The surnames McCabe and MacCabe are Irish and Scottish surnames. They are Anglicisations of the Gaelic Mac Cába, a patronymic name meaning "son of Cába". The nickname or personal name Cába is of uncertain origin. The surname can be written in modern Scottish Gaelic as MacCàba and MacCaibe. Patrick Woulfe considered that the surname was possibly derived from a nickname, meaning "a cap", or "hood". Henry Harrison suggested the name was from the Gaelic Mac Aba, meaning "son of the Abbot". If Harrison is to be believed then the surname would have a similar etymology as the surnames MacNab, McNab, which are from the Gaelic Mac an Aba, Mac an Abadh.
Bearers of the surname are considered to have settled in Ireland from the Western Isles of Scotland sometime around 1350, employed as gallowglass (mercenary soldiers) to the O'Reillys and O'Rourkes which were the principal septs of Breffny. According a pedigree written by Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh, the MacCabes descend from the MacLeods. In time the MacCabes became a recognised Irish sept, with the chieftain being called "Constable of the two Breffnys". According to MacLysaght in the mid 20th century, statistics then showed that the surname was more numerous in the Breffny area than anywhere else. MacCabe landowners are however more associated with Co Monaghan and Co Cavan; however the principal families of the name lost all their estates after the Battle of Aughrim in 1691.
According to a genealogy which purports to date from the 17th century, Alexander MacCabe (fl.1689) was a descendant of the last chieftains of the MacCabes. Within the the genealogy his arms (pictured right) are blazoned vert a fesse wavy between three salmons naiant argent; crest a demi-griffon segreant; motto aut vincere aut mori.
In the the 1990 United States Census the surname McCabe was ranked 1,200th most common surname, and MacCabe was ranked 43,031th. For the 2000 United States Census neither surname ranked among the top 1,000 most common surnames.
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