The Early Sinclairs of Argyll
By Karen J. Matheson
How is it possible that the McNokairds of Argyll became known
by the surname Sinclair? For it is certain that the McNokairds of Argyll and
their descendants became Sinclairs in the late 17th and early
The transformation of the name McNokaird to Sinclair was not as
strange and convoluted as may first appear. Instead, the transition can be
easily shown, its various stages occurring through the three languages that have
been used in Scotland over the centuries: Gaelic, Scots and English. The name
change took place on both a phonetic level and a literal, or meaning, level. The
same transformation occurred with the Gaelic Mac an fhucadair, which
meant son of the fuller of cloth. The phonetic Scots spelling became
MacNucator, while the Scots meaning was `wauker.' The English
version of this name became Walker. Thus, many of the Walkers in Scotland
descend from the clan Mac an fhucadair.
According to George F. Black's
Surnames of Scotland:
Their Meaning, Origin and History,
McNokaird roots are in the Gaelic Mac
na cearda, which means son of the smith. Specifically, a cerd
worked in brass. Anciently, the ceard was a craftman par excellence.
Black states that these craftsmen created many of the fine old Highland
plaid brooches of brass, which are exhibited at Edinburgh's Scottish
National Museum of Antiquities. However, "the term was degraded and applied
to the poorest class of intinerant artificers, patchers of pots and pans, and
equated with Scots tinker." Black then quotes part of Robert Burns'
poem The Jolly Beggar, which I include more fully:
"When thus the caird address'd her:
My bonie lass, I work in brass,
A tinkler is my station:
I've travell'd round all Christian ground
In this my occupation;
I've taen the gold, an been enrolled
In many a noble squadron;
But vain they search'd when off I march'd
To go an clout* the
So, at the time Robert Burns wrote the poem (1780s-1790s), we
know that the term caird was still associated with tinkler. One can imagine that
this nickname derived from the actual tinkling sound made by the pots and pans
as they were being re-shaped, pounded, molded and patched. `Tinkler'
replaced ceard and came to be negatively associated with wandering,
gypsy-like pot-patchers. The word has further been refined to the English
Tinkler was found only once in the Argyll parish records as a
surname: Duncan Tinkler, son of Duncan Tinkler and Cristin NcTaylor
[sic], was christened on 6 September 1668 in Inveraray and Glenaray. No
further reference to this family was found. A handful of other Tinklers were
found in Renfrew and Stirling. Therefore, it seems that ``tinkler''
became a slang term, while Sinclair became the surname for those descendants of
the early mac na ceards or McNokairds.
Black makes specific reference to McNokairds in early records,
a few of which I include here: Gillecreist M'Conoquhy Duy VcNocarde in record in
Arygll, 1574; again in 1580 as Gillcreist Makonchy Duff V'Nokerd, native servant
to Campbell of Glenurquhy; Patrick Dow M'Nokerd in Auchinchalden and Angus
M'Nokerd in Braklead, 1638; Archibald M'Nokaird was merchant burgess of
Inveraray, 1695; and Dond. McNougard in Gerrich, ISLAY, 1741.
The lists of rebels and fencible men as seen in Duncan C.
MacTavish's The Commons of Argyll include McNokairds. The List of
Rebels in 1685 includes the following: John McNokerd in Stonalbanach (Kilmichell
parish, Glassarie); Martin Mcinkerd in Lagandaroch (Kilmartin parish); Gilbert
Mcnokerd in Barbreckmore (Craignes parish); Malcom McNokaird in Durren (Dallaich
parish); Martin Mcinkerd in Bovuy (Kilchrenan and Inchaell parishes); John,
Duncan, Malcom McNokerd in Killean (Glenaray parish).
The 1692 List of Fencible Men lists numerous McNokairds.
Included in Kilmore and Kilbride "excepting Lochnell's and Dunstaffnage's
lands" are Ard. SINKALLAR and Jon SINKALLAR, as well as Ard. MCNACAIRD and
The McNokairds lived in northern Argyll and into present-day
Perth as well, whose western borders adjoin Argyll. An article printed in
The Kist made reference to Sinclairs, known as McNokairds, who lived at
Coulfochan at the foot of Shira Glen in Argyll. "Their land stretched from
the south end of the Dhuloch to Portinstonich, where the salmon for the table at
Inveraray Castle was netted. The house of the Sinclairs has long since
disappeared but was probably sited near the present-day lodge house at the
Boshang Gate, entrance to the Castle avenue. This family were not really
Sinclairs at all, but McNokairds."
