MCKINLEY Surname Meaning and Origin

The Scottish surname McKinley derives from Gaelic terms meaning "pale warrior."
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McKinley is a Scots Gaelic patronymic surname meaning "son of Finlay." The given name Finlay derived from the Gaelic personal name Fionnla or Fionnlaoch, meaning "white warrior" or "fair hero," from the elements fionn, meaning "white, fair" and laoch, meaning "warrior, hero."

Surname Origin: Scottish, Irish


Where in the World is the MCKINLEY Surname Found?

The McKinley surname is common today in Canada, according to WorldNames PublicProfiler, followed by the United States, New Zealand, Ireland and Australia. Within Ireland, McKinley is by far most common to Donegal, followed by northern Ireland, especially the counties of Antrim, Armagh, Down and Tyrone. The MacKinlay spelling is most common in Scotland, especially the western council area of Argyll and Bute.

Surname distribution data from Forebears also indicates that the McKinley surname is common in Northern Ireland, where it ranks as the 360th most common surname in the country. That is in contrast to the United States, home to the largest number of people named McKinley, where the last name ranks 1,410th. This is true based on 1881–1901 census data as well. Data from the 1881–1901 censuses of Great Britain and Ireland, indicate that McKinley was most common in the Northern Ireland counties of Antrim, Donegal, Down and Armagh, as well as in Lanarkshire, Scotland, and Lancashire, England.

Famous People with the Last Name MCKINLEY

  • - 25th president of the United States
  • Robin McKinley - American author of fantasy and children's books
  • William Thomas McKinley - American composer
  • Leila MacKinlay - British author of romance novels

Genealogy Resources for the Surname MCKINLEY

Clann MacKinlay Seannachaidh
This website focuses on the history and genealogy of the sept of Mackinlay in relation to its most likely parent Clans: Farquharson, Buchanan, Macfarlane and Stewart of Appin. 

The MacKinlay DNA Project
Learn more about the history and origins of the McKinley and MacKinlay surnames and variations by joining this MacKinlay Y-DNA surname project. Group members are working to combine DNA testing with traditional genealogy research to learn more about shared McKinley ancestors.

Presidential Surname Meanings and Origins
Do the surnames of U.S. presidents really have more prestige than your average Smith and Jones? While the proliferance of babies named Tyler, Madison, and Monroe may seem to point in that direction, presidential surnames are really just a cross-section of the American melting pot. 

McKinley Family Crest - It's Not What You Think
Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a McKinley family crest or coat of arms for the McKinley surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.

FamilySearch - MCKINLEY Genealogy
Explore over 1 million historical records and lineage-linked family trees posted for the McKinley surname and its variations on the free FamilySearch website, hosted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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

MCKINLEY Surname & Family Mailing Lists
RootsWeb hosts a free mailing list for researchers of the Tyler surname. Post a query about your own Tyler ancestors, or search or browse the mailing list archives. - MCKINLEY Genealogy & Family History
Explore free databases and genealogy links for the last name McKinley.

The McKinley Genealogy and Family Tree Page
Browse genealogy records and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the popular last name McKinley from the website of Genealogy Today.

References: Surname Meanings & Origins

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

Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.

Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

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

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

Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.

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


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Powell, Kimberly. "MCKINLEY Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). MCKINLEY Surname Meaning and Origin. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "MCKINLEY Surname Meaning and Origin." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).