Tracing the Origins of the Mitchell Surname

The Mitchell surname inscribed on a map of Scotland.

Is the Mitchell surname Scottish? Well the simple answer is YES

As part of my series on Scottish surnames, I decided to look into this family name.  Although it is Scottish, this last name came from overseas over 900 years ago.

Origins of the last name Mitchell

The Mitchell surname has two distinct roots.  Firstly, it is a popular form of the first name Michael, which arrived in Britain as the softened French form of Michelle.  The Scots, known for their unique pronunciation, adapted it to Mitchell, both as a first name and later as a surname.  Even today, Michael is pronounced as Mitchell in parts of Orkney.

Secondly, the other derivation comes from the nickname for a man of large build, from the Old English word mycel, meaning big.

Nevertheless, it is a common surname in Scotland and can be found in Scottish records dating back to the 14th century.  For example, John Michelsone was granted a safe conduct to trade in England in 1395.  Nearly 50 years later, Robert Michael de Hyrmanston was a charter witness in 1438 while John Mitsell owned land in Glasgow in 1496.

The meaning of the Mitchell surname

The last name Mitchell has the same meaning as the surname Michie, a Scottish surname that I recently wrote about.

Mitchell comes from the given name Michael, to mean who is like God’ in Hebrew.

The history of the Mitchell surname

The Mitchell surname was first found in Surrey, England. However, it is believed to have migrated north from Durham or Yorkshire around 1130.  During the reign of King David of Scotland, who ascended to the throne in 1124, many families, including the Mitchells, were invited to Scotland.

King David wanted to strengthen Scotland. He did so by inviting settlers to join the military service in exchange for land, or to settle in burghs to help stimulate trade.

The Mitchell clan

The Mitchell surname is not associated with a clan in the traditional sense within Scottish Highland clan structure.  However, it is a sept of the Innes Clan whose motto is Be Faithful.  Septs are normally linked to a clan through historical alliances, geographical proximity, or family connections.

The Mitchell tartan

The Mitchell tartan is shared by Hunter, Galbraith, and Russel.  It is predominantly green and blue with white and red lines.

The Mitchell tartan.

Variations of the Mitchell surname

Mitchelson and Michie are variations found in certain parts of Scotland.  For example, the Michie surname is mostly found in the north-east.  There are other variations such as Michell, Michel, Mitsell, Mitchellson, Mitchellsone, Mikle and Meickle. 

Variations of the Mitchell surname from gravestones.
A gravestone from Aberdeen of Edward Michell who died in 1831, and a gravestone from Edinburgh of David Mitchelsone who died in 1802.

Interestingly, the name or word ‘meikle’ means large in Old Scots – a reminder of the Old English word mycel.  In Scotland, you can find farms with the name Meikle such as ‘Meikle Seggie’ near Milnathort, Kinross-shire.

Are there any famous Mitchells?

Yes there are.  People with the Mitchell surname have made significant contributions in fields literature, exploration, and sports, to name a few:

  • Margaret Mitchell (1900 – 1949)- she was an American novelist best known for her novel “Gone with the Wind,” published in 1936.  She won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937 and you know what happened next? … the novel was later adapted into one of the most iconic films.
  • Joni Mitchell (born 1943) – she is a Canadian singer-songwriter.  She is celebrated for her folk music albums including “Blue,” “Court and Spark,” and “Hejira.”
  • William Henry Metcalf Mitchell (1894 – 1968) – he was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross during World War I for his actions on 25 September 1915 at the Battle of Loos, France.  As a Lance Corporal in the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards, he displayed bravery by rescuing a wounded comrade under heavy fire.
  • Sir Thomas Livingstone Mitchell (1792 – 1855) –  he was a Scottish-born surveyor and explorer who made significant contributions to the mapping of Australia in the 19th century.
  • Of course, if you are British, you will be familiar with Phil Mitchell from Eastenders!

Although the Mitchell surname does not originally come from Scotland, its Scottish roots date back centuries.  From its earliest mentions in historical records to its prevalence in today’s society, the Mitchell surname remains a notable part of Scottish heritage.

Let me know in the comments below if you want me to write about a particular Scottish surname.

Good luck with your research.

Until my next post, haste ye back.


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