Mr Steven Akins (so called of the ilk) has been making up the early history of the family. The following is research performed
here in Scotland which refute his false claims.
It's judgement day for 'clan' Akin. I'm afraid this is quite long but
please bear with it, it may be worth your while. If you can't be bothered wading
through it all, just skip to the conclusion at the end where I've posted a
For those unfamiliar with this exchange, Steven Akins claims that the name
Akin derives from the area around Kyleakin in Skye. Prof. Black's mighty tome
on Scottish surnames however, concludes that the name is simply a spelling
variation of Aiken/Aitken. Akins responded to this claiming that Black did
insufficient research. Black dismisses the entry of a merchant called John of
Akyne as a mistake as no such placename exists in Scotland. Akins claims
that Black was wrong and that Akyne was identified on a map of Scotland by
two American scholars who have both written books on Scottish surnames in
America. They identify the area as 'Akin' which features the village
Kyleakin and the old tower of Dunakin. Akins further claims that the practice
of naming yourself after location was common and thus AKyne must have existed
after which John titles himself. It is on this basis that Akins concludes
that the name Akin, is an entirely seperate entity from the commonly held
belief that it is Aitken/Aiken derived and, rather than being a form of
Adam (from which Aitken and its variants are derived), is a form of Haakan,
after which the area of Akin on Skye is named and Kyle Akin, the straight
of water seperating Skye from the mainland. Haakan is King Haakan, who
assembled his fleet here before doing battle and losing at the Battle of Largs.
In addition, he has produced what he purports to be a family coat of arms
found on a gravestone of one of his relativesin the US and cites similarity
with that of the Norwegian standard as further evidence of a link with the
Thus, Akins claims, Akin is an entirely seperate entity, from Skye, named
after Akin on Skye where they originated and a Scottish clan in its own
right, rather than a subset of Aitken who themselves are not a clan but
have links with the Gordon clan.
This I believe to be a reasonable accurate summary of Steven Akins claims
and it is on this that rests his claims to be a clan chief and entitlement
to the title 'of that Ilk'.
I do not intend to deal with the heraldry aspect of the coat of arms, I
will leave that to others to disentangle. However, it is worth bearing in
mind that following the Cromwellian occupation of Scotland and the
destruction of records, the Lord Lyons office set out to restore those
records. An offer was put out that this service was free of charge for
a period. Unsurprisingly, the Lord Lyon's office was flooded with claims
of rights to arms, so much so that it took 5 years to sift through the
real from the bogus claim with Lyon's heralds travelling far and wide to
check the claims. Indeed there were many such bogus claims
to arms by canny Scots, trying to take advantage of the lack of
records and the offer of a free service in the late 17th C and many a
gravestone suddenly sprouted a coat of arms as supposed proof of prior
use!. I include below a copy of Akins own statement in response to my
questioning, for reference purposes.
Akins also boasted that my questioning was going nowhere
and that I was just 'looking silly'. He was dead wrong on both counts. It
was important that I got out of him a precise statement and a proper
understanding of his case before continuing.
<>So we're talking about the village of Kyleakin, yes?
So. In addition, Akins claims that whilst they may not have owned this land,
as it was property owned by the MacKinnons, his clan comes from this area.
Now, there are a number of factors here that are not in dispute, and we
should dispense with them first. Kyle Akin is indeed a straight between Skye
and the mainland and it was named after King Haakan who did fight and lose
at the battle of Largs. Kyleakin is a real village in this area, Dunakin
is a ruined castle here and The MacKinnons didown the land under question.
So far, so good. Now, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the area, a
map of Skye would be invaluable. A small map which will be sufficient to
guide the reader can be found at :
There are 4 areas we need to look at in detail, the castle, the village,
the area itself and family names.
It was quite clear that my local library would be insufficient and so, I
made arragements to gain access to the huge Scottish History section of
the main library of The University of Glasgow. I also availed myself of their
excellent maps section. The references I used are listed at the end. So,
on with the show.
The MacKinnons held large areas of land on Mull and Knapdale but, following
a war with the McLeans, they lost large parts of their Mull lands. Following
the War of Independance and the Battle of Bannockburn, at which the
MacKinnons played in sheltering Bruce and then fighting at Bannockburn,
they were rewarded with the area of land on Skye stretching from Elgol
across to the pennisula containing Kyleakin by Robert The Bruce.
