Henderson Surname

A view of a Scottish castle

Do you have a Scottish Henderson in your family tree?

Do you want to know more about the history of the Scottish surname Henderson? Get started here with the latest in our series of posts on Scottish surnames…

Meaning and History of the Henderson Surname

The surname Henderson is a Scottish patronymic name which means ‘son of Hendry’. Often Henry was pronounced Hendry or Hendrie, particularly in Scotland. Consequently, many sons of Henry became known as Henderson.

Old handwriting showing 'Hendrie' from 1733
(Crown Copyright, ScotlandsPeople, OPR Births 487/ 10 9 Polmont)

The Norman French introduced the personal name Henry. It is derived from the Old German name ‘Haimric’ or ‘Heim reich’, which means ‘home-rule’ (but not in the sense of separatist).

Before the 1900s, the surname was mostly found in Scotland. According to the 1881 Census, it was most common in the Orkneys and Caithness, the furthermost northeast part of Scotland.  Further south, it was well represented near Edinburgh and in the Borders, between Berwick and Roxburgh.  Eventually, the surname spread south into Northumberland.

The Henderson Family – a Scottish Clan or Sept?

The Hendersons were never a clan in the strictest sense of the word. However, over the centuries, 3 distinct branches of the Henderson family emerged from 3 different parts of Scotland:

  • Glencoe, originally from a sept of the MacDonald Clan.
  • Caithness, originally from the Clan Gunn.
  • Fordell in Fife, originally from Dumfriesshire. If you have a Henderson from Fife, then I can help with your research because I live locally to Fife. Contact me to discuss your Henderson family.

The Henderson Family History Across the World

Henderson families have emigrated to other parts of the globe to escape poverty in search of a better life. In addition, the clearances in the Borders and in the Highlands pushed families abroad. Do you have a Scottish Henderson who emigrated to your country? share your story in the comments below…

Scottish Hendersons who made a difference

Alexander Henderson was born into the family from Fordell in 1583.  Educated at St Andrews University, he influenced Scottish history. He, together with Archibald Johnston of Warriston, drafted the National Covenant of 1638. In essence, the National Covenant was a document signed by Scottish people who rejected the king’s order (King Charles) to conform to English church governance. It was one of the biggest events in Scottish history. With this and his work towards the Confession of Faith and the Solemn League, he became one of the Church of Scotland’s most influential representative. You can visit his grave at the famous Greyfriars’ Kirkyard in Edinburgh.

In the world of astronomy, Thomas Henderson from Dundee was appointed as the first Astronomer Royal in Scotland. He initially trained as a lawyer and then later became an astronomer and mathematician. Thomas was the first person to measure the distance to the nearest stellar system to Earth.  Furthermore, he was the first to determine the positioning of a fixed star.  Consequently, Thomas made major contributions to astronomy. Like Alexander, he is also buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Significantly, Hendersons have also been represented in the fields of

  • homeopathy (William Henderson 1810 – 1872).
  • archaeology (John Henderson 1797 – 1878).
  • portrait painting (John Henderson 1738 – 1835).
  • missionary work (Ebenezer Henderson 1784 – 1858).
  • astronomy and clock making (Ebenezer Henderson 1809 – 1879).
  • women’s rights (suffragist Mary Henderson 1874 – 1938).

Do you have a Henderson in your family tree? I would be happy to look into the family for you.  Get in touch or leave a comment below.

Other family names can be found in our growing list of Scottish surnames.


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