ORIGIN OF THE NAME RUTHERFORD
By Gary Rutherford Harding
The surname Rutherford is one of the most ancient of
Rutherford name undoubtedly was taken by family members who lived near the
ancestoral village of Rutherford, Scotland. The earliest accounts of the
name Rutherford come from the 12th century. There is no information to
indicate the first man who bore the name of Rutherford, however, the name
no doubt derived from the land holdings at the present site of Rutherford
on the Tweed. One of the early holders of this name was Sir Nicholas de
Rutherford [abt 1200-1275]. He had significant estates in Northumberland
and was cited as having brought 60 knights to Sir William Wallace before a
battle. In the ballad history of Blind Harry, Sir Nicholas de Rutherford is
considered to be Sir William Wallace's brother-in-law. There were also
other Rutherford noblemen who lived in Roxburghshire at about that same
time; Hugh of Ruwerfort, William of Rwyirford [priest at Melrose], Gregory
of Rutherfurd and Richard of Rutherford.
The possible origins of the surname Rutherford:
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
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
Scottish surname of Carruthers. The name "caer ruther" [Carruthers]
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
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
explanation given by Jeffrey in his history of Roxburghshire explained that
"ruther" means red in Celtic and was not the name of the historic
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.
is a place name derived from the Old English "hryther" meaning
cattle" and "ford" meaning a river crossing. Hence, Rutherford
Oxford. Davis goes on to list over 300 different spellings for the name
Rutherford. Rutherford and Rutherfurd being the two most common.