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Losing the "a" in your surname. How does this happen?

Hi all.  I am an Australian woman that has a wee bit of Scottish heritage and I have married into Clan MacMillan which has been changed to McMillan sometime over the past century.  My question is, what might some of the reasons for the loss of the "a"?  There seems to be a few skeletons in the closet with family members and nobody wants to talk about something that may have bought shame to the family in the past.  Is losing the "a" indicative of a disgraced clan?  Really hopeful someone can enlighten me.


  • VisitScotlandAmandaVisitScotlandAmanda Member, Administrator, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Hi @Kym

    We have a page on understanding your Scottish surnames here:

    This section in particular might be of interest to you:

    Often there are different spellings of the same name. This happened because there were no standard rules on spelling for many years, so people spelt their names in different ways. It could also have happened when an immigration officer, or census recorder, misheard a name and spelt it incorrectly.

    McNeil, for example, is also spelt McNeal, McNeill, MacNeil, MacNèill and MacNeill.

    Hope this helps!
    Kiwi gal, relocated to Scotland. 
  • VisitScotlandJulieVisitScotlandJulie Member, Moderator, VisitScotland Staff
    Hi @Kym. There will not be shame or disgrace involved.

    Ireland and Scotland share a similar language and heritage. Generally, the surname prefix of Mc originally comes from Ireland and the Mac comes from Scotland and both have the same meaning. So the 'a' wasn't dropped but rather there are many Scots whose distant ancestors originally came over to Scotland from Ireland long before the days of civil records. Many will have kept the Mc spelling. 

    This is what was told to me of my family. There may be other reasons I don't know of.  :#

  • ParsmanParsman Member ✭✭✭
    Just to clarify, the idea that Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish is a nice idea but it is wrong. Many Irish families used the Mac variation, such as MacGuinness or MacNamara. It really just occurs because the spelling of words generally doesn't become standardised until well into modern history. Son of could be Mac, Mc or on occasion even M'. So you could be M'Neil, McNeal or MacNeill depending on who was writing the name down.
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