The Esson surname has its origins in Mediaeval Scotland.
The Esson Name
The Esson name can be found spelled in many different ways, due to the many different scribes who recorded it over the centuries and the illiteracy of it’s owners in earlier times. The origin and meaning of the name remains the same however. Examples of common spellings include Ayson (as it was first recorded), Easson, Eason, Aesson, Asson, and Ison and many others. Today, in Scotland at least, Esson is the most common form. The name is made up of the Celtic first name Aodh, which meant fire, coupled with the English word “son”. It is a patronym, a surname indicating parentage, or descent from a single venerated person, in this case a person named Ay.
Aodh was a very common Celtic first name, found in Ireland and Wales as well as Scotland. Examples include Aodh the Celtic god of fire, Aed King of the Scots and Picts in 871 AD, Aedh the last Abbot of Dunkeld and Earl of Fife, and Iye Mackay who was said by some to be the first chief of Clan Mackay. It was most likely pronounced with little or no emphasis on the final consonants, just as it is pronounced in modern Irish today, as “Eh” or Ay”. A slightly soft Scottish sounding “ch”, seems as if it might have rounded the name off. More poetically Aodh was one of the children of Lir turned into swans in an Ancient Irish legend.
Understanding this, it is easy to see how the surname came to be pronounced as it was.
Appearance of the Ayson / Esson Name by Region
Angus and Perthshire
The name first belonged to a notable family in Perthshire, In a charter of 1360 Robert Stewart, the 7th Steward of Scotland, later to become Robert II, King of Scotland, granted the lands of Fornochtis to an “Aythe filius Thome”. That is to say “Aythe son of Thomas”. The Abbot of Inchaffray Abbey witnessed that charter. Aythe himself witnessed a charter in 1365, in which he was described as Baillie of Stratherne. Aythe’s children and their descendants were given the patronymic surname Aysoune.
These points are recorded in the Scottish History Society’s book of 1908 called “The Charters of Inchaffray Abbey“. which, lists, translates and analyses many ancient documents from that place. The reference to Aythe and Ayson are on page 298 at the link above.
Fornochtis is known nowadays by the name Fornought, A farm and a large house can be found there, just to the North of the A85, between Crieff and Perth. The ruins of Inchaffray Abbey are a short distance to the South.
The Ayson family seemed to prosper, gaining other land including Ardonoquhay, Pettenzie, CultyBragan, Stix and significantly, Tulliemet to the East of Pitlochry. They appear in a variety of legal documents.
In 1483 William Aysoune the 5th of Fornocht took action against a Duncan Toisheach of Monzievaird, over inheritance and ownership of Petteny as it was then recorded. In 1496 William sold Cultybragan, and then Stix and Fornocht in 1594. He kept a life rent for the last two places for himself and his wife beyond that.
Robert, William’s brother was at Tulliemet when he was granted a charter for Ardonoquhay on 14th July 1478. In 1479 he was sued for the rent of a third of the lands of Tulliemet. It seems at that time he was a tenant. In 1493 Robert then took a motley band of rascals (judging by their names) to court. It seems he bought cattle and horses from them which actually belonged to Coupar Angus Abbey, a big land owner in the area. Robert himself was being pursued for payment it seems and the court ruling was he should recover the money from the thieves.
Young John Ayson and the Raid of Angus
It was not until 1445 when Aythe’s grandson was named in a legal document of indenture that the Fornochtis Aysounes were recorded as such. Much earlier in 1392 however, a person, almost certainly related was recorded in a letter from the Scottish Parliament to the Sheriffs of Aberdeen written on 25th March 1392. .
The letter, written in Latin named “Johannem Ayson’ juvenem” or “young John Ayson”, (or even better John Ayson junior) as one of the leaders of a band of about 300 men who carried out a notorious cattle raid, the Raid of Angus.
In a bloody battle at Glasclune, a mile or two to the North West of Blairgowrie, the Sherriff of Angus, Sir Walter Ogilvy and 60 heavily armed knights tried to stop the raiders but were badly defeated. Ogilvy was killed and many of his men were killed or gravely injured too. The Raid of Angus was no ordinary cattle raid however, as it reflected a struggle for power and land between different members of the Royal Stewart family and their followers.
One important question is “how sure can we be that John Ayson the younger was related to the Aysounes of Fornocht?”. The evidence for this is not explicit but is nevertheless very strong.
- John Ayson junior was almost certainly not an aristocrat. But he must have had good standing and reasonable wealth to be listed amongst the leaders of the Raid of Angus alongside the sons of Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch who were nephews of Robert III.
