The Scottish Clan System





On Saturday, my friend from the University of Maryland, also studying abroad in the UK came up to Edinburgh to visit me. Since the Christmas season started, she was all about buying presents for her family members back home. While we were walking around the Christmas market on Princes Street, she was texting her mom to ask what gift she should get her sister. As her mother is of Scottish descent and associates with a Scottish clan, she suggested buying a tartan scarf. I was a little skeptical at first. I thought that Scottish last names were also like that of the US, a never-ending list, and so all the souvenirs I have seen in the US are personalized with first names rather than last (clan) names.

What is a clan?

The term “clan” is derived from the Gaelic word “clann” which translates into children. Therefore, a clan is an extended family group that is usually related by blood and descended from a common ancestor. Some individuals and smaller clans join larger clans for protection and could take up their clan name. The clan chief is the leader who would protect the clan and ensure a good relationship with others. Each Clan has a distinctive badge and war cry as well as their pipe tunes. What surprised me is that they generally consulted everyone in the clan before they would go into war. Considering that they are patriarchal societies, the rights of women were still protected as in they were allowed to assist on councils.

Tartan Patterns

The clans all have their own tartan patterns, which they incorporate into their kilts and clothing. People who wear specific tartan patterns would often be identified by it. They are very proud of their heritage and wearing their clan patterns show their pride. Because there are more than 350 clan names, I could not show you all the beautiful patterns they have, and so I chose the most famous one. The Royal Stewart tartan is associated with the royal House of Stewert (numerous Scottish and English members of the monarchy) and is also the personal tartan of Queen Elizabeth II. In theory, because most things the Queen claims is reserved for her, this tartan cannot be worn without her permission. However, as it gains popularity, the Royal Stewart tartan is the universal tartan. Anyone who is not part of a clan can wear this pattern.

Just for fun: As many of you know from a million of his cooking shows, Gordon Ramsay is from Scotland. From his last name, I am assuming (if the rules still apply with what “clann” means) that he is part of Clan Ramsay. Below is the tartan pattern he would wear:

This whole idea of clans is representative of their strong kinship and strong brotherhood. Therefore, they are proud of their names (especially true before the 19th centuries during war times). They still have clan societies that descendants today can join. This whole idea is very new to me because, in the US, an immigration society, the compilation of last names from all over the world rarely overlaps. For marketing purposes, it is best for the US to stick to first name souvenirs.