There is some confusion over the “correct” spelling of the name Ogilvie and I have received a few
questions on this topic over the years. Certainly, I have received mail with many mis-spellings of my name, although admittedly it is far less common now in this age of computers and email. There is a lot of information regarding this in an excellent post on the RootsWeb mailing list by James Baxter Ogilvie dated August 2000 which I have copied below. The original post can be found here.
The question of the spelling variations in the clan name has come up
again. I know I promised some of you that I would begin a discussion on
this topic, but it looks like it has already started. So I’ll throw my
two cents in and invite more discussion.
Everywhere I go on the internet, specifically message boards, I see people
asking questions about why their Ogilvie/Oglesby names are spelled
differently than others. I’m sure many of you have seen the same thing.
This question is as old as Clan Ogilvie itself. Since we Highlanders are
renowned to be the best fighters (most argumentative) in the world, the
issue of this spelling thing has spawned many a good fight/augument/brawl!
I remember as a kid, listening to the adults argue over whether our
Ogilvie name was supposed to be spelled with “ie” or “y”. Also that they
wondered if the different spellings meant that they were separate
families, related or not, from different countries, etc. The wind up was
always the same, we use “ie” because that’s what their grandparents told
them to do.
Here present on this list, we have cousins with (or who descend from)
every conceivable different spelling of the name. For example:
Ogilvie (most common), Oglesby (2nd most common), Ogilvy (third) and then
lots of Ogelvie, Oggelsby, Ogelvee, Oglevee, Ogilby, Ogilbee, Ogilvee,
Ogg, Oguilve, Oguilvee, Oglesbee, Ogelesbee, Ogelvy, Ogelsvee, Oglesbie.
Yes, I have even seen Ogilly, Ogillive, Oguilby, and Ogilbia.
Did I leave any out? Please let us know!
I’m sure there are more.
Oh yeah,….Dare I say it? ….O’Gil-vie………….HAHAHAHA FOFL LOL
(your Grandma was right! Return the mail if it is addressed in this
No Don N., there is nothing Irish about Clan Ogilvie. While it is true,
that during the Highland clearances and such, many an Ogilvie stopped in
Ireland on their way to the different colonies of the British Empire, the
truth is, that they were only visiting for a while.
The name comes from the ancient Pictish words “Ocel Fa”. This is supposed
to mean “High Plain” or “High Land”….(Highlander??!). The “O” part does
not mean “of” as it would in in the case of “O'” in Irish names. At least
in the “V” variations. Yes, we have the “V” and the “B” variations. At
least that narrows it down to two basic forms.
The “B” form, basically Oglesby and all its variations, is the old
Anglicized (English) version of the Scottish “V” form. Get it?
So that’s not too hard to understand, but why is there an Ogilvie and
Ogilvy. I used to think that Ogilvy was in use only by the Ogilvy
descendants of the house of Airlie and the Clan Chiefs, but I have come to
find out that this is not the rule. I don’t think there are any rules
with this name! Maybe someone thought that the grammatically correct
plural of Ogilvy was Ogilvies and then someone dropped the “s” to
singularize it again. Who knows?
I have a theory about the “B” form. Being that, in so many languages the
word for land is fa, fie, bie, by, bee, vie etc., (or something like
that); and our progenitor, Gilbert of Angus, was given the land’s of “Ocel
Fa” by his father, then maybe the English tried to simplfy things by
writing the name from the idea that descendants of Gilbert were “Of Gil’s
Land” or “O’Gils By”……oh no, there’s that “O'” again! Forget it! It
was only a theory!
There is however a real answer to the question: “Why the differences is
spelling?” Looking back to the time that the spelling variations seem to
start popping up (and that’s just about every time before the turn of the
the answer is clear and simple:
NO ONE KNEW HOW TO SPELL!!!!!!!
that’s the answer! This is a problem that has affected just about every
family, not just the Ogilvies. Even the Smiths have spelling variations
in their name for the same reason. One would think with a name like
Smith, it would be pretty difficult to mess it up.
