Where do clan names come from?
It was often thought that people with a clan surname were direct descendants of the clan chief. But sometimes it was common to adopt a surname when land was taken over to show solidarity and ensure protection with the clan.
The History of Clans
Few aspects of Scotland’s fascinating history were as colourful, or as bloody, as the clan system. From ancient origins in the Celtic, Norse or Norman-French traditions, by the 13th century, the clans had grown firm roots in the Highlands of Scotland.
While the term ‘clan’ means family or children in Gaelic, not everyone in the same clan was actually related to each other. The clans lived off the land, with cattle being their main source of wealth and, along with border disputes, the prime cause of inter-clan unrest. The most important clan chiefs at this time were part-kings, part-protectorates and part-judges and they held real power over their controlled lands.
The system remained largely intact until the time of the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746, where the Jacobite rebellion was mercilessly crushed by the royal troops of King George II.
By this point, improved trade and communication links between northern and southern clans were already leading to the dilution of the clan system and the infamous Highland Clearances effectively signalled the end as thousands of Scottish land workers sought the promise of a better life on distant shores.
Today, many clans can be traced back to a specific part of Scotland, for example the MacLeods of Skye, the MacNeils of Barra or the MacNabs of St Fillan on Loch Earn. Read more at visitscotland.com