There are several articles written by various authors over the years that explain the meaning of the Gillespies name, and its origins. Some are provided on this page. There has been considerable controversy if the name first appeared in Ireland or in Scotland, and in what location in each country. It seems to have evolved over time with different spellings from the 1100s, when the need arose to distinguish between many people with the same first name.
In Scotland the last name Gillespie is found mainly in records in Stirlingshire , and Kirkudbright in the 1600s. Other authors have stated the name was used in earlier centuries but using variant spellings and without specific record found to prove that.
Here are links to websites are provided that specifically address this interest, and articles from other sources.
For example, this website gives 6,285th most common name in the world, with highest concentration in the United States. About 90,000 people bear this surname.
The Surnames of Scotland (book)
For some reason unknown is regarded as the Gaelic equivalent of Archibald, possibly since it appears in arch-bishop.
“This name is an attempt at the spelling of Gaelic Gilleasbuig, the ‘bishop’s gillie’ or ‘servant.‘ Ewan filius Gillaspeck witnessed a charter by Alwin, the Earl of Levenaux c1175-99. Between 1220-1240 Gillescop de Cletheueys witnessed a charter of the lands of Fedale. …the name had invaded Northumberland, appearing there as: Gillaspik in 1364, Ghillaspie 1380, Gilaspy 1477, Gilhaspy 1508, Gillaspy 1528, Gillespey 1541,Gilhespy, Galeaspe 1653, Gilispie 1688.
Source: The Surnames of Scotland by George F Black.
The Book of Ulster Surnames by Robert Bell also lists Gillespie, but says: “In Ulster Gaelic, Gillespie was originally Mac Giolla Easpuig, which means bishop. It is borrowed from the Latin episcoput. The name therefore means ‘son of the servant of the bishop.’ and indeed Bishop is one of the anglicisations of the name
In Ireland Gillespies lived in Ulster, particularly in counties: Antrim, Donegal, Armagh and Tyrone. This was also reflected in prep-Plantation records where nearly all Gillespie mentioned are Ulster men. These Irish Gillespies belonged to a sept which originated in County Down, a branch of which was early established in Co Donegal. At the end of the 12th Century, MacGiolla Espcoip was recorded as chief of Aeilabhra in what is now the barony of Iveagh in Co Down. In the later medieval period, the Gillespies of Donegal were erenaghs of Kilrean and of Kilcar in the baronies of Boylagh and Banagh respectively.
Many of the Scottish Gillespies belonged to the Clan Macpherson (itself an ecclesiastical name meaning ‘son of the parson’), and as such to the great Clan Chattan Federation. In the reign of Alexander III in the fourteenth century, Gillies Macpherson, a younger son of Ewan Macpherson, chief of the clan, was first chief of the Macphersons of Invereshie in Invernessshire. Many of the Macpherson sept names derive from this Gillies, including Gillespie, Gillies, Lees, MacLeish and MacLise. Gillespie was most common in Argyllshire and the Isle where it was anglicised much earlier than in Ulster. A John Gilaspison is noted in the records as early as 1376.
Hugh Gillespie of the Clan Macpherson, like many other Jacobites who fought in the 1715 rebellion, was forced to seek refuge in Ulster. Hi grandson, Major General Sir Robert Rollo Gillespie KCB, 1766-1814, led a colourful career expanding the British Empire in India and the Far East, but was killed while leading his troops in an assault on the fortress of Kalunga in Nepal. His statue stands in Comber, Co Down, the place of his birth.
For some curious reason, the name Archibald was always accepted in both Scotland and Ulster as an anglicisation of Gillespie. The Scot Gillespie O’Duibhne, to take only one instance, famous as the first to take the name Campbell, and the progenitor of that great clan was equally well know as Archibald.”
Variant spellings for the last name Gillespie that are found on this website include:
Galaspy, Galespie, Gallaspey, Gallaspy, Gallespie, Gallespy, Gelaspy, Gellespie, Gilasbey, Gilaspey, Gilaspie, Gilaspy, Gilespie, Gillasbey, Gillasby, Gillaspey, Gillaspie, Gillaspy, Gillesby, Gillespee, Gillespey, Gillespi, Gillispie, Glasby, Glaspy. There are also early names that added the Mc or Mac in front of them, meaning son of. In Ireland records one sees Gillaspeck or McGillaspic as examples.
My own last name Gillespie was spelled five different ways in early records for our family before becoming commonly spelled as Gillespie.