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                 Clans and Tartans

What is a clan?

The word “clan” is not legally defined but a quotation often attributed to Stevenson but more correctly to Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, seems to cover its most salient characteristics: “A clan is a social group consisting of an aggregate of distinct erected families actually descended, or accepting themselves as descendants of a common ancestor, and which group has been received by the Sovereign through his supreme Officer of the Honour, the Lord Lyon, as an honourable community with its “family seal of arms” held by its Chief or Representative, whereof all the members, on establishing right to, or receiving fresh grants of, personal hereditary nobility, will be awarded arms as determinate or indeterminate cadets, both as may be, of the chief family of the clan.”

Who is a member of a clan?

Every person who has the same surname as the chief is deemed to be a member of the clan. Equally a person who offers allegiance to the chief is recognised as a member of the clan unless the chief decides that he will not accept that person’s allegiance. There is no official list of recognised septs, actually a word borrowed from 19th-century Irish usage, although there are many generally accepted sept names. This is a matter for each chief to determine. But where a particular sept has traditionally been associated with a particular clan it would not be appropriate for that name to be treated by another clan chief as one of its septs.

Who is my clan chief?

First of all you have to decide which clan you belong to. If your surname is the same as the name of a clan then you will want to be part of that clan. If your surname is different then your surname may be that of one of the septs which a particular clan chief has recognised as falling within his clan’s wider family. If your surname is different from any of the recognised septs then it is for you to decide which clan you may wish to give your loyalty to. That is your personal choice, although you should ask the chief if you would be accepted. If you wish to know the name of the individual who is chief of a particular clan, the list of chiefs appears in the annual publication called Whitaker’s Almanack.

What tartan can I wear?

That depends on which clan you belong to. Strictly speaking you do not have the right to wear your mother’s tartan unless you have taken her surname. You can only belong to one clan. If you do not belong to any particular clan you may wear a district tartan if you are descended from an ancestor belonging to the district concerned. Otherwise you may wear the Jacobite, Caledonia, Black Watch or Hunting Stewart. The Scottish Government has established an official Scottish Register of Tartans which can be viewed HERE.