Settlers from Scotland were the ancestors of the BLAIR families, now fairly numerous in Ulster, where they are to be found in most of the nine counties of the province, but most frequently in County Antrim. The name was derived from the Gaelic BLAR, denoting a plain, especially a battlefield. When the sparse Irish population began to increase it became necessary to broaden the base of personal identification by moving from single names to a more definite nomenclature. The prefix MAC was given to the father's christian name, or O to that of a grandfather or even earlier ancestor. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. In Scotland the name was of territorial origin from one or more places of the name. Stephen de Blare was witness to a charter in 1204. Brice de Blair and Alexander del Blair witnessed an agreement between the burgh of Irvine and Brice de Eglunstone in 1205. Alexander de Blare witnessed a charter in 1214, and Thomas of Blayr was granted a safe conduct to travel into England in 1460. A notable member of the name was Robert Blair (1699-1746) the poet and preacher. He was educated at Edinburgh University and was ordained minister of Athelstaneford, East Lothian. He is best known for his poem 'The Grave' written in 1743. Over the centuries, most people in Europe have accepted their surname as a fact of life, as irrevocable as an act of God. However much the individual may have liked or disliked the surname, they were stuck with it, and people rarely changed them by personal choice. A more common form of variation was in fact involuntary, when an official change was made, in other words, a clerical error. Among the humbler classes of European society, and especially among illiterate people, individuals were willing to accept the mistakes of officials, clerks and priests as officially bestowing a new version of their surname, just as they had meekly accepted the surname they had been born with. In North America, the linguistic problems confronting immigration officials at Ellis Island in the 19th century were legendary as a prolific source of Anglicization.
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