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What’s in a name?

How the Wigtownshire ‘Campbells’ of Southwest Scotland became the Scots Irish ‘Gambles’ (April 2023).
The spelling of a surname changes over both time and distance, and usually at the whim of an administrator unfamiliar with a surname who records it phonetically. In addition, all Gaelic (Irish and Scottish) surnames have been extensively anglicised, so much so that we can only now guess as to their original meaning. Commercial ancestral Y-DNA testing has also revealed that surname changes are more common for the Scots that passed through Ireland (Scots Irish/Ulster Scots)! In some instances, there are simple spelling changes, with Irving becoming Irvine, Ervine or Irwin, others are quite dramatic and lead to completely unrecognisable surnames, with for example ‘McWhirter’ becoming ‘Merryweather.’ Such surname changes can, with the passage of the generations, lead to changes in identity, with American Merryweathers assuming their ancestors were English rather than Gaelic Scots. 

The truth to the origin of the ‘Gamble’ surname in Ireland was revealed in a commercial ancestral Y-DNA test that explores the male Y chromosome which is only passed from father to son through the generations. Irish people named ‘Gamble’ were overwhelmingly Protestant in early census data, and hence the descendants of Plantation ‘English’ settlers (Gamble is a common English surname). Surprisingly, the ‘Gamble’ Y-DNA results reveal a mix of paternal genetic relatives with Irish and Scottish surnames, together with the Irish/Scots Irish-associated R-M222 DNA marker. You can read the Gamble Y-DNA Case Study by CLICKING HERE. It turns out that the test subject’s paternal ancestor was originally named Campbell’ and originated within Gaelic Wigtownshire in Southwest Scotland. 

It appears that there was a conscious decision to change the name from ‘Campbell’ to ‘Gamble.’ The question remains as to why one’s ancestors would do such a thing? The answer is quite simple. Campbell is a very common surname in Scotland AND Ireland (see accompanying image). One can image a scenario where a Wigtownshire Campbells lands in Ulster in Northern Ireland in around 1610AD, and tired with being confused with the more numerous Campbells from the Western Isles or even native Gaelic Irish Campbells, they simply record their surname as Gamble. However, with the passage of time, the link with the Campbell surname and their origin within Southwest Scotland disappears only to be rediscovered through the power of commercial DNA testing. What will your DNA reveal? Contact Irish Origenes for a FREE consultation CLICK HERE.


English Origenes

Scottish Origenes