Are The Middle Eastern and Europeans Hannas Related?

The English language Hanna surname is derived from Hannay. Stewart Francis’s The Hannays of Sorbie shows a church record indicating that a Fynlaus A’Hanna was a priest at Whithorn in 1390, a very short distance from Sorbie. He also notes a Hannay letter indicating that the family was using the name Hanna in Northern Ireland in the 1700s.

Mirna Hana, Young singer and Chaldean Christian from Iraq

As one would expect, most members of the Clan live in countries which were colonized by the British Empire, such as the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and various other countries once governed by Great Britain. Hanna is the most common of the names related to Hannay, such as Hannah and Hanney. However, there are more Hannas in Egypt than in any other country. The next 4 countries with the most Hannas are the US, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The name is more frequent in Lebanon than in any other country, except the Bahamas. Clearly, there is a large population of Hannas in the Middle East. Are these Hannas related to those who appear to be related to the Hannays of Scotland?

This article looks at this question with an assumption that the major historical connection that could explain a forgotten family relationship between the Hannays and and Middle East Hannas is the Crusades.  The Hannay coat of arms has often been cited as evidence that some of the family participated in the Crusades. The article will also consider DNA and the history of adoption of surnames in the Middle East to determine if there is any connection between the Scottish Hannays and Hannas and Middle Eastern Hannas.

The History of the Crusades and Scotland

A thesis by Alan Macquarie entitled The Impact of the Crusading Movement in Scotland, 1095-c.1560, written in 1982, provides an otherwise difficult to find synopsis of Scottish participation in the crusades.

Pope Urban II’s first call for a crusade resulted in many groups of the common people in the British Isles leaving their homes and departing for France. Included were people described as native Celtic Scots, who marched under the leadership of Robert, Duke of Normandy in 1096. There is no definitive account of Galwegians participating in the First Crusade, though “native Celtic Scots” did participate. Native Celtic Scots could include Galwegians. While today Galloway is often thought of as more closely associated with the Borders where English and Scots was spoken, Gaelic was the language of Galloway until the 16th century.

The native Scots were described as poor soldiers by their French leaders, “ferocious among themselves, unwarlike elsewhere.” Their manner and dress were also described with contempt. The First Crusade successfully established crusader states in the Eastern Mediterranean by 1099. It is conceivable that this crusade included common folks from Galloway, however, there is no documentation that is the case.

The Second Crusade, 1147-1149, marked the first participation of the royalty of Europe, though most of the Scottish participation was of common people as in the First Crusade. A march to Jerusalem was stopped well short of its goal by the Seljuk Turks, perhaps with assistance from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Komnemnos. The Second Crusade did restore Lisbon to Christian Portuguese rule, however.

A quote from the James Douglas’s Book of Galloway (1745) cited by Stewart Francis indicates that the family took part in battles from “Flodden to the Gates of Rhodes,” meaning Greece. Britain did not fight any battles in Greece other than in the crusades until the Napoleonic Wars of the 1800s, so this quote suggests a long time belief that the family did participate in Crusades. Francis suggests that the Hannays might have participated in the Third Crusade of Richard the Lionheart from 1189-1192. This does not, however, fit well with the history of the English and Scottish relations. Prior to the Third Crusade, Richard ended his father’s war with Scotland by conceding land in return for payment of 10,000 Marks to fund English participation in the Crusade. Some Scottish Anglo Normans participated in the Third Crusade. A number of historical factors and DNA evidence lead this author to believe that the Hannay family in Southwest Scotland, and at Sorbie in particular, was of Gaelic origin. This idea will be explored in other writings. For the purposes of this article, however, one cannot rule out some participation in the Third Crusade from Southwest Scotland, but no evidence of such participation has come to light thus far.

It is very possible that some men from Galloway “took the cross” during the Fifth Crusade, 1213-1221.  A ship sailed from Galloway to the Egyptian city of Damietta in 1219, under Saher de Quincy. Two Gaelic bards, who apparently sailed on this ship, left poems about their defeat and trip back to Italy. Since the ship sailed from Galloway, these men may have lived in then Gaelic speaking Galloway.

Perhaps the most significant of the families who can be documented to have participated in the crusades from Galloway are the Balliols. The family participated in the Eighth Crusade in 1270. Dervorguilla of Galloway, one of three female heirs to the last Lord of Galloway, married John Balliol, 5th Baron of Balliol. Her land holdings, from which feudal duties such as military service were owed, included much of Galloway. Wigtown was the home of one Balliol castle. Members of the Balliol family in Galloway appear to have been participants in the Eighth Crusade in 1270, including her son Hugh who may have been killed. Another son of Dervorguilla, John, would soon become King John I of Scotland, another grand story of Scottish history we won’t delve into here.