(See Calmac map). This effectively sandwiched them between the Cuillins
to the north and the Macdonalds of Sleat, to whom they were vassals, to
the south. North of the Cuillins was MacLeod of Dunvegan territory with
whom the Macdonalds of Sleat and the MacKinnons seemed to be at
perpetual war with. The other major families at that time on Skye were
the MacQueens, who occupied the land around Uig, and the MacNicols who
occupied from around Portree down to Broadford and including the Island of
Raasay. The MacKinnons, like many clans, claimed descendency from Kenneth
MacAlpin but there is no evidence to lend support to this claim.
The area where the ruin of Caisteal Maol now stands has probably
been used as a castle or lookout point from the days of the Picts if not before
due to the commanding view it gives across the Kyle. The first mention of
a castle there dates from an Act of Council of 1360 where it is referred to
as Castle Findanus. However the tower who's shattered ruin now stands there
dates from the 15thC and was probably more a glorified look-out tower and
bolt-hole for the McKinnons when war flared up between the Macdonalds and
MacLeods and they would have to abandon their main home, Dunringill at Elgol.
The earlier 'castle' was almost certainly a broch, but nothing remains of it.
The first mention of the new castle is contained in Dean Munro's tour of
the diocese in 1577, by which time the new castle had been renamed "Dewnakyn".
The castle was occassionally used, but there is little evidence that the
MacKinnons stayed there for any period of time. However towards the end of
the 16thC there was a rebellion in which an attempt to reinstate the title
Lord of the Isles took place. In order to deal with claims to title, the
MacKinnons were appointed adjudicators to decide on these matters and the
adjudication would take place at 'Dewnakyn Castle'. It's not exactly clear
when it changed its name to Caisteal Maol (Castle Moil) but it was abandoned
by the MacKinnons in the 17thC and by the 18thC had its current name. The ruin
remained the property of the MacKinnons until hard times befell them following
the Jacobite uprisings and the last direct line clan chief died penniless,
having sold or had forfeited all his land and property on Skye. So, in the
1360s, the original castle was known as Castle Findanus and it was about a
100 years later a new castle was built and renamed Dewnakyn, to become
Dunakin and then Maol.
There is a mythology story that the castle first came into the hands of
the MacKinnons following the marriage of a MacKinnon to a Norwegian princess
called "Saucy Mary". It is alleged that the two of them then set about
extracting a toll from ships by hauling a large chain across the Kyle to
prevent boats passing thus, as Cooper puts it,"..defying belief and all known
laws of engineering'. The later title of the castle, Maol, means 'toll'. Given
that it is unlikely that there were any MacKinnons on Skye at this time, the
story isimprobable, although it is oft repeated.
The area of land occupied by the MacKinnons was known as Strath and their
main centre was Strathaird around Elgol. Martin Martin writes:
"The next adjacent part to Slait[Sleat] and joining it to the north side
is Strath. It is the property of the Laird of MacKinnon"
In the 1577 account by Dean Munro, he refers to the area where the castle
stands as Strathvardeil - "Strathvardeil perteins to MacKynuin. He has a castle
In a 1641 account of the arrival of the first protestant minister in the
area, it notes that he is the nephew of "..Sir. L. MacKinnon, 14th Chief of
In The New Map of Western Isles, in Martin Martin's book, the map identifies
the area as Strath.
It is quite clear from this that the area occupied by the MacKinnons and
stretching Elgol to Kyleakin and Dunakin was known as Strath, with the
penninsula on which Kyleakin and Dunakin stands as Strathvardeil.
In all the searching of maps, I failed to find a single mention of 'Akin'
in any land area, in any shape or form aside from Dewnakyn and the village of
Kyleakin itself, even down to field level using the 1in to 880ft scale. The
areas aroung the village and the castle was known as Cnoc na Loch and
Ceann Caol Druim a' Bhidh. The area name Strathvardeil had become Strathardal.
Anyone adopting an area name from this area would either refer to themselves
as John of Strath or John of Strathvardeil using the early form. A search
of Coopers Gazeteer turned up nothing. The prefix or suffix -akin is
conspicuous by its absence both past and present.
