A study of clans: structure, daily life, clothing, tartan, heraldry and sundry other items of interest


   There is a Scots Gaelic word, clann, whose definition, according to most authors, is simply “children”. The Oxford Dictionary Of Word Histories, published by the Oxford Press in 2002, states that the Scots Gaelic word derives from the Old Irish word, cland, which meant “family” or “offspring”, and which was itself derived from the Latin, planta, or “sprout”. The entry for the word, clan, is more concisely explained in the Oxford English Dictionary. There it states that the pronunciation for the word is { klæn }, and that it was the Gaelic word for “family”, “stock” or “race”. It was further noted that the word was apparently not originally a Celtic word, but rather came about as a Goidelic substitution of “k” for “p” of the Latin word, planta, which denoted a “sprout”, “shoot”, “scion” or “slip”. According to Alexander MacBain’s An Etymological Dictionary Of The Gaelic Language, published in 1982, the word qlanata, from which the word clan might derive comes from the Indo-European root: qel. It is currently accepted that the Indo-European language was the ancestor of most of the modern European dialects, including Celtic, and its descendant, Scots Gaelic. This Indo-European root of qel gave rise to similar words used throughout the world, including the Lithuanian denoting “family”, the Greek Gtelos meaning “company”, and the Sanskrit kula meaning “race”.

   The Dictionary Of The Old Scots Tongue, which has been in the process of being compiled over nearly seven decades, and is still unfinished at twelve volumes, gives three meanings to the word: clan. The first meaning is: a tribe or race (such as the Scythians, from which the Scotti, and later Scots emerged). The second meaning refers to: a class or set of persons. The third meaning of the word: clan refers to: “one of the local or family groups of Scotland, especially in the Highlands or Borders, bearing a common name, and united under a head or chief.”

   Echoing the third meaning noted above, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word, clan, was “applied to those of the Highlands of Scotland; extended also to Lowland Scottish families, esp. in the Border country, where a somewhat similar social system prevailed.” That “social system” was one of kinship, wherein persons related to each other through blood (i.e. genetics) along with others who were not related directly, supported a head of the family, who in turn gave them guidance and protection.

   The following links will take you to pages devoted to various aspects of the history of the Scottish Highland Clans.

   The Concept Of The Clan Throughout The World

   Clans Emerge In The Scottish Highlands

   The Earliest Clan History In The Highlands Of Scotland

   The Middle Period Of Clan History

   The Earldoms And The Rise Of The Anglo~Norman Clans

   The Laird

   The Spread Of The Anglo~Norman Clans

   The Clan Wars

   Covenanters And Jacobites And Wars With England

   The Structure Of The Clan

   The Clothing Of The Highland Clans

   The Tartan

   The Importance Of Heraldry To Clanship

   The Daily Life Of Clans

   Musical Instruments Associated With The Highland Clans

   The End Of The Scottish Clans

   The Recent History Of The Scottish Clans ~ The Romance Of The Clan