Origin and History of the Name Rutherford (page 2)

Origin of surnames
taken from

Family names have a broad range of sources. They were used to distinguish individuals from others of the same name as populations rose and societies became more complex. Rome is an early example of a society needing a surname. Spanning many regions and peoples, it became necessary to differentiate persons sharing the same first name. The medieval times reduced the need for additional monikers, and single names became common again.

"It is interesting to note that hereditary surnames have only returned to common usage in the past 900 years, and that the possession of a third name (middle name) has only become common in the past two centuries."

"English language surnames can be quite cleanly separated into four distinct categories: names based on lineage, names based on geography, names based on occupation, and nicknames based on some unusual characteristic. Lineage is one of the most prevalent in English-speaking countries."

The Origin of the Name Rutherford
.The Rutherford name can easily be traced to an ancestral village in Scotland near the Tweed River. The Rutherford Clan has held these lands for many centuries.
"The small village of Rutherford lies 6 miles (10 km) southwest of Kelso in the Scottish Borders, to the south of the River Tweed."

To see where this is in Scotland, take a look at the following map. You will notice the small circle near the southernmost region, giving the approximate location of the Rutherford lands. This should indicate how difficult the situation of the Rutherford Clan, living very near the English border. As borderlanders, the Ruthefords were often caught up in the battles and intrigues of the time.

Map courtesy of

History of the Meaning of the Rutherford Name
The harder question to answer is "Where did the lands of Rutherford get their name?" The name Rutherford has an uncertain history. There are many accounts out there as to its origins, with little agreement among them. Searches on the web revealed normally one or two of the following stories. The page at is the most comprehensive listing of name origin stories, and the following is taken entirely from there. I claim no hand in the following information and urge you to follow the link I provided to see the rest of the information provided thereon.

1. A man named Ruther guided an ancient king of Scots over a little known
ford in the River Tweed, giving him a victory against the Northumberlands.
He was rewarded with a grant of land thereafter, named after the crossing
which had brought him such good fortune.

2. A second variation on this story is provided by John MacLeod, Searcher
of Records in Edinburgh, who examined Rutherford family annuals dating back
to the Crusaders. He related that during an insurrection in Scotland, King
Ruther had to flee for safety. Being unable to cross the River Tweed, his
life was saved by a young man of Teviotsdale who aided him in crossing at
the ford. The spot was henceforth known as Ruther's Ford, and the land
contiguous to the spot was later given to the family of his benefactor by
Ruther as a token of his appreciation. The family thus became known as
Rutherford when surnames were adopted. This version is also supported by
"The History and Antiquities of Roxburghshire - 1857" by Alexander Jeffrey
who describes the family name and its possible origins.

3. A third supplimentation is offered by historian James Coutts:  King
Ruther was known as "Ruther the Liberal". His name is also the root of the
Scottish surname of Carruthers. The name "caer ruther" [Carruthers] can be
translated from Celtic to mean "the fort of Ruther". King Ruther is
identified with Saint Kentigern's patron [the ancestoral Saint of the
Rutherford family] Ryderch Hael (the Generous). Ryderch Hael was also the
great ally of Saint Kentigern's ageing grandfather. Ryderch was a convert
to Christianity and made Saint Kentigern the first Bishop of Strathclyde.
Glasgow Cathedral was the traditonal superior to Jedburgh Abbey, burial
place of the Rutherford Clan.

4. Another theme with variations describes an English army which foolishly
abandoned a strong position on heights above the Tweed to attack a Scottish
force on the opposite bank. The English attempted to force a crossing of
the river and were soundly defeated. The victorious Scots are said to have
named the place "Rue the Ford", to commemorate the disaster which befell
the English at that spot.

5. A romantic variation of the story above was related in a letter written
by A. Rutherford of Stirling, Scotland, December 15, 1906, and addressed to
George Ernest Rutherford. "The Rutherfords are not Highlanders, they are
Borderers: they are originally from Roxburghshire. They are pure Scots, and
they drive their name from thrashing an invading English Army. This
incident occurred before the time of Wallace. The tradition is that an
English invading force was allowed to cross the river at the ford, and
after they had done so, the Scots fought and defeated them, and drove them
back across the ford making the English "rue the ford."

6. Yet, another more creditable story was communicated by James Rutherford
Brown of Liverpool, England to George Ernest Rutherford on April 13, 1909.
He stated there was no doubt that the name Rutherford meant "red ford". An
explanation given by Jeffrey in his history of Roxburghshire explained that
"ruther" means red in Celtic and was not the name of the historic King.
Henry Rutherford of Fairnington also thought this to be the more likely
origin of the name. This also jibes with the more common translation of the
previously mentioned surname of Carruthers as "the red fort".

7. Lastly, Kenneth Rutherford Davis in his excellent book, "The Rutherfords
in Britian, a history and guide" offers yet another etymology. "Rutherford
is a place name derived from the Old English "hryther" meaning "ox or
cattle" and "ford" meaning a river crossing. Hence, Rutherford means
Oxford. Davis goes on to list over 300 different spellings for the name
Rutherford. Rutherford and Rutherfurd being the two most common.

I have recently found another explanation at
"The name Rutherfurd is much more likely the Flemish compound word "ridder" or "rudder" a horse mounted knight and "voorde" a ford. Hence, Ruddervoorde, or "a knight's river crossing".

This last one is the one I like the best, but it seems the "truth" is not entirely known.

300 Spellings of the Name
I'm not aware of a complete listing of all the spelling variants of Rutherford, but here is a partial listing (Microsoft Word counted it as 109 names, but I can't be bothered to verify that by a manual count). The list was originally found at:
Here is the listing:

Retherfor, Rotherfard, Rotherfarde, Rotherfart, Rotherfarte, Rotherfeard, Rotherfeart, Rotherferd, Rotherfert, Rotherfith, Rotherfithy, Rotherford, Rotherforde, Rotherfork, Rotherforth, Ruddefith, Ruddefithy, Ruddeford, Ruddeforde, Ruddefork, Ruddeforth, Ruddeforthe, Ruddeforthy, Rudderfard, Rudderfarde, Rudderfart, Rudderfarte, Rudderfeard, Rudderfeart, Rudderferd, Rudderfert, Rudderfith, Rudderfithy, Rudderford, Rudderforde, Rudderfork, Rudderforth, Rudefith, Rudefithy, Rudeford, Rudeforde, Rudefork, Rudeforth, Rudeforthe, Rudeforthy, Ruderfard, Ruderfarde, Ruderfart, Ruderfarte, Ruderfeard, Ruderfearde, Ruderfeart, Ruderferd, Ruderfert, Ruderfith, Ruderfithy, Ruderford, Ruderforde, Ruderfork, Ruderforth, Ruderforthe, Ruderforthy, Rudfard, Rudfarde, Rudfart, Rudfarte, Rudfeard, Rudfearde, Rudfeart, Rudferd, Rudfert, Rudfith, Rudfithy, Rudford, Rudforde, Rudfork, Rudforth, Rudforthe, Rudforthy, Ruterford, Rutherfard, Rutherfarde, Rutherfart, Rutherfarte, Rutherfeard, Rutherfeart, Rutherferd, Rutherfert, Rutherfith, Rutherfithy, Rutherford, Rutherforde, Rutherfork, Rutherforth, Rutherfurd, Rutterfard, Rutterfarde, Rutterfart, Rutterfarte, Rutterfeard, Rutterfeart, Rutterferd, Rutterfert, Rutterfith, Rutterfithy, Rutterford, Rutterforde, Rutterfork, Rutterforth

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