Various Spellings of Our Surname in Census and Government Records

Originally the Scottish General Registery combined all the various spellings as one name which made MACDONALD (including the alternate spellings)the second most frequent name in Scotland (SMITH was #1).   The first census (name registry) in Scotland had more McDonald’s than Macdonalds, but combined the spellings.  But more recent registries have had more Mac’s than Mc’s and this is is the case today in Scotland.  Recent census have recorded the two spellings as two different names which caused both spellings to drop down the list considerably (today MacDonald is the 9th most frequent name in Scotland and McDonald the 24th).  So today the Mac spelling is more frequently found in Scotland and Canada and  Mc is more frequently found in other countries such as the USA, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand. The 2010 USA censuslisted McDonald the 127th most frequent name in the USA.  MacDonald was much less frequent at 685th.  McDaniel @ 323 was far more frequent than MacDonald and McConnell @ 800, and Donaldson @ 897 were slighly less frequent than MacDonald in the USA. The 2000 USA census found McDonald slightly less frequent @ 129th, McDaniel @ 323rd, and MacDonald @ 687th, McConnell @ 802nd and Donaldson slightly less frequent @899th.  One can only imagine how the frequency of the surname in the USA would be affected if the various surname spellings were combined as the same surname.  One problem when attempting to find “the original spelling” of a surname is that the same document may contain various spellings when referring to the same individual.  I have an 1811 Scottish document that lists my ancestor Moses McDonald three different ways: McDonald, M’Donald, & MacDonald on the same page!  He signed the document on each page:

Anciently neither the prefix mac or the patronymic name were capitalized (as in mhic domhnaill). Later variations such as adding capital letters and combining the name into one word depended on the region and how the chief spelled his name. It wasn’t until the 19th century that someone proposed the name should not have a capital letter D unless the person’s father literally had the given name Donald. The most obvious example of the various spellings being  the signatures found in the 3rd volume of The Clan Donald history completed in 1904. The authors of The Clan Donald (who spelled their name “Macdonald”) included 11 pages of signatures of prominent members of Clan Donald. Despite the multiple signatures, written in their own hand with various spellings, the authors chose to type each name “Macdonald” at the bottom of each page.    Several of the signatures are spelled “MackDonald”. Whatever motive the authors had, they went to great effort to show consistency where there was none.  In reality there were multiple acceptable ways to spell the surname when this beautiful history was published in 1904.

Immigration records and conformity to accepted spellings in the Scottish immigrant’s new land often accounted for changes. Some Glengarry McDo.mnaills changed the spelling when they immigrated to areas where the name was commonly spelled MacDonald or McDonald. The spelling of the name may or may not indicate from which branch of Clan Donald you are descended. You will be more successful tracing your ancestry if you don’t impose modern spelling practices on our ancestors. Our name is hundreds of years older than the current practice of only one acceptable spelling of a word.  Differences in spelling may be helpful in tracing your specific family line in Clan Donald, but eventually you may find your ancestors changed the spelling more than once.  All the variations eventually trace back to the original mhic domhnaill or McDo.mnaill.