Are you interested in the Hamilton family history in Scotland?
Here is the latest in our series of posts about Scottish family surnames… this time it is about the Hamilton surname. Here is a fascinating story about the Hamilton surname origin and the clan Hamilton. Are you related to a Hamilton? Click here if you want help researching your Hamilton family history.
Hamilton Surname Meaning
The distribution of the surname Hamilton is predominantly in Scotland. However, its roots actually lie south of the border. It is believed that the name comes from the Old English ‘hamel’, meaning ‘crooked hill’, and ‘tun’ meaning ‘farm’. In other words, the ‘farm at the crooked hill’. Places all over England have been called Hambledon or Hambleton, in Lancashire, Northumberland, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire and Surrey. The North Yorkshire Hambleton is often considered to be the earliest.
The Scottish Hamilton surname probably came from the Lanarkshire town rather than from the original meaning ‘farm at the crooked hill’. Read on to find out more about how the town came about…..
Hamilton Surname Origin
There is an early 13th century legend that the knight Sir Gilbert de Hambleton killed John de Spencer in a duel over a debate about Scotland. In essence, Sir Gilbert was in favour of Robert de Bruce. However, John disagreed with him because he believed it was treacherous to talk favourably about the Scottish king. Since John was a close friend to King Edward II, Sir Gilbert very sensibly fled north. When he was being pursued in some woods, Sir Gilbert and his servant realised they were nearly captured. So, they came up with a cunning plan to swap clothes with 2 nearby woodcutters. When the soldiers passed by, the fugitives pretended to cut down an oak and Sir Gilbert shouted ‘THROUGH!!’ – apparently this was something woodcutters shouted in those days. Similarly in North America, they shout TIMBER!!’. To sum up, he and his servant escaped unharmed to Scotland.
The story continues …. His son, Walter FitzGilbert (FitzGilbert means “son of Gilbert” according to the Norman way), joined Robert the Bruce before Bannockburn and was later given lands including Cadzow in Lanarkshire. Move forward in time and eventually the Hambleton surname became Hamilton. By 1445 the Hamilton surname was given to the town and the parish previously known as Cadzow. Consequently, the Hamilton family grew into a powerful clan and their male line spread across the Lowlands as they acquired land and estates.
The Hamilton Clan adopted the cry “THROUGH” as their motto and included an oak tree and a frame saw into their crest. There are over 95 different coats of arms for various Hamilton families.
Famous and Infamous Hamilton namesakes:
- Lady Emma Hamilton (1761 – 1815): she started her life as an English maid who became an actress and model for painters. She is famously known as Lord Nelson’s mistress.
- Mary Hamilton (dates unknown – 18th century): she was an 18th century female bigamist and transvestite. Known as a ‘female husband’, she was born as a woman who lived as a man and married women.
- Alexander Hamilton (1755/57 – 1804): he was one of the founding fathers of the United States. There is a successful Broadway musical about him.
There are too many contemporary Hamiltons to name so here are a couple of my favourites:
- Linda Hamilton (1956 – ): she is famously known as Sarah Connor in the ‘Terminator’ film series.
- Lewis Hamilton (1985 – ): a successful British racing driver.
Leave a comment below if you belong to the Hamilton family or get in touch if you want some help with your research.
I’m (slowly) also building a resource on other Scottish Surnames, which I hope you find useful.
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