- Robert II granted Fornochtis to the Aysoun family line, no doubt for services rendered. Robert II was the father of Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch. Robert II seemed to strongly favour Alexander, bestowing on him much power and land. From the time of Robert’s death in 1390, Alexander Stewart’s fortunes started to decline and it was then he began his most vigorous and violent campaigns to re-assert his power. His sons and allies were in a similar position and felt obliged to strike back. John Aysoun the younger’s involvement shows that he had strong connections to Robert II’s favoured son, Alexander Stewart and his sons and allies.
- Skene in his book Celtic Scotland, Volume 3, of 1860 and Robertson in “The Topography of Scotland state that young John Ayson was from Tulliemet. We do not know the evidence they relied on, but nevertheless we have his view. We also know Robert Aysoun/Ayson from Fornochtis held land at Tulliemet from at least 1378 (as mentioned above). This again suggests a family connection. We furthermore know that Robert Ayson was a cattle dealer, not above buying stolen cattle for the court case of 1493 mentioned above.
To sum up, it seems extremely likely these Aysons/Aysounes were all members of the same family.. The evidence we have is not explicit but it seems most unlikely that two unrelated families appeared wit hthe same surname within 30 miles of each other at around the same time. They both had connections with Tulliemet, and with Robert and Alexander Stewart.
John Ayson the younger would probably have been born around 1360 to 1370. That would make his father a contemporary of the children of Aythe son of Thome.
Lowlands of Southern Scotland
As time went by in the 1400’s and more so the 1500’s the Aysoune/Ayson name was increasingly recorded across the Southern Lowlands.
In 1482, Sir Thomas Aysone resigned his altar or chaplainry of St. Ninian in Stirling to John Aysoune and we hear more of these two in other records.
In 1511 there are records of a James Aysone in Alexander Mylne’s Rentale Dunkeldense. James was initially apprenticed as a baker and thenas a mason, working on a stone bridge over the River Tay at Dunkeld. James work, his training and his payments, usually in meal are all noted in in the book, year by year from 1511 until 1518. Some detail of all this, including a history of the Bridges And Crossings of the River Tay at Dunkeld are given at this link.
Once again, it seems very plausible that James was related to the Aysone’s of Tullymet, which is only around 7 miles North of Dunkeld. The Rentale Dunkeldense mentions another link between Dunkeld Cathedral and Tullymet, in the form of a record of a payment from the Cathedral to Patrick Barone, said to be the eldest son of the Baron of Tullymet in 1511 which was the year James Aysone started his apprenticeship. Thirty years later on 1st March 1542 a John Aysoun was recorded as Baron of Tullymet when John Charteris of Kinclevin, and John David and Thomas Charteris of Kinfawnis were “cautioned to underlie the law for his cruel slaying”.
As time progressed baptism records mentioning the name started to appear across the lowlands from East to West.
The first record we (that is I) know of for this family name in Aberdeenshire is a reference of 1675 to a Patrick Easson at Waulkmill in Tarland (about payment for wood mentioned elsewhere in detail). Closely following that is a baptism record in Clatt for 1677. There were clearly Eassons and Essons around in some, perhaps relatively small, numbers before that. It would be no surprise at all to learn there are earlier records somewhere too, although Aberdeenshire was not as prone to collecting records as places further South.
Aside from one or two people mentioned in Aberdeen, the distribution of baptism records roughly matches the very helpful 1696 List of Pollable persons for tax purposes in Aberdeenshire which includes the following:-
|Logie Coldstone and Tarland|
|Coldstone||Alexander Esson and wife||Tenant||Mill of Kinaldie|
|Peter Esson and wife and son Robert||Tenant||Blackmill|
|also Peter Esson and wife||Subtenant||Blackmill|
|John Esson *||Tenant||..on “Laird of Skeen’s” land (the Skene’s owned much land and more than one farm in Coldstone from early times, including notably Watererne).|
|Patrick Essone||Servant||Tarland : Servant of Arthur Forbes on James Reid’s land|
|John Essone and wife||On Lord Forbes land|
|Alford||Agnes esson wife of John Morgan||Mains of Aslown|
|(No first Name) Esson||Servant||Broadhaugh / Auchintoule and Asloune|
|John Esson (spouse of Jannet Reid)||Grassman||Kinstair|
|Margaret Esson wife of Andrew Pophet||Dorresseal|
|Clatt||George Essone and wife||Knockespock|
|Margaret Esson||Clatt Toune|
|Clunie||William Esson and wife||Grassman||Ley of Tilliechadie (Parish of Clunie)|
|Crathie||George Essone and wife||Subtenant||Balmurrel|
|Insch||William Esson||Murriel in parish of insch|
|Keig||Elspet Essone wife of James Archibald||Wright||Newtoun|
|Leochel||Allaster Essone||Mains of Foullis|
This represents around 26 households, although subtenants are not named, and there would no doubt be more who were landless workers.
