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Scottish Names



The precursors of the tartan have been around at least since the days of the Romans. The Greek historian Diodorus wrote"their dress is astonishing; they wear brightly colored and embrodered shirts, with trousers called bracae and cloaks fastened at the shoulder with a a brooch......These cloaks are striped or checkered in design ,with seperate checks close together and in various colors."
(From The Celts by Gerhard Herm)





The Scottish were inclined to name their children as follows - although this was not always the case.
  • 1st Son named after Fathers Father
  • 2nd Son named after Mothers Father
  • 3rd Son named after Father
  • 4th son = father's oldest brother
  • 5th son = father's 2nd oldest brother or mother's oldest brother

  • 1st Dau named after Mothers Mother
  • 2nd Dau named after Fathers Mother
  • 3rd Dau named after Mother
  • 4th dau = mother's oldest sister
  • 5th dau = mother's 2nd oldest sister or father's oldest sister

Another commonly used naming convention in Scotland is the use, widespread only from the early 1800's onwards, of using the mother's maiden name, or one of the grandmother's maiden names as a middle name,- this practice can even extend back to a maternal grandparent of the parents, i.e. great-grandmother of the child, especially if the person in question died a short time before the birth in question. Apparently there was no set pattern or sequence in the use of such maiden names.

Biblical Names
It was also common practice among Quaker families and in severe Church of Scotland sects to give their children Biblical Christian names. This practice became briefly fashionable in Victorian Britain.



Mc is the common lowland Scot and Irish form of Mac. In the 17th, 18th, and 19th century Irish records, Mc and/or Mac is frequently abbreviated as simply M' (M apostrophe). However, on older tombstones and on some formal documents the Mc frequently appears with the 'c' raised slightly and a short line beneath it. I have read that this is an old practice used to indicate that a letter has been deleted, much in the same way we use an apostrophe in some words today.



In the Celtic tradition women had equal rights to men and equal status. It has been said by those more learned than I that it will take another hundred years before women again reach the statis held in celtic culture. That being said it is often the case that the maiden name will be shown, often with the term "nee" before it as the maiden name.

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Some Useful Books on Scottish Surnames


Adam, Frank. The Clans, Septs and Regiments of the Scottish Highlands. Edinburgh. 1970.

Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History. New York Library, New York, NY 1946.

Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Edinburgh 1985; Scotland's Place Names. Edinburgh 1983.

Hanks, Patrick and Hodges, Flavia. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford 1988.

"Old Scots Surnames" Dalkeith 1982

"Scots Kith & Kin: A compreheansive A-Z guide to the surnames of Scotland, the clans and their tartans." originally published in Edinburgh in 1953. Clan House of Edinburgh Ltd, by Collins of London and Glasgow.

"World Directory of Scottish Societies" Edinburgh 1980.



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Kirkin' O'The Tartan services have become an almost inextricable part of every Scottish Festival and Highland Games Event in the South East US. These services are not common in Scotland, the ceremonies having their origin in the United States.

The custom was initiated in the US in Washington, D.C. in the early 1940's by the Saint Andrew Society. Dr. Peter Marshall, a native Scot, was Pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Chaplain of the U. S. Senate, and a member of the Saint Andrew Society. He spoke often in support of British War Relief. His sermons were popular, and when, in response to requests, they were printed, proceeds from sales were donated to relief programs in Britain. When asked for a title to his semon of May 2, 1943, Dr. Marshall suggested the name, Kirkin' O'The Tartans.

During World War II, the Saint Andrew Society of Washington began to hold services of prayer for the subjects of Britain. These services continued in the Washington area and soon came to be known as the Kirkin', an annual event of the Society. Today the ceremony is held in the Washington National Cathedral each year on a Sunday near St. Andrew's Day.

