Popular Scottish Forenames - N/R
This page is one of a series giving the origins of popular first names in Scotland. See the link at the end of the page if you wish to go to sections relating to other letters of the alphabet.
This is pronounced either "nee + iv" or simply "neev" and in 1999 was the 26th most popular girls' first name in Scotland. According to legend, "Niamh of the Golden Hair" was a daughter of Manannan, the god of the sea. She was extremely beautiful and fell in love with Oisín. They lived in Tír na-nÓg for 300 years. This name is close to the Irish Gaelic word "naomh" which means "saint". It has recently become popular, despite being ignored by most of the books which describe Scottish first names.
Nicola / Nicole
These are the Italian and French forms of 'Nicholas" who was a 4th century bishop in Asia Minor. It became used in England in the 13th century but did not reach Scotland for another few hundred years. Nicole was a favourite name amongst the Gordon family in Aberdeenshire. Nicole is the more popular version in Scotland (it was 14th in the league table in 1999 - Nicola was 59th). Variations include Colette, Niki and Nocolette. The name led to Scottish surnames such as MacNicol.
Neil / Niel / Neal / Neale / Neill
Neil is an Anglicised version of the Irish popular first name "Niall" The name is probably derived from the Irish Gaelic word "nia" which means "champion". The name derives from Celtic legends - "Niall of the Nine Hiostages" goes back to a 5th century Irish king of that name. Viking settlers adopted it as Njal. In England it became "Nigellus" in Latin(later becoming Nigel).
As a surname, the MacNeil clan ("son of Neil") claim descent from Irish ancestors. In Scotland, the name is often spelt as "Niel" - Niel Gow the famous fiddle player is the best known example. Neil Gunn (1891-1973) was a major Scottish novelist. Neil Lennon (originally from Northern Ireland) was a successful manager of Glasgow Celtic football (soccer) team.
A Celtic name meaning "well born" which came to Scotland via Dalriada when Eoghan ruled for 14 years. There was a later king of the Picts, Uven, and in Strathclyde, Owen "The Bald" was killed in battle in 1018. The name is more popular in Wales (Owen Glendower fought for Welsh independence against Henry IV in the 15th century) but nevertheless Owen was still the 62nd most popular boys' given name in 1998.
Patrick / Patricia
In Latin, a "patrician" was a nobleman. Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have been born in Dumbarton in Scotland. In the early days, Catholics in Ireland thought the name was too sacred to be in common use but it became into more frequent use after the Plantation of Ulster by Scottish families in the early part of the 17th century. The name is favoured among a number of Scotttish families including the Humes and Houstons. Due to its various Gaelic versions Patrick is sometimes confused with Peter. The feminine form of the name is Patricia. In 1900, Patrick was 18th most popular forename for children born that year and was 28th in 1950. By 1975 it had slipped to 69th and by 2000 it was 73rd.
The name is derived from a Greek (and Hewbrew) word "petros" meaning "rock" and was the name given to the Apostle Simon, a Galilean fisherman. He became the first head of the Christian church. The name was frowned upon in Scotland after the Reformation as it had overtones of Papacy. But later, following the influx of Irish immigrants, Peter is said to have been popular in Scotland because of its link with Patrick. In 1900, the name was 11th most popular forename for children born that year and was still 14th in 1950. By 1975 it had slipped to 31st and by 2000 it was 81st.
Rachel / Rachael
Derived from the Hebrew for "gentle" the name is found in the Bible. It became more common in Scotland after the Reformation and has risen in popularity recently - it was the 13th most popular girl's name in 1990 and rose to 8th in 1999, with Rachael at 31st position. A novel by Daphne du Maurier, "My Cousin Rachel" may have had an influence at one time. The Spanish form of the name, Raquel, is rarely found in Scotland, despite the well known film star Raquel Welsh.
Raymond comes from the Old German "ragan-mund" meaning "counsel protevction". It came to England with the Normans as Raimond which became Raymond. Both Raymond and the shortened form Ray became surnames in Scotland in the 15th century. Raymond became quite popular in the middle of the 20th century - it was the 29th most frequently found name amongst boys christened in 1950 and was 58th in 1975. But it is no longer in the first 100.
The second most popular girl's name in Scotland, it has its origins in biblical times - the daughter of a Syrian, Rebekah was "fair to look upon". The Gaelic version of the name is "Rebeca". The famous daughter of an Indian chief, Pocohontas, was baptised as Rebeca and Rebekah Carmichael was a poet at the time of Robert Burns.
Rhea / Ria
The origin of the name Rhea is from the Greek word for "flowing". Rhea was the mother of Zeus, Poseidon, Hera, and Demeter. Rhea is also a Welsh name referring to a river in Wales. In Roman mythology a woman named Rhea Silvia was the mother of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.
