The Campbells Are Coming!
No family in Scotland has achieved greater success or more hatred (probably one because of the other) than the Campbell Clan. Almost all the clans dislike us, even to this day. It is perhaps the necessary tribute paid to success, for after every conflict or upheaval in the Highlands the Clan has come out of the turmoil with more property. (The hatred may also be attributed to the fact that the warlike Campbells very nearly annihilated the entire McDonald clan.) Certainly there is no greater family among the nobility of Scotland.
I can personally vouch for the unpopularity of the Campbell Clan among many of the Scots of modern-day Britain. While traveling in Scotland I mentioned to a cab driver I was a Campbell. He warned me not to mention it again, as the Campbells were not well regarded in Scotland.
The surname Campbell is Scots in origin, but has been attributed to several derivations.
Nickname - Exploit or Incident
One of the lesser held attributions of the surname Campbell is as a nickname formed in connection with the following exploit. The Romans under Julius Ceasar overran Britain (England) and Caledonia (Scotland) in 55 B.C. They were never able to go farther than the foot of the Grampian Mountains in Scotland; there they met up with the hardy, warlike Highlanders, the most powerful being the Clan Diarmid (Black Clan). The story goes that the chief of the Clan Diarmid had a son – an enterprising young man named Colin who got permission from his father to take a hand picked lot of clansmen and attack the Roman camp at night. Collin attacked and killed them all. Each clansman brought a trophy from the Roman camp, Colin brought back the camp bell (the story goes that the Romans used bells for their signals and calls instead of a bugle). Colin was thereafter called Colin Campbell. When the old Chief Diarmid died and young Colin Campbell was named chief, he changed the clan name from Diarmid to Campbell – which remains the clan name.
The family name, Campbell, is thought by some to be Italian in origin, Campobello, meaning beautiful field. The Scottish version would be Portobello, the English (Fairfield), the French (Beauchamp) and the German (Schoenfeldt). Most scholars dispute this interpretation by arguing that the documents of the time were written in Latin and Campobello would be the Latin equivalent of Campbell. Also, no early records contain the Italian derivation of the surname.
Nickname - Physical Characteristic (The most widely held derivation of the surname.)
The head of the Clan Campbell, the Duke of Argyll, and most scholars hold that the name is purely Scottish in origin, its original spelling being Cambel, hence the pronunciation. The name itself is from the Scots Gaelic Caimbeul, meaning 'wry mouth' or 'crooked mouth', from the Gaelic cam and beul, and was, presumably, a description of the first bearer who was said to have a curved or crooked mouth. It has also been argued that the nickname had nothing to do with the first bearer's physical appearance, but rather that what came out of his mouth was less than truthful, hence 'crooked mouth'.
The first modern record of the name, Cambel, is on a single surviving record for a person who owned land near Stirling in 1263. A manuscript pedigree of the Campbells of Argyll (it is unproven family lore that my family is descended from the Duke of Argyll) in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh traces the Campbells to King Arthur. I have not personally seen the manuscript, but as a family historian I'd really like a chance to read it.
Campbell ranks 43rd in American family names and there were 512,879 in the United States in 1995 according to the Encyclopedia of American Family Names.
The most famous Campbell in my family is my GGGrandfather John Campbell. John lived in Carroll County, Missouri, during the Civil War. Carroll was a Northern and Republican stronghold. John Campbell, a local merchant and postmaster, held Confederate recruitment meetings in his home. When the war ended, John ran on the Democratic ticket for Sheriff, receiving more votes than all the Presidential Candidates in the election, Republican or Democrat.
I am writing a family history for my family entitled Time and Chance - Happen To Them All. A sample is posted here and shows the incorporation of some of the information regarding the derivation of the surname.