Prayer:
Almighty God, who has watched over the clans from generation to generation and established peace among them, bless these tokens of their heritage and grant them grace and wisdom to contribute full measure to the upholding of this nation, the creation of peace and justice in the world, and the furtherance of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

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Quoted from the book Tartans, Their Art & History, ISBN 0 947792 007
"Probably the first VISUAL evidence of Highland dress, however, relates to the military, and there are Highland warriors among the hoard of chessmen in walrus ivory found at Uig on the Hebridean island of Lewis which dates from circa AD 1200. Two centuries later stone effigies in for example the inner Hebridean island of Islay and in Gluisk, county Galway in Ireland show soldiers wearing what appears to be a pleated kilt though in fact it was a long, padded sleeved coat with vertical pleating called an 'acton'. The soldiers were probably Scottish mercenaries known as 'gallowglasses' and their dress cannot be much different from that of the Highlander described by John Major in the History of Great Britain published in 1521

.......'From the middle of the thigh to the foot they have no covering for the leg, clothing themselves in a mantle instead of an upper garment and a shirt dyed with saffron. In time of war they cover their whole body with a shirt of mail of iron rings, and fight in that. The common people of the highland Scots walk into battle having their body clothed with a linen garment manifoldly sewed and painted or daubed with pitch, with a covering of deerskin '.........

The 16th century in fact is notable for both its descriptions and its illustarations of Highland dress. We know what was ordered for King James V to make a court costume of Highland dress when he toured the Highlands in 1538 (an ell measured just over 37 inches) .....

Two and a half ells of 'varient collorit velvit to be ane Schort Heland coit' at #6 the ell
Three and a quarter ells of 'green taffatus to line the said coit with' at ten shillings the ell.
Three ells of 'Helan tertane to be hoiss' at four shillings and four pence the ell
Fifteen ells of 'Holland claith to be syde Heland Sarkis' "

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The ancient Highland garb was proscribed in 1746 as a "weapon of war". The law was repealed in 1782, partly because the rest of Britain was discovering that the Highlanders were a romantic breed.....Well bred Lowlanders acquired the habit of tracing Highland ancestry, however remote, and wearing kilts to show their family connections...When King George IV made his state visit to Edinburgh in 1812, the kilt was high fashion for important occasions. The King himself, though his Gaelic connections were obscure at best, had a kilt made, and with his enormous obesity made a colorful spectacle...The kilt to be worn by a man, then as now, had properly to be made from the particular tartan of his remote clan ancestors.....

The old clansmen did not even wear a kilt shaped as we know it, pleated at the back, strapped round the waist and reaching the knees- the philibeg, or short kilt. Their common garb was the long kilt, which was simply a piece of woollen cloth, two yards by six yards, made of plaid material using any natural dyes available to their womenfolk. It was used as a bedroll at night when the owner was away from home. In daytime, it was laid on the ground over a waist belt and then pleated. The owner next lay on it, pulled one end over his shoulder and down the front of his body and finally fastened the belt around it. From the book, History of Scotland by Cliff Hanley.

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The genealogist Angus Baxter wrote in his text IN SEARCH OF YOUR BRITISH & IRISH ROOTS the following description of "The Clan System":

Contrary to popular belief, not all Scots belong to a clan. The clan system has its roots in the Highlands and was never part of the life in the central part of the country or in the Lowlands.

The Highland Line, which divided Scotland into the Highlands and the Lowlands, ran from Dumbarton in the west in a northeasterly direction almost as far as Aberdeen. There it turned north and then west, passing south of Inverness, and then headed north to a point midway between Cape Wrath and John O'Groats. Everything north and west of the line was considered Highland.

The word CLAN simply means "kin", and far back in history the Highlanders grouped themselves around the leading landowner of the district. He provided them with protection against marauding bands of robbers from other areas, and they, in turn, provided him with a strong force of fighting men to enable him to expand his estates or his sphere of influence. In many cases they were related to him; in others, they simply adopted his name.