Parish registers in Inveraray & Glenaray are some of the
earliest extant for Argyll. Available documentation does not show Sinclairs
living in Coulfochan, but instead reveal that McNokairds did, indeed, live in
Coulfochan: Donald McNokaird and Ann McNokaird of Cualfochan [sic]
christened their son Duncan on 25 April 1860, while Duncan McNokerd and Mary
McInturner lived in Cuilfochan [sic] in 1704. Other residences for
McNokairds noted in parish registers include Brenthoill/Bromhoil, Auchinbreck,
Bralockan, Killian, Penmore, Bracherban and Stronshiray (spelling questionnable
Analysis of families in Argyll reveal two in particular that
appear to be the closest thing to `proof' of the name change. The
first family is that of Malcolm McNokaird and Ann Crawford, who were "of
Stronshiray" in Inveraray & Glenaray parishes. Their first three
children (daughters) were: Jonet, christened 17 Apr 1705; Margaret, christened 4
May 1707; and Mary, christened 30 May 1708.
Then Malcolm SINCLAIR and Ann Crawford, "of
Stronshiray" had the following two sons christened under the name Sinclair,
not McNokaird: Donald Sinclair, christened 7 March 1721; and Patrick Sinclair,
christened 25 August 1723.
The coincidence of same names and same locale, with the only
variation being the surnames of McNokaird and Sinclair, cannot be quickly
dismissed. Indeed, it suggests a definite time period when Malcolm's
surname underwent its transformation. (The gaps in birth years of children is
explained away by many years when christening records weren't kept and various
The second suggestion or `proof' was also found in
parish registers and is illustrated in the following: Archibald Sinclair, son of
Neil Sinclair, married Janet Reid, sister of John Reid, on 14 November
1720. When Archibald Sinclair and Janet Reid christened their daughter Mary on
13 November 1721, the witnesses were recorded as John Reid and Neil
McNokaird. It appears that the father Neil was known interchangeably as both
Sinclair and McNokaird.
McNokairds were found extensively in the parish records for
Perth as well, under the spelling McIncaird. (A few McNokairds were also found
in Stirling and Moray Shires.) The same name change took place in Perth as well,
although the use of the McNokaird name continued here later than it did in
Argyll. It was in Perth parish records that definitive proof of the name change
Donald MCNAKEARD "alias Sinclar" married Kathren
Anderson on 8 December 1739 in Kenmore parish, Perth. Six years later, John
SINCLAIR, born to Donald SINCLAIR "alias McIncaird" and Katrine
Anderson, was christened 7 January 1746 in Kemore. The distinction that Donald
was known by both names, first McNakeard [sic] and later by Sinclair,
leaves no doubt that the name change did take place.
The use of the surname McNokaird died out by about 1750. The
parish registers and other records show the rising use of Sinclair in its
place. The increase of Sinclair appearances in Argyll records is due to this
change-over more than sudden populations of Sinclairs appearing in Argyll. The
name transformation also explains the close relationship between the
"Sinclairs" of Argyll and the Campbells at a time when the Campbells
and members of the traditional Clan Sinclair were engaged in a dispute over the
title and lands of Caithness.
This dispute culminated in the bloody
battle at Altimarlach,
near Wick, between these two clans.
It is certain that some of the Sinclairs in Argyll (possibly
those listed as `strangers' in the Cowal penninsula) came in
response to advertisments and demand for labor, and were members of the
traditional clan Sinclair whose origins can be found in
However, most of the Sinclairs in Argyll are descendants of the
craftsmen par excellence who were members of the Clan Mac na
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 12:58:50 -0600
I used George F. Black's
Surnames of Scotland,
Their Origin, Meaning and History
as the basis for my article, as I'm sure was obvious. George
Fraser Black (1866-1948) held a PhD, and the above book was published in
1946. Surnames of Scotland, of course, has become the most
authoritative source for Scottish surnames.
This view is held by Sharon L. Krossa, whom I also used as a source.
Ms. Krossa is affiliated with Aberdeen University and maintains a
website called "Scottish Names 101" at
I then used the LDS church's database of Scottish Church Records as a
means of sorting and collating information, while I also had available
to me on microfilm the original, hand-written parish registers. Through
the use of these, I was able to document the transition of the name and
"prove" (as far as possible at this point in time) George F. Black's
statements regarding Argyll Sinclairs.
