The Ralston surname

Ralston is a place in Renfrewshire (Lanarkshire until 1404), on the eastern outskirts of Paisley. There is a location of the same name near Loudon in Ayrshire (see ‘Legend’ below), which may cause confusion in interpreting some of the medieval records. In both cases there is a strong connection with the Stewart family.

The name consists of two parts:

given or Christian name
a descriptive suffix, ‘ton’.

The given name is Ralph (see ‘Pronunciation’ below). There is just not enough documentation to say who this Ralph was. The likelihood is he was someone of enough rank to have leased land in the mid to late 12th century from the new landowner, Walter FitzAlan, the Senschal, or Steward, who came to Scotland in 1142 with King David I. David gave Walter land around Renfrew, Paisley and Lochwinnoch, and he also built considerable holdings through northern Ayrshire.

The suffix is the Old English word ‘ton’ ‘toun’ or ‘tun’, meaning farm or settlement. It is common in placenames throughout the British Isles.


In Scotland the pronunciation is typically ‘raulstin’.

The North American pronunciation is reinforced in public consciousness by advertising for the company named Ralston Purina – ‘rawlstin’. 

In New Zealand we tend to pronounce the name as ‘rolls tin’, but said at the back of the throat.

So in general terms the pronunciation is confirmed as more similar to ‘o’ and ‘aw’ than to ‘a’ (as in ‘pal’) or ‘e’. 

George Redmonds has commented that the medieval name Ralph (Radulphus in Latin) was written as Rawfe and could be pronounced ‘Raw’, the ‘f’ silent (Christian Names in Local and Family History, 2004, p.13-14). He is talking about the situation in England, but there is no reason to think it would be different in lowland Scotland in the 12th and 13th centuries, and the first Ralph could well have come up from England with Walter FitzAlan. Early spellings of the name might confirm that; in 12.. the Raulstoune is used

There are three references to the name Ralph: Ralf, Rauf, Raulf in John Barbour’s The Bruce; or, The Book of the most excellent and noble prince, Robert de Broyss, King of Scots, dated from 1375 and published by the Early English Text Society, London in 1870.


Regular spelling of surnames did not occur until bureaucracy systematised records from the 19th century, and even today most people can provide examples of how their surname is still spelt differently. Allow that any vowel can replace another, and depending on speech and dialect most consonants could also

1219 Jacobus de Raulyston, dominus ejusdem

1272 Nicholaius de Rauliston

1296 Thomas de Raulfeston (del counte de Lanark)

1296 Hew in Ragman also??

1326 Walter Stewart of Ralston– death – 2nd wife was Marjorie, daughter of Robert Bruce and mother of Robert II

1346 James de Ralstoun dominus ejusdem

13— Sir John Stewart of Ralstoun

1395 Walterus Senescallus dominus de Ralston

1396 Walter Raylston – lands of Raylston barony of Conyngham, Ayrshire

1444 John de Ralfahstoun– Keeper of the Privy Seal, Bishop of Dunkeld d.1452

1448 John Raulston

1452 John de Ralstoun

16th and 17th centuries – commonly recorded in church and legal records as Ralstoun, Ralstoune, Ralstone, but also Ralistoun.

In North America in particular the Scots Irish descendants have used Roulston and Rolston as variants, although a genetic project (see The Ralston Project) has raised questions about the origin of many of the Ulster Ralstons, Rolstons, Roulstons. This is a developing story.


A story has been repeated in a number of publications that the original Ralph was son of the Earl of Fife, associated with the period of Macbeth. There is no evidence to support this theory, but it is worth noting that in 1362 Walter Stewart, son of King Robert II, was created Earl of Fife after his marriage to Isabel, Countess of Fife, only daughter and heir to Duncan, Earl of Fife. Walter died the following year and the title transferred to his brother Robert in 1371.

A half brother of King Robert II, John Stewart, was designated in records as ‘of Ralston’ in 13– and his son Walter in 1395. As mentioned above, this land is described as being in Ayrshire.

Walter Stewart, 6th High Stewart of Scotland (b 1292, d 1325)§D
m1. Marjorie Bruce (dau of Robert Bruce, King Robert 1 of Scots)

a. Robert Stewart, King Robert II of Scots (b 02.03.1316, d 19.04.1390)
m1. (1347) Elizabeth Mure (dau of Sir Adam Mure of Rowallan)
m2. Eupheme Ross (dau of Hugh, 4th Earl of Ross)

m2. Isabella Graham (dau of Sir John Graham of Abercorn)

b. Sir John Stewart of Ralston or Railston
m. Alicia Mure (dau of Sir Reginald Mure of Abercorn)
(1) Sir Walter Stewart of Ralston (a 1416, dsp)
(2) John Stewart (dsp)
(3) Marjory Stewart (d 1438)


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