American Scottish patriots from England

Posted by Matt Kuhns on May 25, 2013

In an earlier post, I demonstrated what Brilliant Deduction describes as the Pinkerton family’s “stern economy with given names.” Among the branch of the family of import for detective history, at any rate, male children seem to receive one or another of just three first names, over and over: Allan, William or Robert.

In pondering on this practice, it readily occurred to me that two of those three names may have been treasured, in part, for their prominence in Scottish history. William and Robert have been among the country’s most revered names for quite a long while (even before Mel Gibson got involved). By the 19th century, the names’ place in their own family tradition may have meant more to the Pinkertons, but there is at least an obvious possible explanation for why they might have latched onto those names in the first place.

For Allan, though, I’ve really been at a loss. I thought there might be some other famous Scot behind that name, as well, but having looked into it I’ve not found much. Wikipedia offers up a poet named Allan Ramsay, but it seems a bit of a stretch. I could be wrong but I’ve got to guess he had little influence on the name’s significance in the Pinkerton family.

The web site of a James Allan (somehow lingering at Geocities, perhaps still online only because someone at Yahoo missed it when shutting things down?) lists a few other “famous Allans” of Scotland, but none of them seem much more convincing than Ramsay. His note about the history of the name itself suggests, like other sources, that it was probably a Breton name that crossed The Channel along with William the Conqueror’s invasion of England.

What’s more, the little I can find about the origins of “Pinkerton” describes it as an English name, also. Like so much that is “English,” it probably came from continental Europe as part of some migration/invasion, as well; I’m not sure what to make of the first half but the “-ton” suffix is presumably of Germanic origin.

So, that’s the Pinkertons: a patriotic Scottish family with English names of French and German etymology, who in very American fashion decided to leave most of that baggage behind and “make a name for themselves” in the New World, attaching an entirely new significance to that name in the process.

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