Somewhere about 1860, someone decided that the spelling of surnames should
be “standardized”. Someone else thought it should be illegal to change
the spelling of one’s surname and/or the surname without due process of
law. Somehow all this went into effect and at the time, your ancestor
gave the spelling that he/she knew or could figure out. If not, someone
else did it for them, and that’s the spelling you got stuck with. If you
are searching for ancestors prior to the 1860’s then you have to remember
that there were no rules and look for all variations of the name.
Basically, in research, you can count on the “Og” part, and that’s about
In Scotland and England, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone whose name
isn’t spelled Ogilvie, Oglesby or Ogilvy. Actually you’d be hard pressed
to find even them! But yes some of the clan did stay in the UK, and some
of them are even here on the List. (At least we know “someone is minding
the store”) And of course, some Ogilvies, like Bonnie Holyoak, went back!
It seems that the majority of spelling variations occured in the different
colonies of England way back when.
Remember that the Highland Clans were not “very big on” educating their
children in the “3-R’s”. So when Ogilvies migrated from Scotland to the
colonies all over the world, the spelling of the name in records, was
usually left up to the official who was doing the recording. Add to that,
the heavy Scottish accent and Voila! you have confusion!
Let’s use my line, the Georgia/Nova Scotia Ogilvies, as an example. Our
ancestor James O., first showed up in the English Crown Colony of Georgia
in 1759. He and his family were illiterate, (sounds like a dirty word).
As a landowner and grantee, as well as a business man, there are numerous
offical documents with his “mark” on them, no signature, and his name is
recorded differently on every document, and in every newspaper notice etc.
We see both the “V” and “B” forms and variations for the same guy.
Remember that we’re talking about the English colony, and the English
officials were educated, and of course had a tendancy to due things THEIR
way, which meant that the “B” form was most likely to be used.
When James registered his “mark” and “brands”, (he owned cattle), and that
of 4 of his children the officials recorded their names as follows:
James Ogilvie, Peter Ogelsby, John Ogelesby, Ann Ogelesby, William
Oglesby. Same immediate family, different spellings.
[Ref.: Marks and Brands, Book K, 1755-1793, pgs. 44 & 61, State of Georgia
Archives & History]
Peter and John (the Loyalists) went to Scottish Nova Scotia in 1783 and
their descendants ended up with the Scottish “Ogilvie” spelling. Ann and
William disappeared, and may have stayed in Georgia and their descendants
might have carried the “Ogelesby, Oglesby” etc. spelling.
(No! This is not an excuse for all you many people on the list, with your
lines stuck in the Georgia disaster, to get me going on that one! The
Georgia ordeal is at least 3 weeks away. I have more research to do at he
NYPL and just ordered some microfilms. So, get yourselves geared up, get
some more contacts to join the list and please don’t jump the gun!)
Well the wind up seems to be that there is no real, right and/or official
spelling of the name. At least I haven’t seen or heard of it!
For our purposes here, when referring to the List and/or the Clan, I use
the spelling Ogilvie, which is the most common, for the convenience of it,
and not to exclude anyone, but to include everyone. You are all welcome
and encouraged to use the spelling of your choice at any time. (Try to
I supppose that we could ask our Clan Chief, His Grace The Earl of Airlie,
for a ruling or something on this issue, but then most of the people that
still carry the name would have to go out and spend a fortune on lawyers
to have legal name changes. I guess it is best to “let sleeping dogs
I encourage you all to add your two cents to this. If you have any
comments, facts to share, stories (not the sept) to tell, more theories,
contradictions, and controversies (Ogg!), please write to the list with
them! I am particularly interested in hearing from our Ogg listmembers.
The Oggs hail from Forfarshire/Angus, as do the Ogilvies. There is a
controversy as to whether the name is an abbreviated form of Ogilvie or
whether the Oggs are part of Clan Young. Ogg in some kind of old Scottish
language is translated as young.
Let’s hear from you all!