highlands in 1612 with the record of William Smart, as a burgess of Tain, and in 1665 Wm. Smert and Hew Baine in the vicinity of Tain were the possessors of Morensche (possibly Morangie). Though by the 18th century there was a significant group of Smarts in Caithness, and particularly in Wick, the majority of those bearing this name were to be found in Easter Ross, in parishes dominated by the MacKenzies, so it’s clear why they may have come to be seen as a sept of the clan.

This name is said to come from the Gaelic na Tailich meaning “from Kintail”. This is how the men who drove the last of the MacBeaths out of their castle on Loch Tolly in Gairloch on behalf of the MacKenzies are referred to in local traditions. On Lewis, the MacKenzies at feud with the MacDonalds of Glengarry were referred to in old accounts as the Tealaichs - i.e. "men from Kintail" - and Sir Roderick MacKenzie was known in Gaelic as the Tuicher Tallach (the Tutor of Kintail). The name is not common, but most examples of it in the OPRs are in Easter Ross - though by 1841 it had vanished from there and the few instances of it are in Sutherland, Inverness, and Fife. 

This name probably derives from the Gaelic tuathach meaning “northern”. A branch of Clan MacKenzie living in Lochaber in the 18th century were known there as na Tuathaich (the Northerners), and their likely progenitors were the Ewne McEane Tuich and Johne McEane Tuich who appear in 1598 as followers of Cameron of Locheil. They were probably sons of the John Towach Hectoursone who was imprisoned and murdered by John MacKenzie of Kintail in 1550, along with his brother Iain Glassich. It's not clear why a son of Hector of Gairloch would have been called Tuach, but it's possible he acquired the nickname in Lochaber having gone there - perhaps with his sons who later settled there - to join Lochiel in his struggles against the Macintoshes, who John MacKenzie of Kintail had been directed by the Crown to help suppress in 1532. The clan histories tell us that John Tuoach Mac Heachin Roy was the Laird of Davochpollo in the parish of Fodderty, and that his only son - or the only one known in the north - died without legitimate heirs, though he had an illegitimate son who married and had children. He, or cousins returning from Lochaber, may have been the progenitors of the Tuachs who were prominent in Easter Ross in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, when one branch of the sept were Lairds of Logiereich in the parish of Urquhart & Logie Wester.

For more about Septs, see Graeme M. Mackenzie, Septs, Septnames & Surnames of the Highland Clans (Highland Roots, 2019).

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