Show ContentsBurney History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The ancestors of the name Burney come from the ancient Scottish tribe known as the Dalriadans. They lived along the rugged west coast of Scotland and on the Hebrides islands and used the name to indicate a person 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 Burney family

The surname Burney 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 Burney family

This web page shows only a small excerpt of our Burney 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 Burney History in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.

Burney Spelling Variations

Many spelling variations of Burney have been recorded over the years, including These are the result of the medieval practice of spelling according to sound and repeated translation between Gaelic and English. Birnie, Birney, Birny, Birnye, Byrnye, Byrny, Berney, Birne, Byrne, McBirny, McBirnie, McBurny, McBurnie and many more.

Early Notables of the Burney family (pre 1700)

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

Burney Ranking

In the United States, the name Burney is the 2,865th most popular surname with an estimated 9,948 people with that name. [4]

Ireland Migration of the Burney family to Ireland

Some of the Burney 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 Burney migration to the United States +

Settlers from Scotland put down roots in communities all along the east coast of North America. Some moved north from the American colonies to Canada as United Empire Loyalists during the American War of Independence. As Clan societies and highland games started in North America in the 20th century many Scots rediscovered parts of their heritage. Early North American records indicate many people bearing the name Burney were among those contributors:

Burney Settlers in United States in the 17th Century
  • Anthony Burney, who arrived in Maryland in 1673 [5]
Burney Settlers in United States in the 18th Century
  • William Burney, and his wife settled with their three sons, his mother and father William, in Louisiana in 1797
  • William Burney, aged 28, who landed in Louisiana in 1797 [5]
Burney Settlers in United States in the 19th Century
  • Charles Burney, who landed in New York in 1826 [5]
  • J Burney, who arrived in San Francisco, California in 1850 [5]
  • Samuel Burney, who settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1850
  • Major Burney, who landed in San Francisco, California in 1851 [5]

Australia Burney migration to Australia +

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

Burney Settlers in Australia in the 19th Century
  • Mr. Michael Burney, (b. 1813), aged 25, Irish labourer who was convicted in Carlow, Ireland for 7 years for assault, transported aboard the "Clyde" on 11th May 1838, arriving in New South Wales, Australia, he died in 1862 [6]
  • Mr. Edward Burney, (b. 1823), aged 19, English black smith who was convicted in Liverpool, Merseyside, England for 10 years for theft, transported aboard the "Eden" on 12th March 1842, arriving in Tasmania (Van Diemen's Island), he died in 1899 [7]
  • Richard Burney, who arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Cressy" in 1847 [8]
  • Mary Burney, who arrived in Adelaide, Australia aboard the ship "Coromandel" in 1850 [9]
  • Miss Esther Burney, (b. 1825), aged 25, Cornish nursery governess from Torpoint, Cornwall, UK aboard the ship "Culloden" arriving in Port Phillip, Victoria, Australia on 5th July 1850 [10]

Contemporary Notables of the name Burney (post 1700) +

  • Leroy Edgar Burney (1906-1998), American physician and public health official, eighth Surgeon General of the United States from 1956 to 1961
  • William Evans Burney (1893-1969), U.S. Representative from Colorado
  • Jacob Burney (b. 1959), American defensive line coach for the Washington Redskins
  • Robert Henry Burney, American politician, Member of Texas State Senate 28th District, 1887-88 [11]
  • Rashid A. Burney, American Democratic Party politician, Delegate to Democratic National Convention from New Jersey, 2008 [11]
  • James T. Burney, American Republican politician, Delegate to Republican National Convention from Missouri, 1884 (alternate), 1900 [11]
  • J. W. Burney, American Democratic Party politician, Delegate to Democratic National Convention from Georgia, 1860 [11]
  • Dwight Willard Burney (1892-1987), American politician, Member of Nebraska unicameral legislature, 1945-57; Lieutenant Governor of Nebraska, 1957-60, 1961-65; Governor of Nebraska, 1960-61 [11]
  • Charles O. Burney Jr. (b. 1907), American Republican politician, Member of New York State Assembly from Erie County 7th District, 1937-40; Member of New York State Senate, 1941-48 [11]
  • Cecil E. Burney (1914-1989), American Democratic Party politician, Delegate to Democratic National Convention from Texas, 1956, 1964 [11]
  • ... (Another 13 notables are available in all our PDF Extended History products and printed products wherever possible.)

The Burney 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

Suggested Readings for the name Burney +

  • A Catalogue of the Burney Family Correspondence 1749-1878 by Joyce Hemlow.

  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. "What are the 5,000 Most Common Last Names in the U.S.?".,
  5. 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)
  6. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 24th February 2021). Retrieved from
  7. Convict Records Voyages to Australia (Retrieved 15th December 2021). Retrieved from
  8. State Records of South Australia. (Retrieved 2010, November 5) CRESSY 1847. Retrieved from
  9. State Records of South Australia. (Retrieved 2010, November 5) COROMANDEL 1850. Retrieved from
  10. Cornwall Online Parish Clerks. (Retreived 3rd May 2018). Retrieved from
  11. The Political Graveyard: Alphabetical Name Index. (Retrieved 2015, November 10) . Retrieved from on Facebook