The McCubbin Name

Professional genealogist, Ian McClumpha states, “Mr. Black, in his book The Surnames of Scotland, says of MacCubbin/McCubbin, “An old Dumfriesshire surname and a common one in the Stewartry.” This book is often regarded as the ‘Bible’ of Scottish surnames, and although errors have been found in Mr. Black’s work his reputation is intact. Black does not explain the origins of the McCubbin name. He quotes several ‘sightings’; the earliest, dated 1398, being the safe conduct given to Brice Macobyn, a Scottish Merchant, to trade in England. This letter does exist, it is held in the British Library in London in the Scottish Collection. Other mentions of the name appear mainly in Dumfriesshire. McCubbinstone in Dunscore parish appears in a Sasine record in 1645, Jean Freschie spouse of Robert McCubbin, son of John McCubbin in Makcubbeinton, and Dalfibble Mill in Kirkmichael parish.

At least it seems safe to assume that the McCubbins originated from South-West Scotland. The name is almost certainly a Gaelic corruption, proved by the ‘Mc’ prefix; the rest has been lost over the many years of its existence. Whether they moved Eastwards from a South Ayrshire/Wigtownshire base or Westwards from Dumfriesshire is a matter for speculation. One point which favours the Western origins is that most names of this type, known as ‘Galloway Macs’, appear to have originated in the Western part of South-West Scotland probably because the Gaelic influence lasted much longer there than in the English influenced East. Scoto-Gaelic was known and spoken in Galloway for several centuries after Anglo-Saxon had become the main tongue in Scotland sometime around the thirteenth century.

Spelling did not stabilise until the late Victorian era. We need to think ‘phonetically’, and with an accent that is almost Irish, for names in South-West Scotland. McKibbon, McCubbin, McCubbing are all the same name but written by different people. Even amongst families there were variants. The classic case often referred to is our National Bard, Robert Burns. His father spelt the name ‘Burnes’, but Robert dropped the ‘e’. On the other side of Robert’s father’s family, the name has developed into ‘Burness”.

Prior to the 20th century, a large portion of the population in Scotland was illiterate. There were many variations of the McCubbin name. It largely depended on the minister, registrar, or census taker and how they heard the name pronounced or how they chose to spell it in their particular domain.

Thus, we find: McCubbin, MacCubbin, MacCubbing, McCubin, McCubine, M’Cubyn, Macobyn, Makcubeyn, Makcubyn, M’Cubein, McUbein, McAbin, MacUbine, M’Cwbene, M’ubin, MacCubie, M’Cubbe, Makcumbyne, M’Cubene…and even McCappon. McKibbone and McKibben also can be variations in Ireland.

McGibbon has also been known to be a variation. Catherine McGibbon, was witness to the marriage of her sister, Jane McCubbin. (they had moved to Glasgow from Kirkmaiden).

By the 20th century, the spelling McCubbin is found to be the most common spelling throughout Scotland. MacCubbin and MacCubbing are found to a lesser degree.

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