A Highlander living on the estate of the chief of Clan never adopted the servile approach of the Englishman under similar circumstances. There was no bowing and scraping, no pulling the forelock -- he stood straight and addressed his clan chief as "Lochiel". All the emphasis within the clan was not on land, but on the blood connection between the chief and the clansmen.



Clan literally means "children", but is used to describe family; however, the Scottish highland clans were not family except for the chiefs and their own relations. Many members of each clan had little or no genealogical link to the chiefs, but accepted the clan name as a means of self-protection, or because of the land ownership. Lots of people changed their own surname to that of the clan to ensure acceptability. As most of this happened in mediaeval times and a bit later - a somewhat lawless period - it is easier to think of the clans as mafia "families" who held a territory. They had interclan fights and raids, but very few of the ordinary folk had much more than huts to live in, and had a subsistence economy. They needed all the protection they could get. So differentiate between clans and family history, unless you can prove a direct link to one of the top clan families.

Remember, it was the clan chiefs who evicted their own clansmen to make way for sheep. You don't do that if they are family. Most clansmen were regarded by the chiefs as mere hangers-on. Even in the major rebellions, most of the clansfolk fought for the clan because they had a legal obligation to - it was written into their lease or rental.

The romance of the Highland Clans is a modern affectation sparked off in 1822 when the British king wore the highland dress at a ball, on a state visit to Edinburgh, and sparked off a new vogue for tartan and clans.



A member of a Scottish clan or family can wear the clan/familys or district tartan; but, unless specifically granted arms of their own, they can only display a badge derived from the chiefs/heads achievement which is usually bordered by a belt and buckle, the motto being on the buckle or on a scroll beneath. It might be illegal to wear another's arms. A grant of arms is to a particular person, and the arms are differenced for any other.

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The Border or Riding Clans Followed by a History of the Clan Dixon and a Brief Account of the Family of the Author
By B. Homer Dixon, K.N.L., (1889) reprint #GB-HD396; Price: $21.00

This colorful book discusses the region known as "the Borders," where England and Scotland meet. The author presents many transcriptions from original 16th- century Scottish records, but he always gives a lively account of the historical background necessary to understand these records.

Included are such interesting items as a 1547 list of Borderers and Border Clans who had taken the oath of fealty to the English government, a partial roll of the year 1587 from records of the Scottish privy council, the roll of the names of landed proprietors over the whole of Scotland in 1590, "The Names of the principall Clannes and Surnames of the Borders, not landed, and Chiefe Men of Name amongst them [in 1597]" and "The Names of the Barons, Lairds and chiefe Gentlemen in every Sherifdome [1597]."

A few of the famous Scots mentioned here are Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy MacGregor and Mary Queen of Scots. Cultural and religious conflicts are discussed briefly, as well as the problems of cattle thieving (prevalent in the Borders and known as rieving), taxation, traitors and false coiners. Offenders found guilty might be sentenced to such strict penalties as drawing, hanging, drowning or decapitation.

The second part of the book, an account of the Dixon/Dickson clan, opens with a list of more than 30 variant spellings of this surname, which is descended from the clan of Keiths, who were Earls Marshall and one of the most powerful families in Scotland. There are brief accounts of Dickson families by region throughout Scotland and descriptions of their coats of arms. The history of the Homer Dickson family spans 1733 through 1878, and includes members in Britain and America.

Closing out this valuable history are lists of landlords and tenants, and members of Parliament, plus a surname index_making this a rich source of information for anyone interested in the clan Dickson and Scottish border clans.


The Descendants of Rev. Joseph Rhea of Ireland
By Edward F. Foley. #GB-HF541; Price: $24.00
The Rhea family in America is descended from Matthew Rhea of the Campbell Clan of Scotland. His grandson, the Rev. Joseph Rhea of Ireland, was one of the three brothers Rhea who emigrated from Ireland to America in the mid-18th century. They established the American Rhea family branch. Rev. Rhea settled in Maryland but later preached in Tennessee, where he bought land.

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Last updated March 7, 1999