Some two years ago during a visit to Ilkley’s twin town of Coutances, I happened to mention the name Elliot to a French friend, a retired surgeon of Breton origin, only to meet his insistence that this was a Breton name. Sure enough, as a plunge into French archives quite clearly showed, not only Elliots, Eliots and Alliots, but people bearing names of what had hitherto been treated as its Scottish variants, known for some time and commented on by George MacDonald-Fraser in his book “The Steel Bonnets.” Elliot turns out to be a variant, of a much older Breton name, but what is clear is that we now have an answer for MacDonald-Fraser. The fact that Elliot is a co-variant makes it exclusively a Breton toponym variant. There is no other source of the name.
The rest of the story is down to the digital revolution, and the DNA project. French records of birth revealed lots of Elliots, Eliots, Alliots (a co-variant, which means that some Alliots ended up as Elliots and some Elliots ended up as Alliots!) still living in main clusters in Brittany. Their distant Elegoët cousins’ name was Anglicised as Elligott, Ellacott and Ellicott. Digitisation of old Scottish maps showed that there was a town whose name was pronounced as Eliot, near the foot of Glen Shee, just as Scott of Satchells said, although its strange charter spelling of Alyth was restored to later maps. Clearly, however, Eliot ( also spelt Elieht and Elyeht) was just how the locals had pronounced it from the 13th century right through to when the 16th-18th century cartographers asked for the town’s name.
All Elliots (all spellings) fought at Hastings in 1066, and in the west country in 1069, where their ‘seigneurs’ were given massive lands. The claim that the Eliots of St Germans were Anglo-Norman was never based on more than guesswork. Many Normans, Bretons, like the first Stewart, Walter fitzAlan of Dol, Flemings like the Douglases and Murrays, and Picards like the Comyns and Balliols, were brought to Scotland by the Norman tutored Canmore kings during the 12th -14th centuries. The Canmores needed their own tank regiment – or the feudal equivalent.
Then finally, the DNA project showed that nearly forty per cent of all samples revealed Celtic-Brittonic ancestry.
— Keith Elliot Hunter, QPM, BA
Walter d’Elliot (d’Alyth), of The Brae ( forfeited 1306) and of Redheugh — the early history of the Elliots, a Scoto-Breton Border Clan circa 1314 x 1320
by Keith Elliot Hunter QPM, BA
The town of Elliot was their antiquitie,
Which stands in Angus, at the foot of Glenshie;
With brave King Robert Bruce they hither came;
Which is three hundred and eighty years agone;
In West Teviotdale* these gentlemen did dwell,
They were twelve great families, I hear my goodsir tell;
Their chief was a Baron of renown,
Designed Reid-heugh, which is now called Lariston
Scott of Satchells. Quoted by the Dowager Lady Eliott and Sir Arthur Eliott.
*The name often used to include Liddesdale.
A combination of modern science and the digital revolution now gives today’s generation more insight into its ancestry than could hitherto be attained, except by lifetimes – available to professional historians – spent poring through many archives. A great deal of new evidence, now electronically accessible, most of it corroborative, has made it clear, beyond any reasonable doubt that:
- Elliot and its many variant names, which drew comment from the late George MacDonald Fraser in his colourful history of the Border Reivers, The Steel Bonnets, are of Breton origin;
- All Elliots and bearers of variant names of Breton origin, first arrived in England as participants in theNorman Conquest of 1066 and they left behind the ancestors of the many Elliots living in Brittany today;
- The claim that the Eliots of St Germans are of Anglo-Norman origin has always been based on nothing more than an unsubstantiated assumption;1
- DNA sampling has revealed that nearly forty per cent of Elliots (all spellings) tested, are of Celtic-Brittonic origin ( as opposed to Celtic-Gaelic);
- The history of Elliot involvement in the wars of Scottish independence, with high casualty rates, demonstrated by their appearance in various sources, points to the likelihood that the occurrence of Germanic and other DNA haplogroups among Elliots, is the result of a number of adoptions born to Elliot mothers, whose men were killed in battle;
- Pronunciation of the name led on both sides of the Channel to two versions: Alliot and Elliot, before their spelling was settled along geographic lines, and according to prevalent local and regional clerical preferences, at a time when there was no standardisation of phonetic spelling and scriptores applied a ‘take your pick’ approach to use of the Roman alphabet;
- The initial spelling choice made by one or more early scriptores, was based on the long accepted Elliot variant name Dalliot, or more accurately d’Alliot, which they spelt variously as Alyth, Alight and Alyght, where the letter y was used not as the vowel i, but as a semi-vowel, standing for io;
- When successive 16th and Perthshire region of Glen Isla and Glen Shee, they were told that the name of a town, whose medieval spelling has been restored to modern maps, its kirk and its forest, were, firstly, Elyeht or Elieht, and lastly, by the time phonetic spelling was becoming more accurate, ELLIOT;
- Walter d’Alyth ( pronounced d’Elliot – since there is no reason to question what the cartographers were told) was the baron ‘of renown’, of The Brae, which can be seen just to the north of Alyth on larger scale OS maps, who forfeited these lands in 1306, when supporting Robert the Bruce;
- The Brae was given to the Balliol supporter Adam Brunyng, before it was inherited by his son, substitute justiciar, John Brunyng, who came over to Bruce’s side;
- This led to the need for Bruce to make a compromise ( as he had to do with other lands) when rewarding his supporters with confiscated lands in the aftermath of his victory at Bannockburn, a challenging one for the Elliots, since Liddesdale was of great strategic importance to Bruce.2
- The name Elliot (spelt as Ellot, but given the prevalent use of French, probably always pronounced as Elliot – as the cartographers found out) was brought to Liddesdale, but the name Elwald, a common name, was given to the chieftain;
- Elwald could never have been a precursor to Ellot, (pronounced as Elliot?) as opposed to the other way round, and a morphological evolution from one to the other was impossible;
- Whatever the explanation for this ‘charter name’ was – a typical Breton attempt to take a native name, a name with which, again typically, the clerks took liberties or even a nickname, like the Flemish mercenary Berowald ( Clan Innes) – surviving documents show quite clearly that both names were used contemporaneously, and often interchanged.
 Confirmed personally by the earl of St Germans, Peregrine Eliot.
 In his “Robert Bruce” (Eyre & Spottiswoode) 1965,G W S Barrow used the description ‘prodigals’ for those who came to the support of Bruce late in the day. In some cases lands were restored to them, hence the need for compromises in the land settlement following Bannockburn.
This is just the introduction of the early history research. The entire document will eventually be converted to web page format but until then:
- Read the full paper [.pdf]