Burney Name

The History of the Burney Family Name

The Highland surname Burney has been prominent in adding a weighty influence to an already monumental image of the Scottish Highlanders. From the sea swept Hebridean Islands and the mountainous western coast of Scotland, this surname has emerged as a notable family whose history is romanticized by the skirl of the bagpipes, the brandished sword, the tartan kilt, and the highland games.

Professional analysts, using some of the oldest manuscripts, including Clan genealogies, the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, the Ragman Rolls, the Inquisitio, the Black Book, parish cartularies, baptismal records, and tax records and many other documents found the name Burney in Elgin Scotland, where they had been seated from ancient times. The Burney name is associated with the Matheson Clan, otherwise known as the Clan of the Bear. Tradition claims the Mathesons assisted in 843 against the Picts who were the ancient race in the Highlands of Scotland. From feuds with neighbors, the Mathesons became much reduced and dispersed, and from the 15th century followed the MacKenzie banner. Burney comes from Septs of the Matheson Clan, in particular the MacBirnie and MacBurnie Septs.

The name Burney was found to have many variations in spelling, particularly in transferring the name into and from Gaelic. The surname was sometimes spelled Birnie, Birney, Birny, Birnye, Byrnye, Byrny, Berney, Birne, Byrne, McBirny, McBirnie, McBurny, McBurnie, McBerney, and these changes in spelling occurred, even between father and son. It was not uncommon for a clansman in his own lifetime to be born with one spelling, marry another, and yet another to appear on his headstone. Sometimes a different spelling was used to claim a religious or clan affiliation, or even a division of the family.

The name Burney emerged as a Scottish Clan or family in the territory of Elgin. They first settled in Brennath in Moray, where the name became Birnie. James Birnie was a businessman in the town of Elgin in 1261. Sir Andrew Birnie of Saline was head of the clan about 1500. He was a Senator of the College of Justice. The Burney's also branched to Broomhill where they also had estates. Walter Birnie was the King's Chaplain. In the Middle Ages the Birnies became an ecclesiastical family and held many important posts in the reformed church. Notable among the Clan from early times was Sir Andrew Birnie of Saline.

Many heads of families migrated from Scotland to Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries. The became known as the "Scotch/Irish". They were granted the lands of the native Catholic Irish. In Ireland they settled in North East Ulster and assumed the name of McBirnie and McBurney.

Later, clansmen sailed aboard the small sailing ships known as the "White Sails: which plied the stormy Atlantic, ships such as the Hector, the Rambler, and the Dove, indenturing themselves for up to ten years to pay their passage. Many of these overcrowded ships arrived with only 60 to 70 percent of the passenger list, the rest dying at sea.

In North America, many settled Virginia, the Carolinas, Pictou, Nova Scotia, and the Ottawa Valley. One of the first migrants which could be considered a kinsman of the name Burney, of that same Clan or family, was William Birnie who settled in Philadelphia in 1811; David Birney settled in Philadelphia in 1840; William McBerney settled in New York State in 1804; James McBirney settled in Philadelphia in 1844; John McBirney settled in Charles Town, South Carolina in 1767; Andrew McBurney settled in Philadelphia in 1842; Margaret McBurney settled in Charles Town, South Carolina in 1767; William McBurnie settled in St. John Island in 1775.

Prominent kinsmen included: General William Birney, American Revolution; Colonel Eugene Birnie, The Guides Cavalry; and Alfred Earle Birney, Canadian poet and novelist.


Sources: The Hall of Names Certification Number 964211-12.17M-25001 (www.hall-of-names.com)
and Collins Guide to Scots Kith & Kin (ISBN 0-00-435665-9)