The Paterson Surname Origin and History

Paterson surname displayed on a gravestone in Scotland

The Paterson surname has a strong connection to Scotland and in 2022 it was the 17th most common Scottish surname.  On the other hand, Patterson, with a double ‘t’, is more common in England.

As part of our series on Scottish surnames, the Paterson surname is steeped in history.  Actually, the last name Paterson carries with it a legacy of noble origins and a connection to the Jacobites and cave dwellers in Scotland.   

What does Paterson mean?

The Paterson name is a patronymic surname to mean simply ‘son of Patrick’.

The Origin of the Paterson Last Name

The name came from the scot’s devotion to St Patrick, who converted Ireland to Christianity.  The name, spelled Phadraig in Gaelic, has its roots in the Latin term Patricius. This is a member of the Roman senatorial class, such as a noble in more recent times.

The History of the Paterson Family Name in Scotland

Patrick was a popular name in the Middle Ages appearing all over Scotland and Ireland.  At one time, there was a group of Patersons on the north side of Loch Fyne, known as Clann Pheadrean.

Early references to the surname include William Patrison and John Patonson who were ‘gentillmen’ witnesses from Aberdeen in 1446.  Also, Castle Huntly in Longforgan parish, Perthshire, belonged to the Patterson family from 1777 to 1948.  It was probably built in the latter part of the 15th century by Andrew, 2nd Lord Gray and it was passed on to the Earls of Kinghorn in the 17th century.

A Jacobite Patterson family once owned the estate of Bannockburn.  One of the Paterson daughters, Clementine (1720-1782), met Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) in 1746, probably at Bannockburn House.  Thereafter, she joined him in France and became his mistress.

The Paterson Clan in Scotland

The Patersons are associated with Clan Paterson.  In fact, it is a Lowland Scottish clan that holds official recognition from the Lord Lyon King of Arms.  However, since it does not have a current clan chief, it is armigerous.

The term “armigerous” refers to a clan or family that has the right to bear arms or a coat of arms but currently lacks a chief.

The Scottish surname Paterson is a sept of both Clan Farquharson and Clan MacLaren.  These clans are notable Highland clans.

The Paterson Tartan

The clan is known for its distinctive tartan.  Set against a deep blue background, the tartan has slim red and white stripes.  There are green and black stripes to enrich the pattern, evoking the rugged and picturesque landscapes synonymous with Loch Fyne.

Paterson clan tartan

The Paterson Family Crest

Clan Paterson has a motto: “Huc Tendimus Omnes” which translates to “We all tend to this.”

Paterson clan crest

Variations of the Paterson Surname

The surname Paterson has several variations and alternate spellings, as is common with many surnames.  For example, variations can include Patterson, Pattison, Patersone, Pattisone, Pateson, Peterson and Paton.

Variation of the Paterson surname on a scottish grave

Remember to consider these variations as they can help broaden the scope of your search and increase the likelihood of finding relevant records.  Different branches of a family may have adopted different spellings over time, leading to diverse variations of the surname.

Famous People with the Paterson Surname   

  • Andrew Paterson (1755–1817): He was a Scottish businessman who was one of the founders of the Bank of New South Wales.  This bank later became Westpac, one of Australia’s largest banks.
  • William Paterson (1745–1806): William was a Scottish botanist who was one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In addition, he is known for his contributions to the exploration of Australia.
  • Banjo Paterson (1864–1941): Andrew Barton Paterson was known as ‘Banjo’.  He was an Australian bush poet, journalist, and author.  He is best known for his iconic poem “Waltzing Matilda” and his contributions to Australian literature.
  • According to legend, George Paterson was a blacksmith who apparently dug out a cave below the village of Gilmerton, a suburb in Edinburgh, in the 1720-1730s. Known as the Gilmerton Cave, it has multiple chambers, beds, a generous table, and notably, a workshop.  It is speculated that it was the inspiration for the “subterranean forge” depicted in Sir Walter Scott’s book, ‘Kenilworth’.
  • George Pattison (1875 – 1917) was the recipient of the Victoria Cross for his heroism and bravery at the battle on Vimy Ridge, France, in April 1917.  Born in England, he emigrated to Canada where he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
  • Jim Paterson is a well-known and respected retired farmer, bowler and champion curler who resides in the parish of Kinross, just beside the parish of Orwell.

Last but not least…

while the Paterson surname has its roots in Scotland, the diaspora of people with this surname has spread across the world, particularly in English-speaking countries.  Of course, migration and economic and employment opportunities has contributed to the spread of this Scottish surname.

Thank you for joining me on this historical journey about the Paterson surname.  I hope you enjoyed reading my post and if you want me to write about your ancestral Scottish surname, then let me know below in the comments.

Good luck with your research.

Until my next post, haste ye back.


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2 thoughts on “The Paterson Surname Origin and History”

  1. Paterson is my maiden name, reading this factual and incredibly interesting history of my family name was fascinating, well done Sarah, can’t wait till your next blog – I love them, and learn something new from every one you research and write. Thank You

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and for being a valued reader. I’m thrilled to hear that you found the history of the Paterson surname fascinating. It’s always rewarding to know that my research resonates with readers.
      Stay tuned for more intriguing stories in the next blog post!

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