The use of the surname Forbes comes from association with a Scottish clan of the same name, Clan Forbes.

Forbes is a moderately common surname. The 2000 US census recorded 32,228 individuals of the name Forbes, making it the 986th most common surname there. Australia has 4,083 individuals of the Forbes name. In Scotland, direct number are hard to find, but 1995 records of Forbes appeared at a ratio of 266 to 2273 to records of Smith, which makes up 1.3% of the population, making Forbes roughly 0.15% of population or about 7,700 individuals.


There are a number of alternate spellings of Forbes. The name is spelled Foirbeis or Foirbeiseach in the Gaelic language.

As for pronunciation, in modern usage the name is usually spoken as a single syllable: /fɔrbz/, but it originally was a two-syllable word.

Clan Forbes

Historically, the clan controlled an area of land located within Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The earliest record of the name comes from land granted to Duncan Forbes by Alexander III of Scotland in 1271-2.

Sometime between 1436-1442, the title Lord Forbes was taken up by Alexander de Forbes. This title has been passed down, and is currently held by Malcom Forbes, 26th Lord Forbes.

On June 16, 1633, Alexander Forbes took up the title of Lord Forbes of Pitsligo. This title was ended in 1746, taken Alexander Forbes, 4th Lord of Pitsligo for his involvement in the Jacobite uprisings.

There are five Baronetcies associated with the name Forbes.

North America

A number of people with the surname of Forbes settled in British Colonies in North America. Some of these came directly from Scotland, others from the Plantations of Ireland.

  • Rev. John Forbes (b. 1740) married and raised his family in the American Colonies. By conducting trade with China, his decedents built up considerable wealth, making this Forbes family part of the Boston Brahmin, the old upper class of Boston, Massachusetts.