The Murray Family History in Scotland – Surname Meaning & Origin

Elgin Cathedral in Moray region where the surname Murray came from

This post will explore the meaning, origin, and history of the Murray surname.  This last name is the most prevalent territorial name and it is deeply rooted in Scotland.  In truth, Scottish surnames have their own stories about lineage, loyalty, and the enduring spirit of people.  Some of these surnames can be found at Scottish Surnames – by Unlock Your Past.

So together, let us explore the next journey into the heart of Scottish surnames, with the Murray name as our guide.

A gravestone from Elgin cemetery with the surname Murray
A gravestone in Elgin with the surname Murray

The Meaning of the Murray Name

The surname Murray is associated with the region of Moray in North Eastern Scotland.  The name itself originates from the Old Celtic word “Moray,” which means “settlement by the sea“.  Consequently, people who settled or had ties to this region came to be known as the Murrays.

The Origin of the Last Name Murray

Freskin de Moravia’ gave his name to the region now known as Moray.  He was a Flemish noble who settled in Scotland during the reign of David I in the 12th century.  Actually, Freskin became the progenitor of the Murray Clan, taking the name from the region where he settled.  Over the centuries, the Murray clan members became prominent landowners and warriors, actively participating in various battles and conflicts.

The History of the Murray Name

One of Freskin’s descendants was Sir Andrew Murray who was a military leader.  He fought alongside William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  Although he played a crucial role, he sadly died from wounds after the battle.

During the Middle Ages, lands and estates were mostly acquired through marriage.  However, warfare also had a part to play.  Nevertheless,  various branches of the Murray family gained lands from Abercairney and Tullibardine in East Perthshire through marriages.  The second Murray Earl of Tullibardine married a Stewart Heiress of Atholl.  This eventually led to the Murray chiefs to become Dukes of Atholl.

Separate families were established from the Tullibardine line, including Stormont and Ochtertyre, all located in Perthshire.  You would think that the name “Murray” would be more prevalent in these areas, given their historical connections.  However, Perthshire still boasts more Stewarts than Murrays.

The Clan Murray

The Murrays were known for their military prowess.  The clan’s loyalty to the Scottish crown led them to participate in various conflicts throughout the centuries.  For example:

  • the first Duke of Atholl’s younger son, Lord George Murray, was a Jacobite general.  He played a crucial role in the early triumphs of the Jacobite rising of 1745.
  • the 4th Duke of Atholl raised an army called the Atholl Highlanders in the 1770s.  The regiment was created to provide relief for other regiments stationed in North America.  Today it is Europe’s only private army.
  • the 7th Duke of Atholl, John James Hugh Henry Stewart-Murray, assumed the rank of Lieutenant in the Scots Fusilier Guards in 1859 and attained the position of Captain in 1864.  Additionally, he served as the Honorary Colonel of the 3rd Battalion, Black Watch, and held the prestigious position of Colonel-in-Chief for the South African Scottish Regiment.

Today, the 12th Duke of Atholl, Bruce Murray is the current Murray Clan chief. Their clan motto is “Tout Prêt” (Quite Ready).

The Murray Tartan

The Murray tartan features a combination of blue and green colours with black and narrow red stripes.  However, keep in mind that there may be variations of the tartan based on different Murray families and manufacturers.

Murray tartan

The Murray Family Crest

The concept of a “family crest” is somewhat of a misunderstanding.  In Scottish heraldry, when people refer to a “family crest”, it usually means a “coat of arms”.

For the Murray Clan, there is a specific coat of arms associated with the clan.  However, it is important to note that coats of arms are granted to individuals and not entire families or clans.  Different individuals within the Murray clan may have variations of the basic design with elements specific to their own achievements.Murray family crest

Variations of the Murray Surname

In Scotland, variations of this surname can include Murrey, Moray, Morray, Murey, Morie, Morrow and Murri.

Variation of the Murray surname on a gravestone in Elgin
Adam Murrey buried in 1809 in Elgin

Famous People with the Murray Surname   

  • James Murray, a member of the Murray Clan, became the first British Governor of Quebec in the 18th century.  Most importantly, his leadership had an impact on the early history of North America.
  • Henry Murray received the Victoria Cross for his bravery during WW1.  After surviving the war, he chose to retire to a life of relative obscurity on a farm in Queensland.
  • Bill Murray is a well-known American actor, comedian, and writer.  Although not directly related to Scottish history, his contributions to the entertainment industry have made him a household name.
  • Sir Andy Murray is a Scottish professional tennis player.  He is considered one of the greatest tennis players of his generation and has achieved numerous Grand Slam victories.


As with many Scottish surnames, the Murray name has spread globally due to migration and the Scottish diaspora.  People with the surname Murray can be found in various parts of the world.  Are you a Murray?

Let me know in the comments below if you are a Murray (or if you want me to write a blog about your Scottish surname).

Good luck with your research.

Until my next post, haste ye back.


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4 thoughts on “The Murray Family History in Scotland – Surname Meaning & Origin”

  1. Thank you for this enlightening piece shedding light on the Murray lineage and its global presence due to migration and the Scottish diaspora. Looking forward to your next exploration into Scottish surnames! Haste ye back indeed!

  2. Murray is a surname I know well as I was the General Manager of Blair Castle 20 years ago and the Murray Family line have been inextricably linked with the Dukes & Earls of Atholl for a long time. I enjoyed your article on the name Sarah – many thanks for another interesting newsletter.

    1. Thanks Alasdair – It’s fascinating to hear about your connection to the Murray surname and the rich history associated with Blair Castle. I’m delighted that you enjoyed the post and my newsletter . Thanks again for being a valued reader!

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