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The Origins of the “Alexander” McCulloch Name: Canmore Kings and Lords of Galloway

Names, History, and Wild Speculation

Arguably, there is no more quintessential McCulloch forename than Alexander. Perhaps the most famous McCulloch was Sir Alexander “the Cutlar” McCulloch of Myreton who famously sacked Dunskey castle and raided the Isle of Man on multiple occasions. He was a favorite of Kings James III and IV of Scotland, and the king’s falconer.

A few notable Alexander McCullochs include:

  • Laird Alexander McCulloch who left his estates in the hands of John McCulloch of Ardwell, then Myreton to seek a greater fortune County Antrim;
  • Baron of Nova Scotia, Alexander McCulloch of Myreton;
  • Alexander McCulloch of Drummorrell, Member of the Scottish Parliament;
  • Alexander McCulloch of Cardoness who was betrothed to marry his second cousin Margaret McCulloch of Myreton, daughter of Sir Alexander McCulloch of Myreton;
  • Alexander McCulloch who was killed at the Battle of Flodden dressed as King James IV.

The first known McCulloch of the Highlands was Alexander McCulloch. In 1436, Alexander, Lord of the Isles (and Earl of Ross) granted Alexander McCulloch lands near Tain. This Alexander McCulloch may be the earliest recorded “Alexander McCulloch.”

So who was the first Alexander McCulloch?

We don’t know who the first Alexander McCulloch is, but we have some clues. Apparently the name Alexander was not used in Scotland prior to the adoption of the name by King Alexander II. Since the name has been used by every significant line of McCullochs we can assume that there was a common ancestor before the earliest recorded McCullochs: Thomas, William, and Michael who signed the Ragman Roll in 1296.

Lords of Galloway and Canmore Kings

In “Galloway: A Land Apart,” Andrew Mcculloch suggests that the McCullochs were granted much of their land by Lochlann, Lord of Galloway in the late 12th century. After Lochlann acquired lands previously held by his uncle who brutally killed Lochlann’s father, Uchtred, Lord of Galloway, Lochlann likely redistributed such lands to his supporters. In addition to being Lord of Galloway, Lochlann became Constable of Scotland through his marriage to Helena, daughter of Richard de Morville (Constable of Scotland). Lochlann ultimately became a close ally of King William I of Scotland (“William the Lion”). William was succeeded by his son, King Alexander II. (William I’s predecessors and successors of his line are referred to as the “Canmore Line”).

Lochlann was succeeded by his son Alan, Lord of Galloway. At Alan’s death, the Lordship of Galloway was split among the three husbands of Alan’s daughters. One daughter was Lady Dervorguilla. Her son, John Balliol, became King of Scotland following the death of King Alexander III. During the interregnum following King Alexander III’s death, the McCullochs were loyal supporters of John Balliol in opposition to the claims of Robert the Bruce.

If Andrew McCulloch is correct that the McCullochs benefitted from the patronage of Lochlann, we might also surmise that they continued to benefit from the patronage of Lochlann’s liege, King William I, then his son Alexander II.

The Earliest Known McCullochs

King John Balliol reigned from 1292-1296 with the backing of King Edward I. In 1296, Sir Thomas McCulloch and his brothers William and Michael, signed the Ragman Rolls swearing fealty to King Edward I of England (just as their King, John Balliol, had done).

Name Origin Speculation

Assuming the McCullochs were indeed the beneficiaries of patronage from the Lords of Galloway and the Canmore Kings, this might offer clues about some forename origins. We know that William McCulloch was a prominent landholder by 1296. The family forename of “William” might have originally honored King William I, who died in 1214. Although we don’t know when the McCulloch’s started using the forename Alexander, we might surmise that this name honored King Alexander II, who died in 1249.

It is also worth noting that another quintessential name still in use today is “John McCulloch.” The first recorded use of this name is Sir Patrick McCulloch’s son John who fought at the Battle of Durham in 1346. Sir Patrick was a Balliol loyalist. It is likely this John was named for King John Balliol.


Idle musing about forename and surname origins is fun in it’s own right. But, if this hypothesis is accurate, we might understand the early McCullochs a little better. The McCullochs were loyal to the local Lords of Galloway, and by implication likely to the Canmore kings as well. The McCullochs were also loyal partisans of the Balliols. Despite the casual assertion by authors like P. H. McKerlie that the McCullochs were traitors for not backing King Robert the Bruce, the McCullochs appear to have resiliently upheld the oaths they had made to the Lords of Galloway, then extended that fealty to the Canmore and Balliol kings.

If all this is true, we may know the origins of the names Alexander, William, and John, even if we don’t know exactly who the first McCullochs were to bear these names.*

Photo Credit: Dunskey Castle, by Bob Shand