Origins Of The Name



The vast majority of the 'Sorbies' originate from the Parish of Stonehouse, in the County of Lanarkshire, Scotland and before that from the area around Sorbie in Wigtownshire, about 100 miles south west. There have been Sorbies in Stonehouse for at least 400 years. The earliest reference is a testament for "Williame Sorbie in Netherfeild, Strahavene" in 1616. There is another William "wabster in Stanehouse" in 1626, Margaret in "Stanehouse" in 1657 and John in "Stainhouse, parish of Stainhouse" in 1671. It appears that most living Sorbies are descended from these few individuals. 

The family were down-to-earth working folk, chiefly earning their living in the weaving and mining industries. Because many of them had common names such as Tom, James and John, they were usually given nicknames, such as 'Rabbit Tam', 'Jimmy Kyles' and 'Doo Bob' to tell them apart. In case you're wondering, 'Kyles' was a form of skittles and a 'Doo' is a pigeon. The practice still goes on today in our Sorbie e-group where people are known as "Tam the Polis", "Robert the Councillor" or "Mitchell the Bridge Builder"..!!

Location of Stonehouse and it's surrounding area.

 These few original Sorbie families had a number of sons who then had a number of sons and soon the numbers mushroomed. In the second half of the 18th century, there were 11 Sorbie marriages in Stonehouse; the first half of the 19th century, 23 and the second half, 55. This gives a total of 89 marriages in Stonehouse Parish alone between the years 1750 and 1900. The number of Sorbie marriages for the whole of Scotland during this period were 16, 70 and 169 respectively, making a grand total of 255. 

William Sorbie of Stonehouse 1811-1901.

By the census of 1881, there were 207 individuals by the name of Sorbie living in Scotland, of which 156 were resident in Lanarkshire and 74 of these in the Parish of Stonehouse. Of the grand total, 100 people were actually born in Stonehouse, so you can see the migration from the town had already begun as Scotland became more industrialised and people became more mobile. Other clusters of Sorbies also lived in the neighbouring Parishes of Avondale, Dalserf, Hamilton and Lesmahagow. In 2017 the process came to an almost inevitable conclusion when it was reported that there was no-one left bearing the surname Sorbie in the town. A sad conclusion when you consider that Stonehouse represents the heartland and spiritual home of our family.

Looking west down the River Avon valley from St. Ninian's Church, Stonehouse.

There are currently around 300 people in the U.K. with the 'Sorbie' surname, and around 500 worldwide. But obviously there are many thousands more descendants spread out all over the world. The Scots are renowned for their ability to colonize far-off lands and adapt to the local way of life and the Sorbies are no exception.

There is strong evidence that these first settlers in Stonehouse or their immediate forefathers migrated the 100 or so miles north from the area around the Parish of Sorbie in Wigtownshire in South West Scotland. Stonehouse was located on the main cattle droving road up to Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and the livestock fairs were often held in 'The Cross' in the town, so it would've been familiar to them. From the late 1600's onwards urban populations were expanding, so the cattle were taken on foot to the places where there was greatest demand. The drovers were a resourceful and hardy breed with an intimate knowledge of the countryside. Although they often appeared wild and uncultured to outsiders, they were very skilled and honest men, not to be underestimated.

"Auld Stanehouse Fair" - at Stonehouse Cross.

Stonehouse is still located on the main A71 trunk road from Edinburgh in the east across to Ayr on the west coast. An elderly lady recently recounted an old joke that the Sorbies were "sheepstealers from the Borders who got chased out of Wigtown up to Stonehouse". This family folklore seems as always to be quite close to the truth. Apparently the local Lanarkshire pronunciation of the name was "Serbie". All information points to the conclusion that the Sorbie family did indeed take their name from the village of Sorbie in Wigtownshire and not vice-versa.


The ancient termination of the name of the parish "by" or "bie" is only found in areas where there were Norse settlements. Sor being "sour" or marsh/wetland. In Sweden Sorbie is pronounced "Soor-Buy" and means "mud, sour ground". This ties in neatly with the habitation around Sorbie which is quite boggy in nature.

 So it is apparent that the name Sorbie is Norse in origin. This was most likely introduced into this area by the Viking raiders who visited the lands of North Britain from the late 700's onwards, many settling on these shores. It is commonly agreed that there are nearly 2,000 place names of Viking origin in Northern England and Scotland.

Whithorn which is 4 miles south of Sorbie, is known as the seat of Christianity in Scotland and which was by the 10th century a thriving Norse settlement. This again supports the view of Sorbie being a Scandinavian name. In Galloway, unlike other parts of Scotland, the Viking overlords seem to have become Christian and, instead of the church locally being persecuted or destroyed, it appears to have enjoyed Viking support at least to a measure.

Looking east from Sorbie village, the countryside is dominated by arable farmland.

A recent genetic survey of Great Britain conducted by BBC Television tested the 'Y' chromosome, carried only by men. This is passed directly from father to son with virtually no alteration. This chromosome allows geneticists to begin to unravel the male ancestry of the British Isles. The DNA results supported the historical and archaeological record, which shows the Vikings travelling from Norway across to the Northern Isles of Scotland, then around the west coast and into the Irish Sea. 

The Vikings raided, then settled in Scotland.

The proportion of Viking chromosomes was found to be present in over 60% of men living on the Orkney Islands in the far North of Scotland, through the Hebrides (30%), Cumbria and down to the Isle of Man, 10%. This area obviously includes South West Scotland which would have had a heavy Viking presence over 1,000 years ago and a fair percentage of it's inhabitants still have Viking blood. These areas remained under Scandinavian control for centuries, with Orkney and Shetland the last to be lost in the 15th century. The longer the period of Norse settlement the greater the prevalence of Viking genes.

