"Brown", or as it used often to be spelt in
Scotland, "Broun", is one of the most common names in the country, and
is usually derived from a descriptive nickname relating to the family
progenitor's personal colouring (most likely hair, complexion, or eyes). In 1128
a Sir David Le Brun ("Sir David the Brown") witnessed the foundation
charter of Holyrood Abbey, and Le Bruns held lands in Cumberland in the early
middle ages - at a time when it was part of the Scottish kingdom. In the later
middle ages the Brouns of Colstoun emerged with a coat of arms - Gules, a
chevron between three fleur-de-lis Or - which reflected their claim to be
descended from the kings of France, and in 1686 Patrick Broun of Colstoun was
made a Baronet of Nova Scotia (his descendants now live in Australia).
In the Gaelic-speaking highlands and islands the name Brown was sometimes misused as the English equivalent for names such as Mac a'bhriuthainn ("Son of the Brehon") which derives from Britheamh, the title given to the hereditary judges of the Kingdom of the Isles. In phonetic forms such as Mac a'Briuin (1408) this Gaelic name came very close to some variants of the lowland English "Brun/Broun", such as Brwne (1505) or Brouin (1546). The more usual derivation of Brown in the Gaidhealtachd was however as the English equivalent of Mac-Mhaoil-Dhuinn or Mac-Ghille-Dhuinn, meaning "Son of the brown devotee, servant, or lad" (from the Gaelic donn or duinne for "brown"). Various phonetic forms of this name appear in the 1600s in the west of Scotland, such as M'Ilduin in Inverchellan, Argyll, and Makildoun & M'Ildyn in Glasgow, and according to highland tradition it was during the Civil Wars of the 17th century that the events occurred which brought the MacMillan sept of Brown into existence. The story is told by Cuthbert Bede in "Argyll's Highlands and the Lords of Lorne" (page 47):
MacMillan was a great man in Carradale Glen. He had three sons who were very strong like himself. At that time, the Atholmen used to come to Kintyre for the purpose of plunder and to drive away the cattle of the glen. Once, they made a raid an MacMillan's cattle, when he was from home; but when he returned and saw that his cattle were away, he armed himself and his three sons, and pursued the plunderers. A fierce combat ensued in which MacMillan was victorious and drove back his cattle; but his younger son, instead of returning home, continued his pursuit of the enemy. His father was afraid that he was killed; but, in a few days, he came back, carrying a great load of the Atholmen's heads. Seeing this, his father cried out, Mo laochan, mo ghille donn! 'S tu fhein an sonn a chuireadh riu! ("My little hero, my brown-haired lad! You're the champion yourself, to master them!"). The descendants of this man were called Brown; and that was the origin of the name in Carradale.
There are records of MacMillans in Carradale going back to
1541, and they're said to have been the lairds of the glen until the mid-18th
century. One of the townships they held there was Brackley, which in 1658 was
occupied by an Archibald MacMillan. In 1692 one of the tenants of Brackley who
appeared amongst the "fencible men" of Argyll (members of the local
militia) was Ferqr Broune. A William Browne served on the assize
at Inverary in 1675 with John McIlvoill. He was probably the same William Brown
who was Provost of Inverary in 1678, but had retired from that position by 1680.
In 1699 the "leat Provost" served on the assize at Inverary with
Donald Walker and merchants Robert Brown and John Brown [see Justiciary Records
of Argyll & the Isles].
It's reasonable to assume that Browns living amongst MacMillans elsewhere (Knapdale, Loch Tayside, Lochaber, Glenurquhart, parts of the Outer Hebrides, and the Glenkens of Galloway) may also have belonged to the clan; and there's a good case for suggesting that even those associated with the Lamonts - the only other clan to claim Brown as a septname - could in origin have been MacMillan-Browns.
The Lamonts descended from a great northern Irish kindred - that to which the MacSweens and MacLachlans also belonged - which had ancient ties with the parent kindred of the MacMillans (going back probably to the time of Macbeth). The clans emerging from these great kindreds in the later middle ages held lands side-by-side in Knapdale and the Cowal peninsula, with the Lamonts coming to dominate the south of Cowal. In the early 14th century a member of the MacMillan kindred had been granted the lands of Glendaruel, in the north west of Cowal - at the same time as their first recorded charter for Knapdale - and while it's not known with what success or for how long the MacMillans and their cousins may have controlled Glendaruel, kindreds descended from them are to be found there amongst the small lairds and tenants recorded from the 15th century to the 18th; i.e. the M'kanes/M'channanichs, the M'gibbons, and the (Mac)Baxters. It seems quite likely therefore that MacMillan-Browns may also have settled there amongst their cousins, and as MacMillan power declined in the 16th and 17th century - eventually resulting in M'Channanichs and M'gibbons adopting the name Buchanan, and the Baxters becoming tenants of the Campbells - that Browns may have chosen to associate themselves with the other main power on the Cowal peninsula, the Lamonts.
One indication that this might have been the case is that while the MacMillans have a very specific story about the origin of their sept of Brown, the Lamonts merely report that some of their clanspeople "changed their names [to Brown] in troubled times".
While it may be the case therefore that the Lamont-Browns were also in origin MacMillans, any Browns who can trace their family back to the Cowal peninsula should consider themselves as belonging to Clan Lamont (though they'd also be welcome to join Clan MacMillan as well). Those whose ancestors can be shown to have come from Kintyre, or from any other areas associated with the MacMillans should obviously join Clan MacMillan; and those from elsewhere in Scotland can choose to associate themselves with whatever clan was most powerful in the area their ancestors came from (assuming that clan will take them), or can choose between the Lamonts and the MacMillans, both of whom will certainly give any Browns a warm welcome.
George F.Black, The Surnames of Scotland (New York Public Library, 1946).
Frank Adam, The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands (Stirling, 1970).
George Way & Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia (Glasgow, 1998).
Rev.Somerled MacMillan, The MacMillans and Their Septs (Glasgow 1951).
Graeme M. Mackenzie, The Origins of the MacMillans and Related Kindreds (Clan MacMillan Centre, 2001).