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From FHM issue 138

What's in a name? Ross

This month we turn our attention to the very Scottish surname of Ross. Unsurprisingly, the name comes from the area of Ross – what is now the county of Ross and Cromarty – in north-west Scotland. Ross is renowned for its natural beauty and varied landscape, with mountains, plains, forest and beaches. It was first founded as a mormaerdom (medieval Scottish Kingdom) in the middle ages and its name is thought to come either from the Gaelic word Ros, meaning headland, or from the Norse word, Hross, for horse.

            Ross is the 116th most popular name in the UK, but the 15th most common in Scotland; with the largest proportion of Rosses living in and around Inverness and in Ross and Cromarty. Many people bearing the Ross moniker will be members of the Clan Ross – descended from the members of the original tribe. The current Clan Chief is David Campbell Ross, who has held the title since 1968 and is entitled to bear the arms of the Clan Ross (see crest badge, directions). However, he no longer resides in the Clan seat, Balnagowan Castle, as this is now the holiday home of Harrod’s owner and Egyptian billionaire, Mohammed Al-Fayed. 

            Those few Rosses who find their roots do not come from northern Scotland and the clan’s country could find that the origin of their name stems from the Welsh Rhos, meaning moor or bog, or the Middle-English Rous, for red-haired.

             Alongside about 43,000 people who bear the surname Ross, there are about half as many again (19,000) with Ross as their forename. Glancing at the birth indexes for the years between 1837 and 2004, it is even possible to find 28 unfortunates named Ross Ross! Other names associated with the Clan Ross include: Anderson; Andrew; Corbett; Crowe; Denoon; Dingwall; Duthie; Fair; Gair; Gear; Gillander; Haggart; MacAndrew; MacLullich; MacCulie; MacTaggart; MacTear; MacTire; Taggart; Tulloch; Tyre; Vass and Wass.

            Historically, the name Ross has been connected to exploration and adventure. Perhaps the most famous men to bear the name were explorers Sir John Ross (1777–1856), (see the Coat of Arms, below) and his nephew, James Clark Ross (1800–1862), who discovered the North Pole. James Clark went on to explore the South Pole, too, and gave his name to the Ross Sea, Ross Land and the Ross Dependency of New Zealand. More recently Jerry Lynn Ross (born 1948), a US astronaut, has pushed the boundaries of modern exploration, with seven space missions and a record-breaking 23 hours of spacewalking under his belt.

            Sir Ronald Ross (1857–1932) made great steps forward in the world of science, becoming the first person to establish a connection between mosquitoes and the disease Malaria. His work won him the 1902 Nobel Prize for Medicine and he was also knighted in 1911. Another knight of the realm to bear the name was Sir William David Ross, a Scottish philosopher who wrote about ethics and was Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University during the 1940s.

            As with any name, there are rogues as well as heroes. Sir Charles Henry Augustus Frederick Lockhart Ross (1872–1942), inventor of the Ross Rifle, walked a fine line between the two. His contribution to the war effort during the Second Boer and First World wars were praised by the British Government; but he was declaimed as an outlaw after he attempted to avoid taxes by declaring his Scottish estate a territory of the USA!

            Rosses also rule in many fields of entertainment and performing arts. Famous Americans include composer Jerry Ross, who wrote the hit Broadway musical The Pygama Game and soul singer, Diana Ross, who was pronounced the most successful female artist of the last century by The Guinness Book of Records. Noted Hollywood actress Katharine Ross won an Oscar nomination for her role in The Graduate in 1968, while home-grown celeb, Jonathan ‘Wossie’ Ross, has made his name as a presenter and film critic – even though he can’t pronounce it!

 Researching Rosses

Those seeking more information on the Ross name should make their first step joining the Roots Web mailing lists for the Clan Ross ( or the Ross surname ( Other websites worth a visit include, the Clan Ross website, and the Tain Museum site (, which outlines the history of the Tain’s most common name. And of course, there’s always the excellent Guild of One-Name Studies (GOONS), which you can find online at

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