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Tartan Ferret
Surname Compilations

Surname Compilations

The following is closely based on Dr Phillip D Smith Jnr's explanation of the evolution of surnames, links between surnames and tartans and the sources used for the compilation of surname databases.

You'll be pleased to hear that a person may wear any tartan of his or her choice - the exceptions being tartans reserved for members of the Royal Family or categorised as Personal, Corporate or Fashion - these last three all belong to someone else through copyright or trademark.

All tartans in our online surname database are suggested tartans which means exactly what it says - a tartan suggested for a person with a given surname. It doesn't mean that a person shouldn't choose another tartan if they wish.

Clan or Family membership comes about by one of three means:

1. Birth, as generally understood as having one of the surnames traditionally associated with a Clan or Family.

2. Marriage, although a woman may choose to wear her own tartan.

3. Adoption. Some clans and families encourage friends and admirers to adopt and wear their tartan - it's an old Highland custom to accept the offer to honour your host. Bonnie Prince Charlie certainly did that in his visits around Scotland before and after the Battle of Culloden.

"Scotland of Old" was divided into two distinct social systems, the clan, with a blood or marriage relationship, and the feudal land-rent society. Despite the modern romantic ideas of clans, feudalism predominated and eventually prevailed. By way of example, in 1704 the Chief of Clan Grant directed that his tenants named "MacDonald" had to wear tartan in the Grant colours.

By the 1700's the majority of Scots lived in areas with territorial or land-rent obligations more important than a mythical common ancestry. They were expected to follow their lord, whatever his name might be. On the Borders, men were required by the March Law to identify with one of the major families and be a "clannit man" no matter what their own surname or be "put to the horn" as an "outlaw." A person has the "right" to wear the tartan associated with his or her surname - but so does anyone else. Individuals with a clan or family tartan may also wish to wear an appropriate "district" tartan or one of the "national" tartans as an alternative or second tartan.

People with surnames associated with several clans or districts, should try to identify with one, and only one, and then select that tartan, rather than acquiring and wearing items of tartan from different clans. It's quite permissable to wear two tartans from the same clan however - usually that would comprise a kilt in the clan tartan and perhaps a plaid in the hunting tartan.

One of our favourite books on the subject is Tartan For Me! By Dr. Phil Smith Jnr and many of the names in our surname database will duplicate those in his excellent publication. It's worth taking a little time to explain the sources of his information: most came from the collections of the International Association of Tartan Studies or our International Tartan Index (now more referred to as the Tartan Ferret). Some are from fellow members of The Guild of Tartan Scholars supplemented by Phil Smith's extensive personal knowledge.

Then there are many from the collection of the old Scottish Tartans Society and from contacts with the industry. Sources of many names in the lists come from a wide variety of published and unpublished sources. Chief among the published sources are Black's Surnames of Scotland, MacLysaght's Surnames of Ireland, Bell's The Book of Ulster Surnames and numerous directories.

More recently, names have been selected from the John and Shiela Rowlands' Surnames of Wales (1996) and Charnock's Patronymica Cornu-Britannica originally published in London in 1870 and reprinted by Scot's Press. Research is always ongoing in Scotland, northern England, Nova Scotia, the United States and indeed any country where Scots have settled over the centuries.

The major weakness of earlier Name-Tartan lists, apart from their brevity, was that they were compiled from records available in the late nineteenth century. Intervening research and scholarship has resulted in the publication of hundreds of additional documents from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries - ship lists, parish records, military records, and tombstones among them. In addition, there are a plethora of new tartans being developed by both professional designers and amateurs.

Earlier surname lists ignored variations in spelling resulting from population shifts and urbanization at a time when most persons were just becoming literate. Perhaps a million Scots, many of them monolingual Gaelic speakers, arrived in North America directly or via Ulster in the period 1720-1820. Irish and Irish speakers made a similar diaspora a century or more later. Early functionaries and census takers wrote Scottish and Irish surnames with unique phonetics, especially in North America. The result was hundreds of surnames not known in Scotland. The spelling of surnames within Scotland became "standardized" in the nineteenth century, reducing the problem. In Ireland, with a larger proportion of native Irish speakers, the case was similar to that of North America. Wide variations in surnames are found both within Ireland and overseas Australian, South African, and New Zealand since migrations largely came after the development of standardized spelling of Scottish but not Irish surnam'es.

Modern variations of traditional names come from a variety of sources, wherever names appear in print. A number of works have recently appeared in Canada and the United States which contain long lists of immigrants and early settlers. North American telephone directories, census, and military records never fail to reveal new variations of traditional Scottish names. The availability of directories and genealogies on CD/ROM and the Internet have proven very useful. A knowledge of the Gaelic and Irish languages with the insights into predictable sound changes provided by Phil Smiths's training as a linguist have proved useful in identifying the original names underlying many modern variations.

By its very nature, any list of surnames is incomplete. More names will be encountered. Additional tartans are recorded every year. The resources available, continuing travels to Celtic areas, and the good will of many Scots, Irish and their descendants will continue to furnish new information.

Read more fascinating facts about surnames at Scotch-Irish?

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