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RESEARCH FROM W.D.A. (ALEX) MCCUAIG

From: Althea Lightbown (1990)
Dear Meg: A Taste of Highland Heritage for the McCuaigs.
Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Elthea Lightbown, pp. 62-64.

ORIGINS OF THE NAME

George Black gave four spellings from The Book of Islay. In the St. Andrews records we find McCouaig, MacCuaig, McCauig, and McCuaig. In The Gleneg Register, behold McCoig, McCuoig, McCuag, McCuig, MacCuig, MacCuig, McCuaige, MacCuaige, Maccuaig, McUaig, MacCuaig, and McCuaig. Our spelling, 'McCuaig,' seems to have become regular practice about 1826, both in Scotland and Canada.

These different spellings are not surprising. In those days the parish clerk was one of the few men in each community able to read and write. It is easy to picture a succession of such men struggling to copy down the name as it was pronounced to them. The practice of spelling a word always in the same was just being established.

In the face of evidence, it is difficult to maintain that the prefix 'Mc' signifies Irish origin, and that only 'Mac' is Scottish.

No one knows the origin of the name, but several interesting ideas have emerged.

George Black suggests that it is from MacDubhaig (pronounced mac-DOO-ig), meaning 'the son of Blackie.'

Mr. Donald McCuaig of Lochhourn and Glasgow told me another version in August, 1960. An oral tradition exists according to which the ancestors of the McCuaigs were the banner carriers for the MacLeods, as the MacCrimmons were the pipers. An old chieftain of the MacLeods sent the last piper and the last banner carrier off on a journey. He either accompanied them and died en route, or remained behind and died before their return. Anyway, when they came back, they were confronted by a new and younger chief who had not patience with hereditary pipers and banner carriers. He ordered them and their families to leave Dunvegan and Skye. The banner carrier and his people settled on the shores of Loch Duich, from which Skye is visible. The took the name Duich, and later, MacDuich. English judges and census-takers could not pronounce the word, and so it became MacUich, then MacUaig, and then McCuaig. This is oral tradition and lacks the support of written evidence, but it is living tradition--quick and not dead.

Mr. John B. McCuaig of New York City gave a third version of the origin in a letter of 1921 written to his nephew Stanley McCuaig who is now an Edmonton lawyer [1961]. 'A MacLeod married a woman of Clan Farquharson and as the two clans were not on the best of terms his people thought is was not proper for a MacLeod to have married a woman of the hated Clan Farquharson, and like good Scotch [sic] folks they proceeded to disown him and to banish him from their midst. He went to the country of his wife's people but here also he met with trouble. Resentful of the treatment of their kinswoman by the intolerant MacLeods, the Farquharsons told him that while they had no personal dislike for himself, they could not have a man of that name amongst them, and that he must leave his wife and get out of the country, or else change his name. Why it became MacCuaig the authorities I have consulted do not say.'

I have seen a fourth version in a book the name and author of which I have forgotten. A man once, in Scotland, fearing that he was the last of his line, vowed to name his first son after the first living thing he saw or heard after that son was born. In the event, he heard a cuckoo, which is, being interpreted, cuag, or cuach, or cuthag--probably pronounced KOO-ig or KOO-ik. When this boy grew up and had children of his own, they would have taken the name Mc- or Mac-Cuag, or Cowig, or Uig, etc.

It is worth observing that these four versions of how the name originated are not mutually exclusive: the fourth, for example, could be combined with the third.

Folk who used the name lived certainly in Islay and Glenelg, and perhaps also, further north on the west coast of the Applecross Peninsula in Ross-and-Cromarty where there is still a village called Cuaig.

There was a John McCouaig in Charlottenburgh in 1795.

In 1815, records exist in the Dominion Archives to show that the ship Baltic Merchant, Captain Jeffarys, left Greenock on 14 July and arrived at Quebec on 4 September with 144 settlers on board, including Malcolm, John, and Duncan McCuaig. There was not one single patriarch who arrived in Canada and became the progenitor of all Canadian McCuaigs. Several heads of families could easily have arrived in the 20-year period between 1796 and 1815. And the number of entries in the St. Andrews church register for the years 1800-1816 suggests that this was the case.

This is the end of my quotation of Alex McCuaig's research. -- Elthea Lightbown
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