Friday, 2 November 2012

The bubblegum of clans and septs

I've just picked up on Alastair McIntyre's latest Electric Scotland newsletter, and was relieved to read a bit of common sense about the idea behind septs with the Scottish clans. The first thing to point out is that there were certainly septs to clans - the families or individuals related to, or showing fealty to, certain clan chiefs, that is absolutely not in question. But go into any tartan shop today in Edinburgh (and wherever) and you will find long lists of names that the eager sales attendant will tell you means that you are 'entitled' to wear the tartan of this clan or that clan. But it's complete and utter bubblegum.

My surname of Paton apparently is listed as a sept of the MacDonalds of Clanranald, and also of the Macleans. But my Patons came from Perthshire, and had absolutely nothing to do with either of those families. At some point, it may well be the case that some wee man by the name of Paton once did have tea with the Chief of the Macleans or whatever - but it absolutely does not mean that everyone with that name is now affiliated to what was once that clan. The name Paton means "son of Patrick" - I simply once had an ancestor called Patrick or Peter. It's common as muck!

Now Alistair has had a look into it, and I whole heartedly endorse the suggestions he concludes with - read his post at It's good to read some common sense on the matter. The bottom line is that there is only one way that you will work out which lines your family were connected to, or whom they showed allegiance to - it's called family history, and it's a hell of lot more enjoyable to do than to pick a name from a book in a shop and to dress up in a random costume on the back of it!

(With thanks to Alistair)


Scotland 1750-1850 - 5 weeks online Pharos course, £45.99, taught by Chris Paton from 2 NOV 2012 - see
New book: It's Perthshire 1866 - there's been a murder... (from June 12th 2012)

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