Like Caldwell this name is derived from words meaning ‘stream’. <ref>George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, Scottish Clan and Family Encyclopedia, 369</ref> It is from the Brittonic words ‘caked’ –meaning hard- and ‘dobhar’ meaning water. <ref>David Dorward, Dictionary of Scottish Surnames</ref>
It is found as a place name across Scotland, for example in East and West Calder near Edinburgh. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopaedia, 369</ref>
Anderson claimed that the family owe their origin to Hugh de Cadella, a knight who was created Thane of Calder, later known as Cawdor, Nairnshire. In support of this theory, Black lists High de Kaledouer as witnessing a charter in 1178.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopaedia, 369</ref>
By the fourteenth century the Calders were a powerful family around Inverness. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 369</ref> Cawdor Castle was built by them around 1454. They intermarried with other local elites, including the Rose family. However Archibald Campbell, Earl of Argyll kidnapped the family heiress, Muriel (d.1575) despite armed opposition from her uncles and a number of deaths.<ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 369</ref>
Another branch of the family, the Calders of Asswanly received lands near Elgin in 1440 and during the sixteenth century brought a baronetcy of Nova Scotia. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 369</ref> Sir James Calder was an advisor to the Ministry of Supply during the Second World War.
The name is said to have been common in Caithness during the seventeenth century. <ref>Dorward, Surnames, 36</ref>
John Campbell of Cawdor became a peer with the title ‘Lord Cawdor’ in 1796. The aristocratic family still inhabit Cawdor Castle, built by their Calder ancestors. <ref>Plean, Squire, Encyclopedia, 369</ref>
John Calder is a Scottish literary figure who became known as a publisher of avant garde fiction during the 1950s and 1960s.