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The Origins of the Surname Laird

Pronounced in Scotland "Layurrd" or "Leyrrd"

Conventionally Lairds are first recorded in the south of Scotland in the 13th Century when one Roger Lawird of Berwick made an agreement with the Abbey of Kelso relating to his land of Waldefgat in 1257.Thomas le Lanerd of Peebleshire rendered homage in 1296. In 1552, Thomas Lairde was a witness in Glasgow. As far as we know there are no connections between them and our Norse ancestors.

There has been some interesting correspondence in the Laird "rootsweb" discussion pages, which points us back, at least in part, to an origin which is common with the Sinclairs. So much so that I am beginning to doubt the often quoted "southern" origins. The first references are to the surname "Lanerd" and "Lawird". Sinclair has not changed so much throughout the last 1000 years, so I wonder why "Laird" should have. The story one Laird family has in the USA is that the "Lairds" were descended from a warlord "Hlawford" from Saxony, in Germany, who settled in Aberdour, Buchan, Aberdeenshire. It is contained in a letter by W T Laird written on 31st December 1888.  This story was supposed to have been found by a Heraldic Commissioner in Chancery in London. The College of Arms in London have investigated their records and confirm that there is nothing to it. We were able to check the other elements in the story which prove to be correct.

There were Lairds at Aberdour in Buchan, Aberdeenshire. The modern town is New Aberdour, but it is still a parish name. There was a castle and before that a fort at Dundargue at Aberdour Bay of great antiquity. The area suffered in the attempts to retain James VII as King against William of Orange, and there had been fighting there during the Civil War in Scotland some 50 years earlier.

There was a Henry Harnage in Shropshire, on the Severn. I have checked further into his ancestry through the IGI. His father was from Blackfriars in London and his father in turn was possibly named Blackman, and was born in the West Indies. They appear to have been rather "grand" but may have made their money in the West Indies and had certainly created a position for themselves. Perhaps they took the few facts that W T Laird's brother knew and made something more of it to achieve more status for a prospective son-in-law?

Perhaps he was aware of William Laird of Glenhuntly, who had a grant of Arms from the Lord Lyon in 1777.  William was one of the
Shipbuilding Family, later to establish themselves in Birkenhead.  Glenhuntly was in the area of the Port of Glagow, in Renfrewshire.

William Laird's Arms have the Stag's Head of Rollo as the crest. Rollo was a real warlord. He was a Viking with a large following, and raided in the North Sea to the extent that the French King granted him the land that became Normandy, and gave rise to the Norman people. It was the Vikings who dominated the seas in the 900s and 1000s and their domination continued until the Battle of Largs. For 600 years Scotland, down to Perth was part of the Kingdom of Norway.

So perhaps the Arms he refers to are those of William Laird of Glenhuntly. And the warlord is a memory of Rollo. So I believe all still points back to Norway. This is what my family remembers. And it is the Sinclairs who are the direct descendants of Rollo. And I believe the Lairds, in Caithness at least, have always been alongside the Sinclairs. Perhaps in Aberdeenshire they were with that other great Norman Clan, the Gordons.

On a visit to Caithness in 2002, we met one of the last Lairds to be born there, now Calder, Ella.  The tradition in her family, as in ours, is that the Lairds are Norse in origin, as are most of the Caithness families. There may still be a southern Scots origin of Laird, as in the conventional references, but I still think many of us should look to Norway for our origins.