There were far fewer Essons or similarly named people in Aberdeenshire compared to Perthshire and Angus at this time. There seems to have been a concentration to the interior of the county, especially in the parishes of Logie Coldstone and Tarland, Auchindoir and Alford, with few mentioned to the East of the county.
The name could have arisen in Aberdeenshire separately to Perthshire, but there is no documentation to suggest that if so. The name was distributed here in 1696 close to an important route from the south, and it seems more plausible to think it was carried here by people moving from Perthshire and the South where we know it was in use long before.
John Ayson the younger was closely associated with the Stewarts, and one of those named in the Raid of Angus. The Scottish court which outlawed Ayson for his part in that believed he and others had fled to Aberdeenshire. If so perhaps they took refuge at Migvie or Kildrummy which were both Stewart strongholds at that time. Both were close to the main areas where most Easson and Esson name were recorded in the 1600’s.
Migvie Castle and Kildrummy Castle, near Tarland and Alford respectively were both held by Alexander Stewart, as the Earl of Mar. Alexander Stewart was brother or half brother of Duncan and Robert Stewart who were at Glasclune with John Ayson. Alexander became Earl of Mar when he married Isobel Douglas the countess of Mar. The story goes that Sir Malcolm Drummond, Isobel’s first husband, was at Kindrochit Castle in Braemar having a tower added to the castle when he was kidnapped and thrown in the castle’s dungeon ten years after Glasclune in 1402. Drummond was said to have died due to rough treatment he received. The people responsible sounded much like those who had been at Glascune, a band of catterans loyal to Alexander Stewart. This same band may also have been responsible for complaints by the hard pressed inhabitants of Towie (Kinbattoch as it was then) who complained to the Pope about Stewarts men in 1402. (Vatican Papers as mentioned by Boardman in his book “England and Scotland at War c. 1296-c.1513).
The Rest of Scotland, England and Ireland
So far, most research for this web site has focused on the areas in Scotland mentioned above. Some observations on other areas are as follows:-
The Far North of Scotland, Sutherland and Caithness
Variants of the surname was recorded to the North of Inverness as Ayson, and in Caithness and Wick as Ison and similar from the late 1500’s.
Notoriously Alexander Ysoun in Lapok, Caithness, and William Ysoun, his son, were slain by Sutherlands in 1566 for example.
A William Ysone from Caithness, a skinner and maker of whisky was recorded marrying an Isobell Stewart in October 1604 in Elgin. William Ysone the younger, was recorded at Wick in 1622 and Agnes Isone in Thurso in 1662.
Perhaps we have some clues on how the name arose here.
Links between John Ayson the younger and Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch and his sons are clear from the Raid of Angus.
Alexander’s wife by Celtic law was Mairead inghean Eachainn, that is Mairead, daughter of Eachann. In The Book of Mackay of 1860, Angus Mackay repeated an often stated belief that her father, Eachann was Iye Mackay, a chief of the Mackay clan from Strathnaver, Sutherland in the far North of Scotland. Mackay history is clear in suggesting Ayson, Easson and variant surnames arose from the Mackay’s. This would all accord with the views expressed here.
Alexander and Mairead had many sons and daughters, some of whom were in the Raid alongside John Ayson. Taking everything into account, including the connection between the surnames Mackay and Ayson, it seems possible the Aysounes of Fornocht and Aysons of Tulliemet were related to Stewart’s wife in some way.
In the Orkneys, a significant population of Eassons/Essons existed from quite early times. Speculation on the origins of the name there include the possibility it arrived with Scandinavian settlers. Another school of thought suggests it arrived with fisherman who travelled up from mainland Scotland.
Another possibility could once again be a Stewart connection. Robert Stewart, the illegitimate, but recognised son of James V and Eupheme Elphinstone was knighted Sir Robert Stewart of Strathdon in 1565, and then made 1st Earl of Orkney in 1581. He and his son Patrick had a somewhat chequered and violent connection with Orkney until Patrick was executed in 1615.
…… Are, or will be. discussed under “Diaspora”
Other Possible Origins of the Name
The focus of this page and indeed this website are people whose name originated as a Celtic/English patronym as described above.
Other possibilities for the names origins are possible too of course, and there may be many whose name whose name has a different background. Research does not suggest this to be the case as yet.
Suggestions of alternative origins for the name have included the arrival of migrants named after places in other countries, such as Esson in France or Essen in Germany. We see the names Van Esson, Von Esson and d’Essone at times. The name d’Essone is seen in England originating from Essone in France at times n history, and a general in Napoleon’s army had the name. These cases seem to have far less continuity and often disappear after a generation or two.
Another suggestion already mentioned is that the name could have arrived in places with Scandinavian settlers, but again the evidence is less convincing.