The centre and East of Scotland and North East England, showed a mixture of Danish Vikings, Angles and Saxons (from Saxony, just south of Denmark). These groups invaded Britain in the 5th Century. Wales, the South coast of England and Cornwall showed up to be mostly Ancient Britons (Celts) who already inhabited the lands when the invaders arrived.


Sorbie Village, pictured in the late 1800's.


The earliest known record of a Sorbie in Scotland is in the Protocol Book of Gavin Ros N.P. 1512-1532. On 2nd March 1530, at the Principal Mansion in the Lands of Stare, in the Sheriffdom of Ayr, a Precept of Sasine was witnessed by Thomas Sorby. N.P. = Notary Public - one who took notes or memoranda of others acts. Protocol Books were kept by Notaries and contained a record of their official acts. Sasine (Scots Law) is the act of giving legal possession of feudal property.

"Sorbie. Sorby". - The surname of an ancient family in Galloway who owned the lands of Sorby, which now form the Parish of Sorbie, Wigtownshire. Gilbert de Sowerby witnessed a charter by William de Cunynburgh, c. 1268. Peter Sorby in Dundee charged with aiding the English (Burning Churches!!!), in 1552. In the 'Register of Testaments' (Wills 1595-1800), William Sorbie, Weaver in Stanehouse, is recorded in 1626, Margaret Sorbie in 1657, John Sorbie in 1671 and Marion Thomson, spouse to James Sorbie in 1689. Also mentioned is a John Sorbie in Upper Achie, 1748 (Kirkcudbright).

 It is believed that the lands of Sorbie were originally owned by a family named Sorby, who disappeared without a trace, as has happened with other families who were in Galloway.  The chartulary of Dryburgh informs us that Robert de Veteripont gave to that abbey the church and lands of Lesser Sowerby (Sorbie), and that the priory and convent of 'Candida Casa' agreed to pay 20 marks for the fruits, revenues and dues of the churches of Sowerby and Kirkfolan (Fillan), of which the abbot and convent of Dryburgh appointed them procurators. There is no date in the Chartulary for the gift of Veteripont.

Sorbie in July 2001 showing the same view as the Victorian photo above. 

Afterwards the Ahannays or Hannays obtained possession, but at what period is not clear. Hannay tradition speaks of a Patrick Hannay of Sorbie in 1150 who served Richard Coeur de Lion and was knighted in the Holy Land. There is another mention of a Hannay with a Sorbie connection, Odo Hannay around 1484. 


The reason the family left Sorbie and the fact that there have been no Sorbies living there for many generations has been passed down through family folklore. An edict from King James VI of Scotland (later to become James I of England) in the late 1500's expelled them from the area and threatened death to any Sorbie who should return. Most of the family seemed to have settled in Stonehouse, others headed East towards the Dumfries and Kirkcudbright areas. What is sure is that no Sorbie families seem to have been resident in Wigtownshire from that date on.. This could well be an exaggerated version of the real story which appears to have a connection with the Clan Hannay.

Map showing Sorbie village and it's immediate environs, including the Tower.

The Hannays were the local Lords of the Manor at this time and still have an annual 'reunion' every year at Sorbie Tower which they took into trust in the 1960's and have completed important renovation work. The Tower was built around 1570 by Alexander Hannay to replace an earlier wooden castle and it fell into total disrepair in 1748. It still is an impressive building and is free to visit. Hannay legend also speaks of their expulsion from the Sorbie area around the year 1600, due to feuding with local families principally the Murrays of Broughton.

This resulted in the Hannays being outlawed and driven away from S.W.Scotland, their lands confiscated along with Sorbie Tower. The clan  also had previous feuds with the Clan Kennedy and Clan Dunbar. Many Hannays moved to Ireland, in particular Ulster and the name can still be found there and in many surrounding counties, particularly in the form "Hanna". Another form of the name, "Hannah" is particularly common amongst the descendants of those that remained in Scotland. But it seems likely that some of them moved up the cattle drove roads which were the super highways of the time, into Central Scotland bringing the name of the village with them the first recorded Sorbie in Stonehouse is about 1626, which would tie-in with this theory.

It certainly appears that the Sorbie and Hannay family histories are intertwined. The big question is whether the Sorbies were an ancient family in their own right with their own distinct history, or an 'offshoot' of the Hannay or some other family, who took the name 'Sorbie' to denote their place of origin. Investigations are still ongoing..


We have often been asked whether the surname is connected to the 'Sorby' family which is most prevalent in Northern England, principally in the Yorkshire area, mainly around Sheffield. The general consensus is that this is a different family. Tim Sorby of the 'Sorby Genealogical Group' agrees that the origin of this name also derives from Scandinavia and was similarly introduced by Danes and Norsemen during their numerous invasions. The name then seems to have arisen from place names in Yorkshire such as Sowerby, Saurby and Sorsby. 

In North America, a large portion of the Sorbys do not originate from England but from Norway or possibly Sweden. In Norway there is a town of 'Sorby'. Norweigan Sorbys and British Sorbys share the same name but are probably not related (except through their extremely early Scandinavian heritage). 

So although the Sorbies and Sorbys have their family bases relatively close to each other they appear to have developed independently, with little or no contact. The respective family genealogists on the other hand have now established a full dialogue and regularly exchange ideas and information.

The genetic survey mentioned above bears out this theory. It suggests that it was the Danish Vikings who settled in this part of Northern England, not the Norwegians who arrived on the west coast where the 'Sorbies' come from. So although the 'Sorbys' also have Scandinavian heritage, there appears to be no connection with the 'Sorbies'.


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