Stewart Francis also postulated that Hannays may have been included in the Scot Guards, formed in 1254, who accompanied Louis IX of France on a crusade. The guard was sent to France after France’s participation in the Seventh Crusade. The Eighth Crusade, about 1270, was to North Africa, and ended with widespread death and disease among its participants. It appears that the Scot Guards that might have been involved consisted of but 24 men, according to An Historical Account of His Majesty’s First, or the Royal Regiment of Foot (1832). That these guards were drawn from Galloway is not documented, though as noted previously the Balliol family can be shown to have participated in the Eighth Crusade. The Scots Guard was, however, associated with the Earl of Wigton, a Douglass, at a later time in the 15th century.

Beginning in 1296, Scotland found itself in the midst of wars with England which would continue, with interludes, for the next few centuries. These wars would stifle much, but not all, participation in the Crusades. The Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328 temporarily halted hostilities between the English and the Scots. James Douglass, who fought with the King Robert I the Bruce of Scotland against the Balliols and the English, crusaded in Iberia shortly after the signing of the Treaty.

This crusade went no farther than Spain. Douglas, whose descendants would govern Galloway as the Black Douglases, was killed in Spain in 1330, carrying the heart of King Robert the Bruce which was to have been buried in Jerusalem. It is hard to imagine that those accompanying Douglas to Spain included a Hannay, as the Galwegians abhored the rule of the Black Douglases.

The nature of Scottish, and particularly Galwegian, links to the crusades makes it hard to rule out Hannay participation in a crusade. There is, however, no direct evidence of such participation. Since participation in crusades cannot be ruled out, the meaning of the Hannay coat of arms can be examined.

The Coat of Arms and the Crusades

While Francis says that there was “no doubt” that “the head of the family at the dawn of organized heraldry” participated in a crusade, there is no clear evidence that Hannays participated in the Crusades. A more likely explanation of the heraldic symbols in the coat of arms is less dramatic.

The arms include a cross crosslet fitche over a crescent. It is not surprising that some would assume this indicates that the family participated in the crusades. The cross crosslet fitche looks somewhat like the Jerusalem cross, which was associated with the crusades, with a sword replacing the bottom arm of the cross and crosslets appearing on the end of the cross rather than within the cross. Crusader arms and coins often show some variant of a crescent and star. While there is some use of the now frequently used crescent and star by Muslims during the time of the Crusades, it was not widely used until the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 1700s, it was adopted by the Ottoman Empire as state symbol. Does this apparent connection of the crescent with Islam match with the art of heraldry?

There appears to be a more likely explanation for the use of the cross crosslet fitche and the crescent in the Hannay arms. An 1875 compilation of the Poetical Works of Patrick Hannay provides us with important information about the Hannay arms. The shield with the roebucks first appears in David Lyndsay’s Heraldry, folio 128 in 1542, according to the 1875 compliation.   Patrick Hannay’s original 1622 book included a frontpiece with both the shield and the crest elements.  The 1875 author then notes Nisbet’s System of Heraldry, vol. i plate 23 (12) (1722), comparing the older A’ Hannay arms with those of Patrick Hannay:

(For) his Difference, his father being a younger Son of Hannay of Sorbie, with a Cross Crosslet fitched, issuing out of a Crescent Sable.

This seems to suggest that the cross and crescent are related to the fact that Patrick’s father was a younger son of a Sorbie Hannay. In James Parker’s A Glossary of Terms Used in Heraldry, 1894, a crescent is noted as indicating a cadency, or order of descent from the father. However, a crescent is also noted to possibly be indicative of participation in a crusade.

The cross crosslet fitche has not been associated with the Crusades in heraldry references. Parker’s glossary assigned no particular meaning to such a cross element. The American College of Heraldry indicates that a cross crosslet fitchee is a symbol of “unshakeable faith.”

Where we are left is that is not inconceivable that a Hannay was in a crusade, and that the arms reflect such. However, given the explanation of Patrick Hannay’s arms in Nisbet’s work, this possibility is diminished. We shall now look at the modern Hannas in the Middle East to understand if there is any basis to believe that they are descendants of a Hannay crusader.

DNA Evidence

No indisputable historical evidence exists of Hannays (or Hannas) being the ancestor(s) or relations of more than 176,000 people using the name in Arabic speaking countries. The Hannay DNA project has Hanna participants from Arabic speaking countries. The haplogroups of these individuals are very far removed from the European Hannays and related surnames in the project, with no common male ancestor through YDNA in the last 20,000 years. It should be emphasized that this is not proof that there are no connections at all.