Whether they were shinglers
or tinklers is not terribly importantwhat
is important is that the Argyll Sinclairs (and those in the Western
Isles) had roots in the Clan mac na cearda (gaelic). The Scots form of
this name was McNokaird, and from approximately 1685-1750 the use of
McNokaird made its transition to the English Sinclair. I believe it's
important for Sinclairs who trace their roots back to Argyll to have
this information. However, I'm sure that not every single Sinclair in
Argyll were McNokairdssome undoubtedly originated in the traditional
I agree with you that under the Restoration of the Clans promoted by
Sir Walter Scott,
Prince Albert and Queen Victoria from
1790-1820, all Sinclairs can unite under the current Clan and Tartan
I appreciate your interest and your comments.
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 16:22:23 -0400|
From: Juli <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: RE: McNokairds--The Early Sinclairs of Argyll
The research on the McNokairds is sound. I know because I have spent hours
rolling microfilm staring at the old hand-written parish records until my
eyes hurt. I have spent countless dollars printing out pages from many
different Argyll parishes' records. WHY? Because it is important to me to
be accurate. Karen and I began researching the McNokairds separately -
neither knowing the other was doing so.
When Karen shared with me her findings - as much as I respect her - I did
not take a word for it. I went back and rechecked her entries and continue
to push for more. I have spent hours on the phone with the District
Archivist and others in Argyll, letters to every contact I know or can find
connected scholarly with the history of Argyll, bought every book, hunted
down every magazine article I can find or entry from Historical Review.
I am sure for every hour I have put in Karen has put in 2. Karen I applaud
you for your diligence in your research and your deep commitment to help
other Sinclairs with Argyll roots know their heritage.
I have three of my granny's kilts that she gave me - all various Sinclair
tartans and I am proud to wear them as my own.
Most importantly - everybody should check and recheck everything they are
ever told. We have been given a great gift from the LDS Church of both
their on-line site and the microfilmed parish records. Remember never take
the IGI INDEX or the Scots Origin INDEX at their word - get to your local
FHC and have fun actually researching your lineage. The Clan and Tartan are
the trimmings - rejoice in knowing your ancestors through little snap-shots
of their lives. Then follow-up and read everything you can on the local
history during the time period you are researching - it puts much into
Again- Karen thanks for a great article. Keep up the great work. And John,
thanks again for a great site and this chance to "chat" with other
Princeton, NJ USA
But Always Argyll
From: "Neil Sinclair/Peggy Rintoul"
Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 18:08:25 -0400
Argyll is a Sinclair homeland unique in its beauty and profound in its
I was going to add a bit of electronic applause to Karen, Juli
and Rebecca, who are three of the finest researchers I have has occasion to
every know and work with. The material on Argyll is accurate from the
perspective of first language, secondly geography, and then from known genealogy
and in the context of an appreciation of social history. Members should be
cautious not to draw conclusions which are simply conjecture from the evidence.
There are unanswered questions
and mysteries. Also the original material we have from Argyll is
also limited in the sense that it is not always complete, there are gaps and
there is a period beyond which it is hard to conclude there will be any original
evidence, mostly because it never existed in the first place and many questions
and mysteries will continue.
The Argyll Sinclair history and genealogy is unique and singular
back to the mid 1600's. Many of the early Sinclairs were descended from the
McKokairds in the mid Argyll region around the head of Loch Fyne. There is no
evidence at all to suggest that they were or were not connected to the clan in
Caithness at the time and if so, exactly how they were. The is solid evidence to
being connected by name in any event. Members need to be cautious as to just how
the clan system worked and much of the current appreciation and conceptions does
come, (as Karen astutely points out), from the romantic revival of the clans in
the 1800's which reinvented the clans from a system that had been made unlawful.
Many Sinclairs originally from Argyll do have their roots
directly from the McKokairds, but some others which have been located in Argyll
in the early 1700's may, or may not, have been directly related to the earliest
McKokairds. Like Sinclairs of today, the Sinclairs of 1600-1700 moved around and
were not staying neatly within the borders of
Caithness. Those with applied
mechanical skills or crafts were more mobile. By mid 1700 to 1900 there was a
further influx into Argyll of many clan members (Sinclairs among many others),
including both Scots and English names in response to migrations departing from
Argyll opening up new economic opportunities within the county. Argyll is in the
Highlands NW of Glasgow, and the Sinclairs can take pride in the contribution
they made through their talents and their hard work to Argyll to this very day.
