Show ContentsBarra History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The ancestors of the Barra family come from the ancient Scottish kingdom of Dalriada. The family name comes from the personal name Neil. The Gaelic form Mac Neill translates as son of Neil.

Early Origins of the Barra family

The surname Barra was first found in on the islands of Barra, Gigha, Colonsay, and Oronsay. According to traditional records in 1049, Niall, a direct descendent of King Niall of the Nine Hostages, landed in Barra and founded the Clan MacNeill of Barra.

However, another kinsman, some believe to be the younger brother of Niall named Anrothan, married a Princess of the Dalriadans, an ancient race from which sprang most of the early Scottish Kings. Legend has it that Anrothan started the MacNeill house of Colonsay through his son Torquil of Taynish.

This latter branch acquired the lands of Gigha, Colonsay and Oronsay, beyond the Firth of Lorne. For the next two centuries it appears as though these two great houses were developing independently of one another.

Early History of the Barra family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Barra research. Another 361 words (26 lines of text) covering the years 1590, 1730, 1370, 1380, 1526, 1562, 1640, 1631, 1640, 1612, 1613, 1686 and are included under the topic Early Barra History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Barra Spelling Variations

Historical recordings of the name Barra include many spelling variations. They are the result of repeated translations of the name from Gaelic to English and inconsistencies in spelling rules. They include MacNeil, MacNeill, MacNeal, MacNeilage, MacNeale, MacNeall, MacNeille, MacNeel, MacNiel, MacGreal, Mcneil, Mcneill, McNeal, Mcneal, Mcneall and many more.

Early Notables of the Barra family (pre 1700)

Notable amongst the Clan from early times was Nigel M'Nele, Laird of Blarekanne c. 1370-1380; Alexander Makneyll, a notary public in Edinburgh in 1526; Richard Neile (1562-1640) was an English churchman, Archbishop...
Another 32 words (2 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Barra Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Barra Ranking

In the United States, the name Barra is the 13,588th most popular surname with an estimated 2,487 people with that name. [1] However, in France, the name Barra is ranked the 2,010th most popular surname with an estimated 3,108 people with that name. [2]

Ireland Migration of the Barra family to Ireland

Some of the Barra family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 85 words (6 lines of text) about their life in Ireland is included in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

United States Barra migration to the United States +

Dalriadan families proliferated in North America. Their descendants still populate many communities in the eastern parts of both the United States and Canada. Some settled in Canada as United Empire Loyalists, in the wake of the American War of Independence. Families on both sides of the border have recovered much of their heritage in the 20th century through Clan societies and highland games. Analysis of immigration records indicates that some of the first North American immigrants bore the name Barra or a variant listed above:

Barra Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • William Barra, aged 28, who arrived in New York in 1812 [3]
  • Jose Barra, aged 40, who landed in New Orleans, La in 1831 [3]

Contemporary Notables of the name Barra (post 1700) +

  • Mary Teresa Barra (b. 1961), née Makela, an American business executive, first CEO of General Motors in January 2014
  • Robert D. Barra, American Republican politician, Member of New York State Assembly 21st District, 2001- [4]
  • Caesar B. F. Barra (b. 1880), American Democratic Party politician, Member of New York State Assembly, 1916-20 [4]
  • Jorge Medina Barra (1968-2022), Bolivian civil rights activist and politician who served as a uninominal member of the Chamber of Deputies from the department of La Paz from 2010 to 2015
  • Ian Roderick MacNeil of Barra, 46th Chief of the Clan, feudal Baron of Barra, and professor of law. Kisimul Castle, the ancient home of the MacNeils, located on a rocky islet just off the coast of Barra has been re-purchased and restored by the Clan in recent times
  • Anna Barra Caracciolo, Italian Head of Research-National Research Council-Water Research Institute

The Barra Motto +

The motto was originally a war cry or slogan. Mottoes first began to be shown with arms in the 14th and 15th centuries, but were not in general use until the 17th century. Thus the oldest coats of arms generally do not include a motto. Mottoes seldom form part of the grant of arms: Under most heraldic authorities, a motto is an optional component of the coat of arms, and can be added to or changed at will; many families have chosen not to display a motto.

Motto: Vincere vel mori
Motto Translation: To conquer or die.

  1. "What are the 5,000 Most Common Last Names in the U.S.?".,
  3. Filby, P. William, Meyer, Mary K., Passenger and immigration lists index : a guide to published arrival records of about 500,000 passengers who came to the United States and Canada in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. 1982-1985 Cumulated Supplements in Four Volumes Detroit, Mich. : Gale Research Co., 1985, Print (ISBN 0-8103-1795-8)
  4. The Political Graveyard: Alphabetical Name Index. (Retrieved 2016, January 15) . Retrieved from on Facebook