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From FHM issue 155

What’s in a name? Russell

The name Russell is most often defined as being ‘a common patronymic given to the son of a person with red hair’. Since hair colour is passed down genetically, it is likely that most early Russells would have been ginger-headed. The word comes from the old French word ‘rous’ for red and many namesakes were Norman immigrants.

            Unusually for our ‘What’s in a Name?’ feature, as most surnames have one clear area of origin, this month we can see that the name definitely has two, having evolved separately and simultaneously in both Scotland and England. The two areas are so disparate and discrete that the main area of density has shifted wildly in the last 120 years – from Tunbridge Wells in Kent to Motherwell in North Lanarkshire.

            The wide dissemination of the moniker is no doubt due to its connection to early French settlers who were given land to settle all over England and Scotland. Backing up the theory of a Norman connection is the fact that the name is one of the earliest recorded surnames in Scotland – the first was one Walter Russell, who witnessed a charter in Paisley Abbey some time between 1164 and 1177.

            The Russell clan of Scotland was controversially started by an Englishman – one Baron Rozel – who had fought at the siege of Berwick and the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333 and thus obtained an estate at Aden, Aberdeenshire. Perhaps the English roots are the reason that the clan no longer has a recognised form or chief! Other Scottish Russells included a rogue monk, Jerome Russell, who was burned at the stake in Glasgow high street for heresy in 1539, and many Lowland Russells who fought or served in colonial India. .

            In England one branch of the Russell family started out with the name ‘Rufus’ (a variant) and rose to become the Dukes of Bedford. The third son of the 6th Duke of Bedford studied at Edinburgh University where he was greatly influenced by the independent and democratic philosophy taught there. His grandson, the 3rd Earl Russell, was also an independent thinker, better known as the philosopher Bertrand Russell (pictured right).

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