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The Origins of the Greig Family Name PDF Print E-mail
Written by David Greig   
Monday, 11 August 2008 00:42
Scottish in Origin

The surname Greig (pronounced 'Greg') originated in Scotland from the Scottish Highland clan MacGregorMacGregor is an Anglicized form of the Gaelic Mac Griogair meaning "son of Griogar".

In early Scottish history, the name MacGregor was recorded a variety of ways.  Inconsistencies in spelling were due to a number of factors:  illiteracy, differing translations between the Gaelic and English, and personal preferences.  Spelling changes could arise from family disputes, changes in allegiance to another branch of the clan, or in order to avoid persecution.  Even the inclusion or exclusion of the Mac or Mc was left up to the individual.

Greig was one common ancient variant of MacGregor, and it was also possibly one of many surnames adopted by members of the clan when the MacGregor name was banished in Scotland from 1603 to 1774.


A Brief History of the (Mac)Gregors

The MacGregor clan is believed to have originated in Scotland during the 9th century.  The MacGregors claim descent from Griogar, whom is believed to have been the third son of the Scottish king Alpin II Mac Eochaidh.  He would have also been the younger brother of Kenneth MacAlpin, the famous Scottish king who first united Scotland in A.D. 843.  Hence the clan motto, 'S Rioghal Mo Dhream, translated as Royal is my Race.

The MacGregors were one of the largest landholding families in early Scotland.  Their possessions once stretched from Loch Rannock to Loch Lomond and from Loch Etive to Taymough with their center of power located in Glenorchy, Argyllshire.  However, the clan suffered a huge loss in 1297 when the Scottish king Robert the Bruce granted the Barony of Loch Awe, which included much of the Gregor lands, to his supporter, the chief of Clan Campbell. The Campbells ejected the MacGregors, forcing them to retreat deeper into their lands until they were largely restricted to Glenstrae. The MacGregors fought the Campbells for decades and were eventually dispossessed of their lands. Reduced to the status of outlaws, they rustled cattle and poached deer to survive.

Map Source: www.scotclans.com

In 1589, John Drummond was appointed the Royal Forester of Glenartney. Charged with enforcing the law, he cut off the ears of MacGregors he had caught poaching. In revenge, the MacGregors, aided by their cohorts the Macdonalds, attacked Drummond and cut off his head. They proceeded to Drummond's sister's residence, burst in, and demanded bread and cheese. They then unwrapped John's head and crammed its mouth full, placing it on a platter in the middle of the dinner table for their hostess to find when she returned with food and drink for them.

The clan Chief, Alasdair MacGregor of Glenstrae, took responsibility for the act and was condemned by the Privy Council.  King James VI issued an edict proclaiming the name MacGregor "altogidder abolished," meaning that those who bore the name must renounce it or suffer death. The Proscriptive Acts of Clan Gregor were enacted on April 3, 1603. This ruling authorized the capture of Alasdair MacGregor and his leading kinsmen.  MacGregor sought protection from the Chief of the Campbells to go to London to beg clemency from King James VI. The Campbells gave him safe passage to the borders but arranged in advance for soldiers to capture him on the English side to return him to Edinburgh to stand trial.  In the spring of 1604, Alasdair MacGregor of Glenstrae, Chief and Laird of MacGregor, along with eleven of his chieftains, was hung at Edinburgh's Mercat Cross.

The names of Clan Gregor were erased from existence. To even claim one of these names openly was to invite an immediate execution. Clan Gregor was scattered with many ordered to take other names. They were to obey implicitly the new Chief placed over them.  Of those who refused (and were caught), the men were executed, and the women were stripped bare, branded, and whipped through the streets. The women and children were sold into slavery for Britain's new colonies in North America.

Further additions to the proscriptive acts denied the Gregors basic necessities of food, water, shelter, and care for infants and the elderly. They were denied the Sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, marriage, and last rites. The gentry of Scotland were encouraged to hunt the Gregors with dogs as if they were common game. The most horrifying act was the commission of selling Gregor heads to the government to attain pardon for thievery and murder.

The surviving MacGregors continued in two groups. The first were those who legally changed their name to satisfy the law but never changed their heart or blood. The other group were those who took to the great highlands and continued to use their Gregor names in defiance.

The persecution of Clan Gregor finally ended in 1774 when the proscription against them was repealed.

MacGregor Postcard


A Sept of the Clan MacGregor

Greig is considered a sept (or family division) of the MacGregors.  The following table lists clan names and sept names officially recognized as members of Clan Gregor.

Officially Recognized Septs and Clan Names

Alpin Fletcher Greer Gregg Gragg
Gregor Gregorson Gregory Gregson Greig
Grewer Grier Grierson Grigg(s) Grigor
Gruer Hubberd King Lawrence MacAdam
Macaldowie MacAlpin Macara Macaree MacChoiter
McGehee MacConachie MacCrowther MacEan MacEwin
MacGregor MacGrigor MacGrowther MacGruder Macilduy
MacLeister MacLiver MacNee MacNeice MacNeish
MacNie MacPeter(s) MacPetrie Magruder Malloch
Neish Patullo/Pittillow Peter(s) Petrie Roy



Griogar is a Gaelic form of Gregory which is derived from the Latin name Gregorius and the Late-Greek Gregorios which means "alert, watchful, or vigilant."  The Griogar from whom the MacGregors claim descent would probably have been named after the famous Pope Gregory 'the Great' (Gregorius).  It was not unusual for MacAlpin kings to give Latin or Scandinavian names to their sons.  For example, Constantine was named after the famous Roman Emperor, and Indulf was named after a Viking leader.

In its Latin form of Gregorius, the name came to be associated by folk etymology with grex and gregis, meaning "flock" or "herd", and thus was interpreted as the Christian image of "the good shepherd". The name has generated a great many variant forms in different areas of Europe:  for example, Greig in Scotland, Grieg in Scandinavia, and Gregg or Grigg in England.


The Greig Name Today

Descendants of Clan MacGregor with the Greig surname are found all over the world.  The name most frequently occurs in regions that were settled by Scottish emigrants, including New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States.



Last Updated on Thursday, 06 January 2011 14:35

Did You Know ...

The country with the highest number of Greigs per capita is New Zealand with a frequency of approximately 256 Greigs per million people.