Bynames, or nicknames as the Sassenach say, are as much a part of our Scottish heritage as the bagpipes. The clan system meant that many people in the community used the name of the Chief as a surname therefore the surname had little relevance unless one travelled in the outside world.
To add further confusion, the Scots were not very imaginative in naming their offspring. Tradition required that the two eldest male children be named after the grandfathers and the two eldest females after the grandmothers, and so on, until most of the immediate family was honored with a namesake. Therefore one's name became somewhat meaningless in the local area.
This condition was continued in the highland communities of Nova Scotia.
Again many of the families in a place came from the same parish in Scotland. Take, for example, Earltown which drew its settlers from within a fifteen miles radius of Rogart in Sutherland. The majority of families belonged to the Sutherland, Murray, MacKay or Baillie clans.
The oldest form of Celtic identification was patrinomics where one was identified with reference to one's ancestors, e.g. John Mac Angus Mac Ian Mac William. This narrowed down the possibilities but was still mind boggling despite the Scots propensity for genealogy.
Personal characteristics ranked high among bynames. Hair color or complexion was often described as "dearg" (red), "ban" - fair, "buidh" - yellow. The "buidh" Murrays may not have boasted blond hair in generations but everyone knew the family by that name. Size was also popular as in Ian Beg (Little John) or Ian Mhor (Big John). As time went on Little John often became larger than Big John or a second generation would produce Little Johnny Big George. Unique trades would also produce a selection of new names. Gow was gaelic for a smith; clackan was a mason.
Most interesting is the attachment of the name of the family's Scottish croft to the surname.
The following is not an exhaustive study of bynames among the Murrays but rather a few that the writer has encountered in his research. He would be most interested to learn of others for his collection.
Ardachu (ard-a-who) - This Murray family came from a croft in Rogart with this name.Some of these names when mentioned in the wrong crowd could provoke a fight. Use with caution !!
Inchure (incure) - Another Murray family from Rogart who were known by this name in Earltown.
Og - gaelic for young. A second generation of the Ardachu.
Gorm - gaelic for blue. Tradition has it that an Earltown settler upset a pot of blue dye on the floor for which his descendants to this day bear the name.
Buidh - yellow - two Earltown families carried this name.
Codfish - two stories: 1) the ancestor's footprints in the snow resembled codfish. 2) the ancestor had to rush to River John to get provisions for a work crew; all he could get were two codfish which he brought home draped over the saddle horn.
Valley - These Murrays lived in the Valley near East Earltown.
Corrigan - This Murray lost his favorite hat overboard while crossing the Atlantic. He tried to persuade the captain to turn the ship around to get it thus creating a legend.
Craig - This Murray family settled on top of the highest point in Loganville.
Sheep - William Murray at West Branch was known to have gifted newly weds at the West Branch with a sheep.
Lassie - Donald Murray of Campbell's Hill was so called due to fair features.
Singadore - A Dalhousie Mountain family.
Clackie - Descendants of a West Branch mason.
Stroud - Origin unknown but assigned to a Murray Sheep family at West Branch.
Gracies - Descendants of a Grace Murray of Plainfield who was a Lassie before she was married and a Murray Hemlock after.
Hemlock - A Plainfield family, origin unknown.
Bonesetter - The emigrant had the art of setting bones. His Earltown descendants carried the name for several generations.
Stager - Emigrant was a plasterer and was named after the staging he used in his trade.