Analysis of Lebanese YDNA is similar. Lebanon is the most Christian of the Arabic speaking nations, with about 40% of its population belonging to a Christian groups. The largest group of related Hannas in the DNA project, which appears to have used the surname longest, belongs to the I2 haplogroup, having an ancestral mutation of M223. In the study of the Lebanese population, no M223 was noted. Again, this does not rule out some Hannay ancestral connection, as more widespread testing might find undiscovered populations of M223.

The Hanna Surname in the Middle East

The history of the Hanna surname in the Middle East suggests further reasons why most Middle Eastern Hannas are unlikely to be related to European Hannas in historical times. The Arabic last name Hanna, often rendered Hana, is a shortened form of the Biblical name John, Yuhanna in Arabic. The name is derived from the Hebrew for John, which is Yochanan, meaning “Yahweh is gracious.”  John the Baptist appears in the Quoran, but his name is rendered as Yahya in the Quranic Arabic.

Of course, the name Hannah appears in the Old Testament. Hannah, and various derivatives, are also commonly used as a female personal name in Arabic. In Arabic, the meaning has been rendered as compassionate, and is an acceptable Muslim name. Hannah is close to the Hebrew Channah, meaning merciful. However, as noted below, it is highly unlikely that a female personal name would be used as a surname, as most surnames have a personal male name origin. When Hanna is used as a boy’s  name, whether derived from the biblical Yuhanna or from the Arabic adjective Hannah, it can appear to be a surname.

The Hanna surname thus appears to be a Christian surname in the Middle East, though not exclusively so. Examples of this connection abound. The origin of the name was first suggested to me by a friend whose family origin is Egyptian Christian. He told me that his father told him that the use of Christian Arabic names became more acceptable after the British began domination of Egypt in 1882. One finds many Egyptian Coptic Christians, most of who belong to a sect not in communion with Roman Catholicism, having the surname Hanna or Hana. Some have been killed in recent violence. Mirna Hana, pictured in the featured image of this article,  is an Iraqi Chaldean Christian refugee who recently lauded for her singing talent. Iraqi Christians are often Chaldeans, who were in communion with the Orthodox. rather than Roman, Church until the 1500s. An Orthodox Christian Archbishop in Jerusalem had the last name of Hanna. A Lebanese ice cream vendor in the Christian section of Beirut has the last name Hana. Lebanese Christians include both Orthodox and Roman Christians, with many of the Romans being Maronites, whose history precedes the crusades.

The variety of Christians with the Hanna surname or a variant in Arabic speaking areas suggests that the surname is unlikely to have arisen in all of these areas from one or a handful of then Roman Christians from Scotland. The history of Arabic surname development also provides good reason that these Middle Eastern Hannas are unlikely to have arisen from a common ancestor.  The predominant naming pattern for children in the Arabic speaking countries is to be given a personal name, the “middle” name is their father’s personal name, and the “last” name is that of their grandfather. Family names, generally beginning with Al-, are becoming more common. In the words of one authority on Arabic surnames, “As a family name is not always used, and many Arab names are very common, it is difficult to identify a family relationship through names alone.”


It appears that ancestors of the Scottish Hannays are unlikely to be related to Middle Eastern Hannas. It is historically feasible that one or more Hannays went on a number of crusades, but no clear proof exists. The more likely explanation of the crescent in the first Hannay coat of arms is to designate Patrick Hannay’s father’s descent from a second son of Sorbie. There is some small chance of Hannas in Arabic speaking areas of the Middle East descended from a Hannay crusader. It seems, however, unlikely they would have a Hanna surname because of this descent, and that the surname would instead indicate that a recent ancestor had the Christian Arabic name for John.


_____, A Guide to Naming Practices (UK/Interpol March 2006). p. 34-35

Alan Macquarie, The Impact of the Crusading Movement in Scotland, 1095-c.1560, PhD Dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 1982.

Sarah Crome, Scotland’s First War of Independence (1999).

Stewart Francis, The Hannays of Sorbie (1959). The Hannays of Sorbie is available for purchase by members of the Clan Hannay Society: Click here (requires membership login).

4 replies
  1. Rita Ray
    Rita Ray says:

    Hi thank you for the article it was very informative . I’m about to marry into the Hanna name and I wanted to try and find out some history information about it. I was particularly curious because I Am marrying into a traditionally Catholic family from Lebanon and I was wondering where on earth my thusband got his red beard. He is 2nd generation and we live in the states. Who knows but it was a very interesting read. Thank you

  2. Lisa Hanna Castaldi
    Lisa Hanna Castaldi says:

    Yes I’ve always been curious about this. My Father’s Parents are from Syria & Lebanon (and were founders of the very first Orthodox Christian church in Allentown Pa.) My Grandmother told stories that were passed down about “The Crucades”. My Great Uncle from Syria (i have photos) had red hair and blue eyes. I have cousins on that side of my family (the Hanna family) with blue or green eyes & red hair. Maybe newer dna testing needs to be done?!

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