A Lowland Origin of the Name
Many Morrisons from the Lowlands of Scotland are “sons of Maurice.” Maurice was a given name brought to Scotland by the Normans a couple of hundred years before surnames were adopted. Since many of these Normans held large feudal estates and positions of power, they were influential beyond their numbers. In Scotland, Maurice was often spelled “Morice” and was pronounced “Morris.” The surname Morrison then developed in the same way that may other Scottish Lowland names did (e.g., Davidson, Robertson, Wilson, Jameson, etc.).
A Gaelic Origin of the Name
It was common among early Gaelic-speaking Christians in Scotland and Ireland to name children after a saint. To honor the Virgin Mary (Moire in Scottish Gaelic), sons would be named Gille Mhoire, meaning “servant of the Virgin Mary.” Later, when surname designations were adopted, descendants of someone so named adopted the surname Mac Ghille Mhoire. The gradual anglicization of names in Scotland resulted in this name being spelled in different ways, often due to local influences and patterns. One obvious direct anglicization, Gilmour (or Gilmore), is very common in the area around Inverness. In Gaelic-speaking areas where anglicizing influences were strong, some Mac Ghille Mhoires became Morrisons. This name, while not a direct translation of the Gaelic, apparently was close enough for the Scots- and English-speaking officials who kept the parish records. It is informative to trace the evolution of the name Mac Ghille Mhoire in the Carrick district of South Ayrshire, where Gaelic continued to be spoken through the 1600′s. The name appears as MacIlmorrie in the 1500′s and appears to gradually change to Morrison in the northern part of that district, where it was closer to the anglicizing influences of Ayr and Glasgow. However, in the more remote southern part of Carrick, the name seems to have changed to MacIlmurry, then MacMurray and eventually simply Murray. The Morrison DNA Project has recently found DNA matches between Morrisons and McMorrises, and is investigating possible connections between Morrisons and McLemores (who seem to have another variation of this same Gaelic name). It seems that the form of the name that a family has today may depend in large degree on whether or when the family left the original district in Scotland.