Origins of a surname: The Lennox

20 August 2017

Whether descended from an ancient earl or more ordinary stock, the Lennox clan members have a ‘place name’ or ‘territorial’ surname taken from a region of Scotland known as “The Lennox.”  Family names in Scotland began appearing in the 11th Century.   They generally emerged from three sources (1) territorial or place, (i.e., “James of the Lennox” – shortened over time to James Lennox), (2) occupational, (for example James Gowan [“gow” means ‘blacksmith’ in Gaelic], and (3) relational – usually in reference to a person’s father (for example James, son of Donald = James MacDonald [‘mac’ is ‘son of’ in Gaelic]).

Linguistically speaking, through the evolution of language, the Lennox name itself apparently derives from the Gaelic word “leamhan” which means ‘elm.’  Leamhan becomes Leven which becomes Levenax which gets anglicized and becomes Lennox.

From early days in Scottish history, the river connecting Loch Lomond with the River Clyde was known as the River Leven, and the river’s valley as the ‘Vale of Leven.’  These are the current names for the river and its valley.

The Vale of Leven is in West Dunbartonshire and is framed by Loch Lomond on the north, the River Clyde on the south, the end of the Grampian Mountains on the west, and the Kilpatrick Hills on the east.  North to south, the vale is only approximately six miles (9.6 km) long.

While the surname Lennox derives from this area, the Lennox territory, over time, grew much larger to include all the lands under control of the Earls of Lennox.

In the middle 1400s, a time when the Earldom had the most land, The Lennox included all of Loch Lomond, lands on the west of the loch to Loch Long, east almost to Stirling, and dipped south of the River Clyde into parts of Renfrewshire. While irregular in shape, during the height of the Earldom, its widest point, as measured east to west, was approximately 40 miles (64 km), and its length, measured north to south, about 35 miles (56 km).    The Lennox included all of what is now West Dunbartonshire, most of East Dunbartonshire, and parts of Argyll and Bute, Stirlingshire and Renfrewshire.

History has several references to “men of the Lennox.”  These include the ‘men of the Lennox’ at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, at the Battle of Glasgow in 1544, and, in 1567, a retinue of 50 men of the Lennox were in Edinburgh at the time of the murder of Henry Stuart, Mary Queen of Scot’s husband (and heir to the Lennox earldom).  It is to be expected that many of today’s members of Clan Lennox descend from these “men of Lennox” (and the women of the Lennox).

This brief summary of The Lennox, should not be viewed as a scholarly examination of the subject, but it is a good start for more serious research and is supported by works published by John Mackintosh, LL.D., in Electric Scotland, Toucher Website Design, Andrew Lang, William Anderson, and others.   There is a particularly good and detailed description of the Vale of Leven at a website created by Toucher Website Design titled The Vale of Leven –  Historical, information and reference website for the towns and villages of the Vale of Leven in West Dumbartonshire, Scotland at


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