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Peter (Peters) Family History & Ancestry

Family Crest Motto: NUMQUAM DESPERA (Never despair)

Emphatically not to be confused with Paterson (son of Patrick). The given name ‘Peter’ comes from the Greek word for rock, from where we also get the word ‘petrified’ (turned to stone – either physically or metaphorically). Peter was the nickname given to Jesus’ disciple Simon (Saint Peter), and because of this the name became very popular across medieval Europe.

As a surname in Scotland, Peter is a contraction of longer names meaning ‘son of Peter’, such as ‘Peterson’, ‘MacPeter’, or ‘Peterkin’ (literally meaning ‘little Peter’). This surname is not a recognised clan, but represents a group of surnames that could be found throughout medieval and early modern Scotland. The surname Peter is usually recognised as a sept of Clan MacGregor (as is MacPeter, another version of ‘son of Peter’, and Peterkin), and a Gaelic variant ‘Pedair’ is recognised as a sept of either Lamont or MacLaren. The surname ‘Peterson’ is likewise recognised as a sept of either MacGregor, Lamont or MacLaren.

The first apparent instance of this surname in the historical record seems to come in 1296, when a Walter Peterson of Berwickshire submitted to Edward I of England, after that king’s invasion of Scotland, which almost extinguished Scotland as an independent country. What happened to Walter after this is unknown.

A man of the name Nigel Peterson is found as a burgess of Aberdeen in 1317, while Andrew Peterkin also became a burgess there in 1488. The contracted surname Peter was largely found in Aberdeenshire and the Mearns. The historian George Black noted one John Peter in the retinue of John Erskine, third Earl of Mar in 1636. In the classic sense of septs being ‘friends, allies and partakers’ the Peters might therefore also be seen historically as a sept of the Erskines. However, this John Peter was charged with ‘resetting’, ie harbouring, outlawed members of the MacGregors – which is where the association with this surname and that famous clan comes from.

Variants on the name are found elsewhere in Scotland. Patrick MacPatre is recorded in 1537 in Suthill in Inverness-shire, while at the other end of the county a Donald MacPeter is recorded in Ayrshire in 1621. Cardarroch House in North Lanarkshire has traditionally been seen as ‘clan’ seat of the Peters. Hugh MacDonald noted in 1853 that the house was ‘ancient seat of an ancient family names Peters, which is now extinct’. A stone dates part of the building to 1624.

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Family Crest Motto: NUMQUAM DESPERA (Never despair)

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