A Scottish clan (from Gaelic clann, "progeny") is a kinship group among the Scottish people. Clans give a sense of shared identity and descent to members, and in modern times have an official structure recognised by the Court of the Lord Lyon, which regulates Scottish heraldry and coats of arms. Most clans have their own tartan patterns, usually dating from the 19th century, which members may incorporate into kilts or other clothing.
The modern image of clans, each with their own tartan and specific land, was promulgated by the Scottish author Sir Walter Scott after influence by others. Historically, tartan designs were associated with Lowland and Highland districts whose weavers tended to produce cloth patterns favoured in those districts. By process of social evolution, it followed that the clans/families prominent in a particular district would wear the tartan of that district, and it was but a short step for that community to become identified by it.
Many clans have their own clan chief; those that do not are known as armigerous clans. Clans generally identify with geographical areas originally controlled by their founders, sometimes with an ancestral castle and clan gatherings, which form a regular part of the social scene. The most notable gathering of recent times was "The Gathering 2009", which included a "clan convention" in the Scottish parliament.
It is a common misconception that every person who bears a clan's name is a lineal descendant of the chiefs. Many clansmen although not related to the chief took the chief's surname as their own to either show solidarity, or to obtain basic protection or for much needed sustenance.
The word clan is derived from the Gaelic word clanna, meaning children. However, the need for proved descent from a common ancestor related to the chiefly house is too restrictive. Clans developed a territory based on the native men who came to accept the authority of the dominant group in the vicinity. A clan also included a large group of loosely-related septs – dependent families - all of whom looked to the clan chief as their head and their protector.
According to the former Lord Lyon, Sir Thomas Innes of Learney, a clan is a community that is distinguished by heraldry and recognised by the Sovereign. Learney considered clans to be a "noble incorporation" because the arms borne by a clan chief are granted or otherwise recognised by the Lord Lyon as an officer of the Crown, thus conferring royal recognition of the entire clan. Clans with recognised chiefs are therefore considered a noble community under Scots law. A group without a chief recognised by the Sovereign, through the Lord Lyon, has no official standing under Scottish law. Claimants to the title of chief are expected to be recognised by the Lord Lyon as the rightful heir to the undifferenced arms of the ancestor of the clan of which the claimant seeks to be recognized as chief. A chief of a clan is the only person who is entitled to bear the undifferenced arms of the ancestral founder of the clan. The clan is considered to be the chief's heritable estate and the chief's Seal of Arms is the seal of the clan as a "noble corporation". Under Scots law, the chief is recognised as the head of the clan and serves as the lawful representative of the clan community.
Historically, a clan was made up of everyone who lived on the chief's territory, or on territory of those who owed allegiance to the said chief. Through time, with the constant changes of "clan boundaries", migration or regime changes, clans would be made up of large numbers of members who were unrelated and who bore different surnames. Often, those living on a chief's lands would, over time, adopt the clan surname. A chief could add to his clan by adopting other families, and also had the legal right to outlaw anyone from his clan, including members of his own family. Today, anyone who has the chief's surname is automatically considered to be a member of the chief's clan. Also, anyone who offers allegiance to a chief becomes a member of the chief's clan, unless the chief decides not to accept that person's allegiance.
Clan membership goes through the surname, except when a married woman takes that of her husband's surname, and then on to her children. Children who take their father's surname are part of their father's clan and not their mother's. However, there have been several cases where a descendant through the maternal line has changed their surname in order to claim the chiefship of a clan, such as the late chief of the Clan MacLeod who was born John Wolridge-Gordon and changed his name to the maiden name of his maternal grandmother in order to claim the chiefship of the MacLeods. Today, clans may have lists of septs. Septs are surnames, families or clans that historically, currently or for whatever reason the chief chooses, are associated with that clan. There is no official list of clan septs, and the decision of what septs a clan has is left up to the clan itself. Confusingly, sept names can be shared by more than one clan, and it may be up to the individual to use his or her family history or genealogy to find the correct clan they are associated with.
Source: Wikipedia [read more]