Place name development
As we have already mentioned, likely place names to be the source of the name Cree are CRIEFF, Perthshire, about 20 miles west of Perth, and CREICH, Fife, a village about 20 miles east of Perth.
Lowland town and village names were anglicised at an early date. We can count this part of Perthshire as lowland, although the Highland Line is never far out of sight! The gaelic name of Crieff the town is reported to have been Craobh the Gaelic word for wood or a branch, reflecting the wooded nature of the town's situation which is still apparent today. The village name Creich comes from the Gaelic crioch meaning a boundary. Early forms of the names were Kref for Crieff, and Crech for Creich (which is also spelt Criech on some modern maps). We might have expected these two places to lose their final "soft" consonants and both to become Cree, as happened to the Irish village of Creagh in County Clare. However Crieff became an important town at an early date and the name probably became fossilised at the intermediate form Crieff as a result. Creiff (sic) is known as a surname in 1677. (Samuel Creiff married Hon. Helenor Monypenny, daughter of Sir James Monypenny, 18th of Pitmilly).
1214-1249 Symon de Kref (in Perth)
1365 John de Crey (in Inverness)
1378 Symon de Crech (in Dunkeld, Collace and Forgandenny)
1384 Simon de Creych (same person)
1386 Simon de Creffe (same person)
1419 Richard de Crech
1419 Richard de Creiff
1422 Richard de Creich
1429 Ricardo de Creich
1430 Richard de Crech
1430 Riched de Crech
1431 Richard de Crech
1431 Richard Creche (the town of Crefe is referred to in the same document.)
1431 Richard Creter (Creche)
1431 Riched de Creych
1432 Richard Creche (rector of Kilmany, Fife)
1432 Richard Creffe (rector of Kilmany, Fife)
1459 John of Cre (member of the Perth Guildry)
1462 John of Cre (member of the Perth Guildry)
1480 Johne Creich (in Kilmany parish near Creich)
1546/7 Johne, Richart, Walter and Patrick Cre
1554 Patricius Creich (student in St Andrews)
1556 Patricius Creycht (student in St Andrews)
1558 Patricius Creycht (student in St Andrews)
1568-1572 Mr. Patrick Creich (Minister at North Berwick)
The transcriptions available in the Archives section of this web site show a possible line of development of the surname from early locative names. It is useful to tabulate references to surnames similar to Cree from these records, which we have done on the left.
The record showing a Symon de Kref acting as a witness in Perth dates from 1249 at the latest. So it is well back into the period when surnames were becoming hereditary in non-Gaelic speaking Scotland. Symon may have inherited his surname from his father, but equally may simply have moved from the town of Kref (Crieff). For John of Cree, merchant in Perth in 1459, the odds are more in favour of his name being that of his father, since hereditary surnames were more usual by then. However the period of hereditary-surname adoption lasted a long time as the practice drifted downwards in the feudal heirarchy. So we cannot really answer the question as to whether John might be a descendant of Simon.
In the records relating to the priest Simon de Crech from 1378 to 1386 we see contemporary doubt about the final consonant of his surname. This suggests that firm link between surname and place-name had been lost. So the surname was not indicative of his personal origin but had become hereditary. It also suggests that the spoken version of the name was already fully anglicised, that is, it had lost the final consonant and was thus pronounced Cree.
Surprisingly, the same diversity of spelling is shown forty years later in respect of Richard de Creich. By 1432 we see the "of" part of his surname dropped.
In 1459 we see the final consonants dropped from the written surname with John of Cre, the first person for whom there is circumstantial evidence of a connection to modern Cree families. A group of Cre men almost 100 years later have now dropped the "of" to become simply Cre. They can be tentatively linked with particular individuals named in deeds relating to trade in Perth and thus to our Cree genealogies.
Finally, the spelling variations of the surname of student Patrick Creich (Patricius because the document is in Latin) hark back to our earlier diversity. Remembering that universities were entirely devoted to training for the ministry, we note that Patrick started as a student before the Reformation and became a Minister after it!
Early spellings of Cree in Scotland
Spellings of the surname Cree