by Peter A. MacRae


Before setting out this brief history, it is important to set certain matters straight. First, consider the name and spelling of ‘MacRae’: the spelling used here, it is conceded, is the modern evolved version, which is ordinarily met with in most accounts since the turn of the century. It is the same family whether spelled ‘McRae’ or ‘Macrae’ which are the commonest Highland variants. It’s simply a matter of style or custom. (The writer’s own family has frequent occurrences of all three spellings) Outside the Highlands, the spellings ‘(Mc)MacCrae,’ ‘(Mc)MacCrea’ are often encountered. Sometimes the ‘Mac/Mc’ is dropped altogether especially where a migrant settled in an area hostile to Scottish culture, and the names (C)Rae, (C)Rea, Crow, Craw originated.

In olden times the name was ‘Mc’ or ‘MacRath’ and in old Strathglass records it is found variously as ‘McRa, McCra(e), McKray‘ amongst others since there was no standardised spelling into English from its Gaelic root. The Gaelic MacRath (pronounced ‘MacCra‘) is not a patronymic. It is thought to have an ecclesiastical origin and is recorded in Ireland as far back as 448 AD. The patronymic of the main recorded branch of the MacRaes is ‘MacGillechriosd ‘or ‘McGilchrist’. Translated this means ‘son of the servant of Christ’ or ‘son of Christopher’ which is broadly analogous to ‘McRath’ which means ‘son of grace’. The patronymic occurs generally as a Christian name in the MacRaes although in Strathglass it was used as a surname both with and without the clan name.