About the Ross Surname and its origins

Gravestone with the Ross surname located in Kinross

In this post, I will be unlocking the history of the Ross surname as part of my series on Scottish surnames.  You will learn about the origins, meaning, and interesting stories about individuals with the surname Ross.

However, beyond the known Scottish origins, the surname Ross also has other potential roots. From Norman to Jewish connection, this surname is fascinating.  So join me on this historical journey that spans centuries.

Origin of last name Ross

It is believed that the last name Ross came from the ancient Earls of Ross who historically held lands in the Highlands of Scotland. Originally, it suggested a geographical location. In other words, the earliest bearers of the surname lived near a prominent peninsula or moorland.

However, it has other possible origins:

  •  it could be linked to the Norman de Ros family of Kent.  They may have taken their name from the town of Rots in Normandy.  In essence, this highlights a geographical connection.
  • it is an anglicised form of the Norman name Rozzo meaning ‘renown’.  This hints at a distinctive ancestral trait.
  • it is anglicisation of the Jewish surname ‘Rose’.

Meaning of the Ross surname 

In Scotland, it is derived from the Old Gaelic word “ros,” which means a promontory or headland. For example, the town Kinross, in Perth & Kinross, is located on the promontory of Loch Leven.

History of Ross surname

Fearchar Mac an t-sagairt, anglicised as Farquhar MacTaggart, was thought to be the first known Earl of Ross from the 13th century.  He helped to crush a rebellion for the Crown in 1215. He was knighted and made an Earl in 1234 for his services.

The Earls of Ross played significant roles in history.  For example, they were involved in historical events and battles, including

  • the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314
  • the Battle of Flodden in 1513,
  • the Battle of Dunbar in 1650.

In addition, one of the Earls of Ross, William, was of the 8 earls who signed the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320.  This is considered to be one of the most important documents in Scottish history. The Scottish nobility and clergy had written this document to Pope John XXII asserting Scotland’s independence from English rule.

William’s lineage ended towards the end of the 14th century.  Subsequently, the Rosses of Balnagown in Ross-shire took over as the chiefs of Clan Ross.

Clan Ross

The Rosses of Balnagown is the most well-known branch of the clan. Their stronghold was at Balnagown Castle in Ross-shire and included areas around the Dornoch Firth and the Black Isle.  You can visit the estate.

Like many Scottish clans, the traditional clan system went through changes and challenges over the centuries.  The Clan Ross faced difficulties, and by the 17th century, the power and influence of the clan had diminished.

The Septs include Anderson, Andrew, Dingawll, Gillanders, MacAndrew, MacCulloch, MacLulich, MacTaggart, MacTear, Taggart, and Vaas. A Sept refers to a group of people who may not share the same surname as the clan, but are associated with that clan . This association can be based on various factors, such as marriage, geographic proximity, or allegiance in times of conflict. 

Ross family crest

The clan crest features a hand holding a wreath of laurel.

The clan’s motto is “Spem Successus Alit” which translates to “Success Nourishes Hope.”

Ross clan family crest

Ross clan tartan

The Clan Ross has its own tartan, which is predominantly green and blue.  These colours are complemented by black, white, and red.  However, there are different variations of the tartan for different branches of the families.

Ross Clan tartan

Variations of the surname Ross

The spelling of surnames can evolve over time, and individuals may have used different spellings at different points in history.

The surname Ross has several variations and spellings, as is common with many surnames over time.  Some of the variations include Ros, Rose, Rosse, Roths, Roos and Roose to name a few.

Variation of the Ross surname on a gravestone in Dornoch
Dornoch Cathedral gravestone of the Rose family

Famous people with the last  name  Ross

There are several notable individuals with this last name.  Here are a few:

  • Diana Ross (born 1944): Diana was an American singer and actress who rose to fame as the lead singer of the Supremes.  The group was one of the most successful Motown groups of the 1960s.
  • Betsy Ross (1752 – 1836): While the historical accuracy is debated, Betsy Ross is traditionally known for creating the first American flag during the American Revolution.
  • John Ross (1822 – 1879): born in Stranraer, Scotland, John received the Victoria Cross for 3 distinct acts of bravery in the Crimean War.  He actively participated in the siege and capture of Sebastopol throughout 1855.
  • John Ross (1777–1856): John was a Scottish naval officer and Arctic explorer.  He led several expeditions in search of the Northwest Passage.
  • David Ross (1871–1940): David was a Scottish footballer who played for Celtic and represented Scotland internationally.  He later became a successful manager.

In conclusion…

Although the origins of the surname Ross are rooted in Scotland, individuals with the surname Ross have spread to various parts of the world over time due to migration and other factors.  It’s a common surname with a deep and diverse history.

Thank you for joining me on this historical journey about the Ross surname. I hope you enjoyed reading my post and if you want me to write about your 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 “About the Ross Surname and its origins”

  1. That was really interesting Sarah, I loved the first grave stone as I used to go to Kinross School. I wondered if you could look at my mothers surname Michie for me.

    1. Hello Fiona
      Of course, I will look into the Michie surname for you. I will do it by the end of February

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