Nicolson's book on the history of Skye lists just about every family name
past and present who have existed on Skye. Naturally, he concentrates on
the great chief titles of MacLeaod and MacDonald and shamelessly plugs his
own, but he also lists a great number of the lesser names. There is not one
Akin/Akyn or any variation thereof mentioned. Had such a clan existed, it
would have warranted a mention.
Finally, we come to the village. Herein lies the last refuge of Clan Akin. It
is certainly true that taking a surname from a town or village from which you
hail was very popular and so here, is perhaps, the strongest link. So what of
the village? In the early 19thC, the new Lord Macdonald arrived on Skye,
having been raised and educated almost entirely in London since he was a child.
He arrived with a grandiose plan. His plan was to build a new town and port
on Kyle Akin that wopuld rival the Clyde ports. It would have many fine town
houses and would be called, incredibly, New Liverpool. It rapidly became clear
that such a plan was doomed to failure as the economy of the island simply
couldn't support such a scheme and it was rapidly scaled down. Instead a
small village was built in the same area and it was named by Macdonald after
the Kyle as Kyleakin. Note that it was all one word and not, as Steven Akins
claimed, two words. This was in line with the main ferry port further south
on Sleat, Kylerhea. This is also the form it takes in the 1875 map Isle of
Skye Sheet XLI. It appears that the seperating it into two words seems to
be a late Victorian or Edwardian style, but it returned to its original
form sometime later to join the traditional form of its northerly companions
Kylerhea and Kylescu. Alas, there was no village prior to the 19thC and
that the ferry did not start here until the 19thC. The Glenelg - Kylerhea
crossing was preferred one. The strong, racing tidal currents at Kyle Akin
made it an extremely dangerous crossing. Alas, no John of Kyleakin
So, what can I say in summary other than I had a fascinating time going
through old books in an extremely good library and the novelty of having
to wear white gloves to handle some of them (and having all my pens
temporarily confiscated!)? Well, its' patently obvious that Akins has no
case. There was no Kyleakin prior to the 19thC. The original broch in
1360 was known as Castle Findanus, not Dunakin. It was only with the
building of the later 15thC tower, who's ruins now stand on the rocky
promontary, that the name Dewnakyn or Dunakin was adopted. The area
around the tower and the 19thC village of Kyleakinwas called Strathvardeil,
later Strathardal, and there is not one single part of the land that makes
any references at all to 'akin', other than the 15thC tower, the 19thC village
and the Kyle itself. In short, Black was correct. There is no area called Akyn
in which John of Akyn could name himself after (unless he was aquatic and
lived in the Kyle itself!) and the 'scholars' that Steven Akins cited are left
looking very foolish indeed. So, having no connection with Skye, the Akins
name reverts to a spelling variant of Aitken/Aiken, has no clan associated
with it other than a subset of Aitken, themselves a subset of Gordon and
hence, no clan chief who can claim to be 'of that Ilk'.
Black is vindicated, Steven Akins and his family name has no association
with Skye and he is no clan chief. He should now do the honourable thing
and dismantle his website, abandon any claims he makes to title and
cease using the title 'of that Ilk' to which he has no entitlement.
Scottish history isfull of charlatans taking advantage of gaps in Scottish
history for their own personal aggrandizement or financial gain - the
Sobieski brothers being the most notable. There are two possibilities
as far as Steven Akins is concerned. either the whole thing is wishful
thinking on his part, or it is a deliberate ploy for personal gain. If it
is the former, he will dismantle his website, if the latter, he will continue
with the charade.
(c)Timothy N Nurse - 19/5/2000
1998 Edition of the OS map of Skye, merely to keep my bearings.
1875 Isle of Skye Sheet XLI scale: 1in to 880ft (this is a *huge* scale)
History of Skye by Alexander Nicolson Pub 1930
Summer in Skye by Alexander Smith Pub 1866
Skye by Derek Cooper - which also features Cooper's Gazeteer. pub 1970
Scottish Castles: A Gazeteer of 1026 Scottish Castles - Mike Salter
A Description of the Western Lands of Scotland by Martin Martin pub 1703.
Collin's Clans, Tartans and Heraldry of Scotland