McCulloh Name

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The McCulloh Name – Origin and Spelling

by Rodney McCulloh

Our McCulloh name is an ancient one and is believed to be of Celtic origin. Surnames first came into use in Scotland and Ireland in the 10th to 12th centuries. The McCulloh name first appeared in documentation in Galloway, Scotland where the name Thomas Maculagh, “Counte de Wyggtone,” was listed on the Ragman Roll of 1296. Most sources classify the McCulloh name as a patronymic (named after the father). The prefix Mac means “Son of.” Thus McCulloh means the son or descendent of Culloh. A form of the name translated from Scots Gaelic means “son of the boar.” An Irish form of the name is translated “son of the hound of Ulster.” In America the Mac is most often reduced to Mc and sometimes to the simple M’.

Surnames can also be topographical in origin. In their book, The Descendants of Captain John McCollough (1770-1847) and Anna Elizabeth Spangler (1779-1858), Curtis and Mark McCollough relate that their father and grandfather, Theodore Olyn McCollough, “…believed our family name was of topographic origin.” A literal interpretation of MacCulloch could be Mac (son of), cul (Gaelic for cool, a nook, or shaded area), and loch or lough (“lake” in Scotland or Ireland), or “son of the one who lives by the cool lake.”

Although our branch of McCullohs immigrated from northern Ireland it is not actually known whether our ancestors, and our name, is Irish or Scottish in origin. The 50 most common surnames in the 1861 census of Scotland does not include the McCullough name while in modern times the name is among the 50 most common names in Ulster (Northern Ireland). Eighty percent of the McCulloughs in Ireland are found in the province of Ulster and a census of 1659 in the Ulster Counties of Antrim and Down shows the name to be a principal Irish name at that time.

One of the areas in Scotland having the highest concentration of McCulloughs was Galloway in the Southwest lowlands. The reasons are complex but in 1610 the “Plantation” of Ulster was announced by King James the VI of Scotland/I of England. This colonization program made land in Ulster available to lowland Scots and British subjects to induce them to migrate to Northern Ireland to push out and subdue the Irish. This migration had actually begun in 1606 by private Scottish entrepreneurs, and men from the Galloway area received the largest land grants; all the great houses of Galloway being represented. This suggests some or all of the McCulloughs in Northern Ireland were/are of Scottish origin.

The most ancient forms of our name are “MacCu’Uladh” and “Mac Con Uladh,” anglicized as “Maccullagh,” and rendered in Scots Gaelic as “Maccullaich.” So when did our ancestors begin to spell our name as “McCulloh?” Various degrees of literacy of our ancestors combined with random, often phonetic, spellings in official documents has resulted in a wide range of spellings. Our direct ancestors first came from Northern Ireland to Newcastle County, Delaware and settled in Franklin County, Pennsylvania in the mid 1700’s. A sampling of the Franklin County, PA and Newcastle County, DE censuses for the years 1790 through 1870 show the following spelling variations: McCullough, McCollough, McCullo, McCollum, McCulluch, McColough, McCulloch, McColloch and McCullan. Interestingly, no McCulloh spelling appears in the censuses. However, these variations are probably more the result of the various census takers’ arbitrary choices in spellings than the actual spellings used by the families themselves. And yet it seems the families themselves did not have a firmly established spelling for their own name. Between the years 1748 and 1758, William Edgar McCulloh’s Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Archibald’s brother James kept a diary. 

In his diary he spells the names of his children, his brothers and sister and himself with the following ten variations, none of which include the ‘oh’ or ‘ough’ endings: Ma Cullogh, ma Cullogh, mc Colagh, ma Collogh, mc Collogh, mc Cullogh, mc Cologh, mc Collough, mc Coloch, mc Colock. Our ancestor, Archibald, is named in three passages. James spells his brother Archibald’s name ‘mc Cologh’ in the first entry in 1752 and mc Coloch in the 2nd and 3rd entries in 1754 & 1755.

A review of the McCullough genealogy in the book, Early History and Genealogy of the Anderson-McCullough-McCune Families and Related Lines of Franklin County, Pa., indicates a mix of ‘ough’ and ‘oh’ spellings among several of the relatives and ancestors of William Edgar McCulloh. However, the ‘ough’ spelling in this genealogy seems to be a continuation of the spelling commonly used on legal documents of the time as opposed to the spelling actually used by the families themselves. Clearly our ancestor William Edgar spelled his name McCulloh as did his father Amos. In a family Bible, Amos’ birth, marriage and death are all recorded with the ‘oh’ spelling. Interestingly, a short legal document dated shortly after the death of Amos on the day after Christmas in 1876 used the ‘ough’ spelling for his name but his wife Hannah signed the document with the ‘oh’ ending. The 1860 and 1870 censuses incorrectly use the ‘ough’ spelling for Amos and the 1880 census continues the ’ough’ spelling for Hannah. Amos’s tombstone in Ft. Loudon, Pennsylvania has the ‘ough’ spelling, yet his funeral card uses the ‘oh’ spelling. The ‘oh’ spelling was also used for Amos in 1863 in a military draft registration ledger and in a newspaper listing around that same time.

Amos’s mother, Mary Ann McCulloh (Leiws) had a family bible. Every entry on the genealogy pages use the ‘oh’ spelling, yet, apparently Mary Ann herself used the ‘ough’ spelling when she wrote her name three times on the front page of the bible in the 1830s.

Shortly after their arrival in America our ancestors settled in Franklin County Pennsylvania. Amos, his mother Mary Ann, her father John and his father George all lived in the Little Cove and Ft. Loudon. I have visited three cemeteries in the Little Cove. Many McCulloh tombstones exist in these cemeteries including William Edgar’s great-grandfather John (d-1851), his great-grandmother Elizabeth (d-1847) and several other relatives and descendants, all of which have the “McCulloh” spelling on the tombstones.

It would seem, then, since at least the early to mid 1800’s, whenever our ancestors were directly responsible for spelling our name, as opposed to the spellings used by government and legal representatives, the “oh” spelling has been the preferred, though not exclusive, choice for our line and those McCullohs whose ancestors lived in the Little Cove.

(Do you have a letter, bible or other document known to have been signed by one of our ancestors that would shed more light on this issue? If so please contact me; I’d love to hear from you.)


Scottish Clan And Family Encyclopedia – 1998, Barnes & Noble Books, New York

The Book of Scotch-Irish Family Names – 1988, The Black Staff Press, Belfast

Clans and Families of Ireland – 1993, The Wellfleet Press, Edison, NJ

The Scotch-Irish; A Social History – 1962, Chapel Hill; The University of North Carolina Press

The Descendants of Captain John McCollough (1770-1847) And Anna Elizabeth Spangler (1779-1858) – 2006, Mark and Curtis McCollough

Early History and Genealogy of the Anderson-McCullough-McCune Families and Related Lines of Franklin County, Pa. – Elizabeth Brubaker Wolff

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan – 2003, Oxford University Press

Mary Ann McCulloh Lewis Bible – in the author’s possession


Copyright 2006