Forever Argyll, yours aye;
Neil Sinclair, Toronto, P.E.I.,
The Evolution of Clanship in Argyll
Date: Wed, 12 May 1999 10:34:53 -0400
From: Juli <email@example.com>
For a well written, concise education on the evolution of Clanship in Argyll
I highly recommend Eric Cregeen's (late Reader in Scottish Studies at the
University of Edinburgh) article 'The Changing Role of the House of Argyll'
in the book Scotland in the Age of Improvement
edited by N.T. Phillipson
(Reader in History at the University of Edinburgh) and Rosalind Mitchison
(Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of
Edinburgh). (pgs 5-23) Mr.. Cregeen covers the political situation in the
highlands, the traditional clan structure and land-tenure, the cultural
influence of the south and the economic conditions among other areas.
Great reading as are other articles in the book such as 'Law and Society in
Eighteenth-Century Scottish Though' by Peter Stein, 'The Government and the
Highlands, 1707-1766' by John M. Simpson and 'Education and Society in the
Eighteenth Century' by Donald J. Withrington.
Each article lists notes with the reference material for further
investigation should you wish to understand more.
Princeton, NJ USA
But Always Argyll
Re: Origin of Irish Sinclairs: Sinclair -> Nokaird?
Date: Thu, 19 Sep 2002 14:10:17 -0400
From: "Toni Sinclair"
Just to put in my 2 cents worth:
I've been researching the Sinclairs on the little Isle of Islay, Argyllshire
for several years. Of all the documents I have found prior to 1749, I've
only found one mention of a Sinclair (1732 baptism of an Effie Sinclair.
Father's name unreadable). LOTS of McNokairds (various spellings), back to
as far as 1541.
After 1745, there is no mention of any McNokaird anywhere on the island,but
LOTS of Sinclairs. I know this is not conclusive, but I did discuss this
with Dr. David Caldwell, Curator of Antiquities, National Museums of
Scotland in Edinburgh, who could also find no McNokairds on Islay after
1745. He actually mentioned it in his article for the Argyll Colony Plus
(Journal of the North Carolina Scottish Heritage Society), vol. 16, #2, July
2002, "The Ilich - People of Islay."
"......There is another Islay family of interest in this context, the
MacNocards. Their name is derived from the Gaelic for the son of the ceard,
meaning a smith or metalworker, often with the sense of someone who worked
in copper and silver rather than iron. There was a Gilchrist McNarkerde in
Braid (Kilchoman P.) in 1541 and several tenants with this surname occur in
later rentals on various Islay lands, including Gearach in the Parish of
Kilchoman (Donald McNokard in 1733 and 1741). It is believed that at a
later date MacNokards in Argyll generally adopted the name Sinclair (Book of
Islay, p 488 ), and Sinclairs do indeed turn up in Islay rentals of the
The lands of Braid and Gearach are adjacent to each other, and the
former possibly indluded, or was certainly near, Caonis Gall, said to have
been the home of the MacEachern smiths (Exchequer Rolls, vol. 17, 555 ).
There is also a small valley called the Gleann na Ceardaich (glen of the
smiddy)less than a mile to the north. It is possible that the MacNokards
were also descended from the MacEachern smiths of the Lords of the Isles.
It is worth pointing out that the tenants of Gearach in 1733 included Donald
McNodard, Archibald McKecheran and Donald Smith, perhaps all distantly
related.(Cawdor Papers, Cawdor Castle Estate Office, Bundle 655, Rental of
Islay for 1631)".....
I've tried for ages to connect one tenant list with the name of McNokaird to
the later tenant list naming Sinclair with the same first name. No luck.
Some lists were in deplorable, unreadable condition (Sandy and I actually
received permission from the Countess of Cawdor to read all the documents in
bundle 655), and there were many gaps, because leases often ran for several
years, and it wasn't necessary to list the tenants each year.
I've narrowed the gap, I THINK! I am quite sure that the grandfather of
Archibald Sinclair, founder of the Celtic Press in Glasgow, was Archibald
McNokaird, mentioned in the Stent Book of 1745. since the younger man was
in publishing, and a fairly prominent businessman in the mid-1800s, I'm
trying to find an autobiography or biography about him. Apparently there is
one in a back issue of a magazine in Edinburgh. I've written several time
to purchase it, with no response. I've finally asked a friend near
Edinburgh to go to the shop to purchase it for me. I will keep you all
Last changed: $Date: 2002/11/15 14:19:46 $