Rhiannon / Rhian
Rhian (pronounced "hree-an" ) is a shortened form of Rhiannon which originated in Wales. It means "nymph" or "moon goddess". In Welsh legend she was the daughter of the Underworld and was extremely beautiful and also a fine horsewoman. Rhian became popular in Wales in the 1950s and has now spread to Scotland where it is also becoming quite popular. Rhiannon was in the top 100 of girls' first names in Scotland in 1998 but dropped back out again.
Rhona / Rona
Origins of this name are uncertain, with some researchers suggesting it comes from the Old Norman "hrauney" meaning "rough isle" or it may be a feminine form of Ronan. Rhona came into use at the same time as Rona which supports the Ronan origin. But there are also a number of small Scottish islands named Rona - rón means "seal" in Gaelic. There is an islet off the coast of mainland Shetland called St Ronan's Isle. St Ronan died around 737AD but he lived on North Rona, so the names are intertwined. There is also a mineral well at Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders named after him. The name became popular in Scotland in the 19th century. Note that Riona is a diminutive of Catriona, the Gaelic equivalent of Catherine.
This name is derived from Old German "ric-heard" meaning "hardy ruler" which evolved into Ricard and spread in various forms across Europe. The Normans brought the name to Britain and it had spread into Scotland by the early 12th century. In England, it became better known as a result of King Richard the Lion Heart and later from Shakespeare's Richard III (who lived from 1452-85). Richard was a fairly popular name in Scotland until nearer the end of the 20th century, being in the range 20th to 30th most used for children born each year. But by 2005, it was no longer in the top 100. The name developed into use as a surname, including variants such as Richards, Richardson, Richie, Ritchie, Dickie, Dickinson, Dixon and Dickson (the last form is a common surname in the Scottish Borders). The Gaelic form is Ruiscart.
Robert / /Roberta / Robin / Bob
Derived from Old German 'hrothi' meaning fame and 'berhta' meaning bright, it has always been a popular name in Scotland. It was introduced by the Norman knights and three Scottish Kings, including The Bruce, were named Robert. Variations in Scotland include Rab, Rabbie and Rob and the Gaelic versions are Raibeart and Robaidh. Bobbie / Bobby is the diminutive or pet form of Robert (male) or Roberta (female), while other pet forms of Robert include Bob, Rob and Robin. The popularity of the name has declined in recent years - Robert was the 4th most popular name registered in 1900 but had fallen to 9th in 1975 and was out of the top 20 in 2000. Famous bearers of the name Robert in the past have included Robert Burns, Rob Roy MacGregor and architect Robert Adam. Surnames such as Roberts, Robertson, Robinson, Hopkins and Dobson are also derived from the name.
A feminine form of "Robin" and "Robert", this is another name which has shot up the popularity poll in recent times - it was the 36th most frequently used girls' name in 1999. Roberta is another feminine variation. The Australian Plant of the Year in 1984 was "Grevillea Robyn Gordon" named after an Australian of Scottish descent but this is unlikely to have had an influence in Scotland!
The third most popular boy's name in Scotland in 1998, but falling back to 5th in 1999, the name is derived from the Gaelic word "ros" meaning "headland" (as in the county, Ross and Cromarty). It is also a surname and as such appears in records for the first time in the 12th century in Ayrshire where a family Godfrey de Ros from Yorkshire obtained land in Cunningham. Yet another Ross family had their origins further north in Balnagowan, above the Cromarty Firth.
From a similar root as Roderick, the Gaelic 'ruadh-ri' or red king. Roderc was a ruler of the Kingdom of Strathclyde in the 6th century. The name Rory was used frequently by the MacLeods, MacKenzies and other Highland clans. Roderick Random was a novel by Tobias Smollet in the 18th century. Roddy, Roddie and Rory are pet names of Roderick and Derek is from the same origin. In 1998, Rory was the 53rd most registered first name in Scotland in 199 but Roderick was not in the first 100. The impersonator Rory Bremner is a well known current bearer of the name.
Rowena / Rowen / Rowan
Rowena became popular in Scotland in the 19th century after the Sir Walter Scott character Lady Rowena in "Ivanhoe". It is not known how the novelist arrived at this name for the mild and gentle heroine - it may have been a feminine form of "Rowan" which is the Scots name for the mountain ash (and is derived from the Gaelic "ruadhán" meaning "little red one"). Or Scott may have adapted it from the Welsh "Rhonwen" ("slender fair"). Rowan is also used as a first name for boys or girls.
From the Gaelic "ruadh" meaning "red" and is used as both a forename andsurname. Rob Roy McGregor is perhps the most well known bearer of the name.
The most popular boy's name in Scotland in 1997 and 1998 (3rd in 1999) and also popular in America and Australia. The origins of the name are unclear but may be from the Irish "ri" for king or royalty. The Irish O'Ryans were descended from Cahirmore, the king of Ireland in AD120/123. It has been suggested that the recent popularity of the name is due to the American film star Ryan O'Neal.
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