by Ed Sanders

There are several theories about the origins of the Sanders name (see page on History Of Saunders) We believe our Sanders family originated in Scotland. Many of the early Sanders then migrated to England and Ireland and eventually to America. It is believed that their reasons for leaving the Isles were both political and religious. History records show that Mary Queen of England (aka "Bloody Mary") from 1553-1558, burned nearly 300 protestants at the stake. Victims included blind men, pregnant women, and Church leaders.

The root origins of the name came from Alexander meaning "helper of mankind". In early European history some settlers had named their first male child after Alexander The Great, and that it was shortened to names such as Alisandre (French) and Zander (German) and then anglicized to Sanders/Saunders by the early settlers in Scotland and England. Scottish history indicates that Sanders/Saunders were septs of the MacDonald or MacAlister clans1. A good source of information about Scottish clans and septs can be found at: www.yourscottishname.com (heavy graphics, slow loading).

Today there are about 360,000 individuals in the US with the name Sanders or Saunders and it ranks 71st as the most frequent surname (Smith being #1).

See Sanders Coat Of Arms

Following are three excerpts from interesting articles on the name Sanders/Saunders:

"Saunders: Your Family Origin" By Reg Willis, Heraldic Artist2

The ancient lords of Insbruck, in the Austrian Tyrol, are claimed as the ancestors of this family. Sir Harloven Saunders, who came to England about 1370, traced his descent from Robert, Lord Insbruck, brother of Rodolph, County of Hapsburgh and later Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (1273-1291). The family, whose name has been variously spelled as SAUNDERS, SAUNDER and SAUNDRES, held lands in the shires of Northampton and Buckingham until the reign of Charles II (1660-1685).

About this time, the family removed to Ireland, acquiring lands in the County of Wicklow. The family later obtained properties in Kildare, Meath and Dublin. In Ireland, members of the family were active in local government, several of them holding the postion of magistrate for the County of Wicklow.

In America, the name is found among the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It is interesting to note that when Benjamin Franklin published his famous "Poor Richard's Almanac", he used the pen-name of Richard Saunders.

"Extract From The Saunders Genealogy" By T. Homer Saunders3

"In the earliest records of England we find the family of Alexander (spelt Alisaundre, Alisandre) holding important positions as early as 1250. Count Alexander, from France, settled in Wiltshire. His eldest son, John Alisaundre, summoned to Parliament as first M.P. for Arundel, Surrey, 1291 [1296?], became the ancestor of the Sussex, Dorset & Surrey Saunderses. The second son, Sir Robert Alysandre of Meltsham, Wilts, was the ancestor of the Wiltshire, Warwickshire, Hertfordshire & Irish Saunderses. Younger sons were Nicholas, William, Herman, Roger and Richard. Coat of Arms - Three bulls heads" (see endnote on Coats Of Arms).

"The Saunders"4

The name "Saunders" is from Saxon origin in the British Isles. The word comes from the phrase, "belongs to Alexander." The shortened word, "Alexander's" pronounced without the "x" became "Alesanders's." Throughout the ages the word became Saunders, pronounced as "Sahnders" and finally written, Saunders. The family may have come from western Scotland, but is not a clan in the true sense of Scottish families. The family has no tartan or Scottish plaid colors. In the early feudal ages, smaller families such as the Saunders sought protection with the larger Scottish clans. The Saunders family aligned itself with both the McDonnel (McDonald) and McAllister families.


1. From Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913):  Sept, /Sept: n. [A corruption of sect, n.] A clan, tribe, or family, proceeding from a common progenitor

2. From the Boston Traveler newspaper about fifty years ago

3. "The Saunders, Sanders, Sandars Family And Its Blood Connections" © Thomas Homer Saunders
From the frontispiece of the book: "Under the Sprig of Alexander (Alisaundre) the Great, from which the surname is derived and which came into existence during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries". Printed by C. Tinling & Co., Ltd., Liverpool

4. Society of Genealogists, Kensington, England