Show ContentsBirnie History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The story of the Birnie family is rich with Scottish history. It begins in the ancient kingdom of Dalriada where Birnie evolved as a name for some who lived in Brennath in Moray, where the name became Birnie. Birnie is a parish in the county of Elgin. "This place is said by some to have been the site of the first cathedral of the diocese of Moray; and it is probable that Simeon de Tonei, one of the bishops, was buried here, in 1184". [1]

The village of Birnie was originally called Brenuth, from brae-nut, which means "hazel trees". Natives of Birnie, using a local dialect, also called the village Burn-nigh, which means near the burn river. This local name, particularly in medieval times, is prefixed by "de", which means "from." [2]

During the Middle Ages, the Birney family became a part of the landed gentry and they wielded considerable prestige and influence in the region of the Scottish borderlands.

Early Origins of the Birnie family

The surname Birnie was first found in Elginshire a former county in northeastern Scotland, in the present day Scottish Council Area of Moray, where Birnie Kirk, a Church of Scotland church built c. 1140 is still found today. It was the first cathedral of the Bishop of Moray. The church is one of the oldest in Scotland to have been in continuous use through the centuries.

"James de Brennath (the early form of the place name), burgess of Elgin, was one of an inquest concerning the King's garden there in 1261. William de Brennath, dictus Tatenel, witnessed the gift by Hugh Herock, burgess of Elgin, to the church of Elgin in 1286, and Andrew de Bienach was clerk to Sir Dovenald, earl of Mar in 1291. Walter de Branach was the king's chaplain in Moray, 1360. William de Byrneth, canon of the church of Moray, appears as a witness in 1463, Nicholas Birne was a chaplain in 1514, and William Byrny was burgess of Edinburgh in 1558." [3]

Birnie Loch is a man-made loch located in North East Fife from a flooded gravel pit. Birnie Island is a small, uninhabited coral island, 20 hectares in area, part of the Phoenix Island group in central Pacific ocean named after the London firm Alexander Birnie & Co in 1823.

The MacBirnie (MacBurnie and MacBurney) variant was first found in 1466 when David M'Birny was a witness in Kirkcudbright. [3]

Early History of the Birnie family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Birnie research. Another 115 words (8 lines of text) covering the years 1261, 1500, 1520, 1591, 1680, 1563, 1619, 1563, 1584 and are included under the topic Early Birnie History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Birnie Spelling Variations

Historical recordings of the name Birnie include many spelling variations. They include They are the result of repeated translations of the name from Gaelic to English and inconsistencies in spelling rules. Birnie, Birney, Birny, Birnye, Byrnye, Byrny, Berney, Birne, Byrne, McBirny, McBirnie, McBurny, McBurnie and many more.

Early Notables of the Birnie family (pre 1700)

Another 44 words (3 lines of text) are included under the topic Early Birnie Notables in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Ireland Migration of the Birnie family to Ireland

Some of the Birnie family moved to Ireland, but this topic is not covered in this excerpt.
Another 84 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 Birnie migration to the United States +

Scottish settlers arrived in many of the communities that became the backbones of the United States and Canada. Many stayed, but some headed west for the endless open country of the prairies. In the American War of Independence, many Scots who remained loyal to England re-settled in Canada as United Empire Loyalists. Scots across North America were able to recover much of their lost heritage in the 20th century as Clan societies and highland games sprang up across North America. Early immigration and passenger lists have documented some of the first Birnies to arrive on North American shores:

Birnie Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • William Birnie who settled in Philadelphia in 1811
  • Clotworthy Birnie, aged 47, who arrived in Maryland in 1812 [4]
  • George Birnie, aged 22, who landed in South Carolina in 1812 [4]
  • Clothworthy Birnie, who landed in Maryland in 1815 [4]
  • Margaret Birnie, who arrived in Maryland in 1818 [4]
  • ... (More are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

Australia Birnie migration to Australia +

Emigration to Australia followed the First Fleets of convicts, tradespeople and early settlers. Early immigrants include:

Birnie Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Mr. James Birnie, Scottish convict who was convicted in Aberdeen, Scotland for 10 years, transported aboard the "Edwin Fox" on 24th August 1858, arriving in Western Australia, Australia [5]

New Zealand Birnie migration to New Zealand +

Emigration to New Zealand followed in the footsteps of the European explorers, such as Captain Cook (1769-70): first came sealers, whalers, missionaries, and traders. By 1838, the British New Zealand Company had begun buying land from the Maori tribes, and selling it to settlers, and, after the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, many British families set out on the arduous six month journey from Britain to Aotearoa to start a new life. Early immigrants include:

Birnie Settlers in New Zealand in the 19th Century
  • Mr. Birnie, British settler travelling from London aboard the ship "Prince of Wales" arriving in Wellington, New Zealand on 3rd January 1843 [6]
  • Mr. James Birnie, (b. 1835), aged 25, British farm labourer travelling from London aboard the ship "Gananoque" arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 9th May 1860 [7]
  • Mr. William Birnie, (b. 1835), aged 26, Scottish ploughman from Aberdeenshire travelling from London aboard the ship "Victoria" arriving in Lyttelton, Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand on 30th March 1862 [6]
  • Mary Birnie, who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand aboard the ship "Queen of Beauty" in 1863
  • Alexander Birnie, who arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand aboard the ship "Blue Jacket" in 1865

Contemporary Notables of the name Birnie (post 1700) +

  • Rogers Birnie (1851-1939), American army officer and explorer of Death Valley
  • Alexander Birnie (1826-1862), Scottish poet and journalist, from Morayshire
  • Richard Birnie (1808-1888), Scottish barrister who emigrated to colonial Australia in 1859, son of Richard Birnie
  • Sir Richard Birnie (1760-1832), Scottish saddler and police magistrate in London, known for his involvement in solving the Cato Street Conspiracy
  • James Birnie (1799-1864), Scottish fur trader who emigrated to Lower Canada at the age of 16 to later become and employee for the North West Company (NWC) and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC); he became the first settler of Cathlamet, Washington
  • Captain Harry Charles Birnie DSO RD (1882-1943), Scottish naval officer and sea captain for the Cunard Line, killed in action while in command of a merchant convoy in the North Atlantic in 1943
  • Jay Birnie (b. 1983), Canadian retired professional ice hockey defenceman who played from 2006 to 2011
  • Dr John Esmond Birnie (b. 1965), Irish author, economist, and politician, Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Belfast South (1998-2007)
  • Edward Lawson "Ted" Birnie (1878-1935), English professional footballer who played from 1898 to 1910 and manager of Southend United (1922-1934)
  • Tessa Daphne Birnie OAM (1934-2008), New Zealand-born, Australian concert pianist

HMS Repulse
  • Mr. John Birnie, British Stoker 1st Class, who sailed into battle on the HMS Repulse (1941) and survived the sinking [8]

The Birnie 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: Sapere aude incipe
Motto Translation: Dare to be wise, begin at once

  1. Lewis, Samuel, A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland. Institute of Historical Research, 1848, Print.
  2. Arthur, William , An Etymological Dictionary of Family and Christian Names. London: 1857. Print
  3. Black, George F., The Surnames of Scotland Their Origin, Meaning and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1946. Print. (ISBN 0-87104-172-3)
  4. 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)
  5. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 24th January 2022). Retrieved from
  6. New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 26th March 2019). Retrieved from
  7. New Zealand Yesteryears Passenger Lists 1800 to 1900 (Retrieved 17th October 2018). Retrieved from
  8. HMS Repulse Crew members. (Retrieved 2014, April 9) . Retrieved from on Facebook