In Scotland - as in the rest of Western Europe - there were four main ways of acquiring a surname:
- Patronymic - taking the father's first name e.g. Robertson
- Occupation - e.g. Smith (the most common surname of all)
- Locality - e.g. Wood
- Nickname - e.g. White, Little.
Patronymics - Lowland names such as Wilson, Robertson, Thomson and Johnson are among the most common surnames in Scotland. 'Mac' names are also patronymic. MacManus - son of Magnus. 'Mc' is just a printer's contraction and has no significance as to etymology.
Occupation - Names which are derived from trades and occupations - mostly found in towns. The most common of these is Smith (the most common surname in Scotland, England and the USA) but other examples would be Taylor (tailor) Baxter (baker) and Cooper (barrel maker).
Locality - In Scotland the tendency is for people to be named after places (in England the tendency is the opposite). Examples of such names are Morton, Lauder, Menzies and Galloway.
Nickname - Names which could refer to colour or size, e.g. White, Black, Small, Little. Scottish names in this category include Campbell (meaning 'crooked mouth'). Another example of nickname - this time referring to the bearers origins - is Scott.