MCDONALD Surname Meaning and Origin

What Does the Last Name McDonald Mean?

Ornate gold crown artwork
Getty / Joelle Icard

McDonald is a common Scottish patronymic surname meaning "son of Donald," a given name meaning "world ruler," from the Gaelic Mac Dhamhnuill. McDonald is probably the most famous of the Scottish clan surnames.

In Scotland the McDonald surname derived most often from Scottish settlers who arrived in to the Province of Ulster in the seventeenth century. It may also be an anglicization of MacDomhnall, although the McDonnell or O'Donnell spelling is more often seen in that instance.

Surname Origin: Scottish


Where in the World Is the MCDONALD Surname Found?

According to WorldNames public profiler, the McDonald surname is most common in Australia, followed by Ireland and New Zealand. The surname distribution maps at Forebears puts the greatest density of people with the McDonald surname in Grenada, followed by Jamaica, Scotland, the Bahamas, and Australia. In 1881 Scotland, the McDonald surname was most common in Inverness-shire. In 1901, it was the 11th most common surname in County Carlow, Ireland.

Famous People with the Surname MCDONALD:

  • Michael McDonald - American singer and songwriter
  • Freda Josephine McDonald - American entertainer and dancer, best known by her married name Josephine Baker
  • Ramsay MacDonald - first Labor Party prime minister of Great Britain
  • Flora MacDonald - Jacobite patriot who protected Bonnie Prince Charlie after the Battle of Culloden
  • John A. MacDonald - first Prime Minister of Canada

​Genealogy Resources for the Surname MCDONALD

Clan Donald USA
A nationwide organization of nearly 4,000 families who trace their ancestry to any of the branches of Clann Domhnaill. 

McDonald Family Genealogy Forum
Search this popular genealogy forum for the McDonald surname to find others who might be researching your ancestors, or post your own McDonald surname query.

McDonald Family DNA Project
This Y-DNA project includes nearly 2,000 MacDonalds (including variant spellings such as MacDaniel and MacDanold) interested in using DNA and genealogy research to trace their ancestry in Scotland or Ireland.

FamilySearch - MCDONALD Genealogy
Explore over 8.2 million results, including digitized records, database entries, and online family trees for the McDonald surname and its variations on the FREE FamilySearch website, courtesy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

MCDONALD Surname & Family Mailing Lists
RootsWeb hosts several free mailing lists for researchers of the McDonald surname. - MCDONALD Genealogy & Family History
Free databases and genealogy links for the last name McDonald.

The McDonald Genealogy and Family Tree Page
Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the McDonald surname from the website of Genealogy Today.

-- Looking for the meaning of a given name? Check out "First Name Meanings"

-- Can't find your last name listed? Suggest a surname to be added to the "Glossary of Surname Meanings & Origins."


References: Surname Meanings & Origins

Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

MacLysaght, Edward. Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1989.

Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

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Powell, Kimberly. "MCDONALD Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). MCDONALD Surname Meaning and Origin. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "MCDONALD Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).