There seems to be a great deal of confusion by some with regards, amongst other things, what a Scottish Clan or family is, what it isn’t and who can use the collective term.
The first thing that needs to be said, which seems to be very obvious to most is it’s Scottish, and therefore totally intertwined with Scotland, it’s culture, it’s traditions, laws and history.
To call a group a ‘Scottish’ clan or family without those links seems strange and surely defeats both the purpose and rational for using that particular adjective to describe a clan or family. Therefore, if it doesn’t, it simply isn’t.
An excellent piece written by the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations (COSCA) in the USA, says it all.
While the rich and romantic history of the Scottish clan system is rare, perhaps unique, among the nations of the world, not every surname with a Scottish heritage is associated with a Scottish clan.
Indeed, it has been estimated that fewer than 30% of all Scottish surnames carry a history of clan association.
True Scottish clans and traditional clan lands are found in all parts of Scotland including the Highlands and Islands, Lowlands and Scottish Borders.* But not all Scottish family names are associated with a recognized clan.
(Carruthers of course being a very ancient family from the West March of the Scottish borders, was recognised as a clan by the 1587 Act of Unruly Clans, by James VI and the Scottish Parliament.ed.)
THE CLAN SYSTEM
The clan system in Scotland, is closely bound up with Scottish heraldry and personal arms, to include that of a Chief, are determined by the Lord Lyon of Scotland, the nation’s chief heraldic officer.
The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs acknowledges about 140 clans that have chiefs recognized by the Lord Lyon of Scotland.
Recognition by the Lord Lyon of a chief confers noble status on the clan or family which gives it a legally recognized status and a corporate identity. A family or name group that has no recognized chief has no official position under the law of Scotland.
Many of the cases that have come before the Lyon Court in the last 50 years have related to determination of the chiefships of clans. Presently, several Scottish clan organizations are pursuing identification and recognition of a chief by the Lord Lyon.
(A clan with no Chief is classed as Armigerous as us the case of Carruthers, which is why the Clan Carruthers Society International are working so hard to have a Chief recognised by the Lyon Court, headed by the Lord Lyon, in Edinburgh. We are one of those several clans following due process. ed.)
SCOTTISH DISTRICT TARTANS
If your surname isn’t historically associated with a recognized Scottish clan do not despair.
It is estimated that at least 5,000 of all Scottish surnames are actually district family names and not part of a clan. Often district families were not closely involved in the violent and tumultuous lifestyle of many clans. As the result, members of district families were often better educated, had a higher standard of living and an overall better quality of life by some standards. They carried on Scotland’s commerce and agriculture, contributed to the arts and sciences, and were responsible for many inventions and discoveries that have influenced modern society.
Without question, district families of Scotland played a key role in the growth and development of the nation and its achievements.
More than fifty (50) recognized districts exist in Scotland, each with its own distinctive tartan. If your surname is associated with a family from a particular Scottish district you may proudly display your district’s tartan.
The Scottish District Families Association was formed in 1997 for the purpose of providing an organization for persons whose name or ancestry links them to a Scottish district rather than a clan.
Members of the SDFA receive quarterly newsletters containing news about members, Scots in America, profiles of various districts, and games/festival dates. Members also receive a pin (two pins for a family membership) with the SDFA emblem – a map of Scotland displaying Scotland’s ancient name of “Caledonia”.
SCOTTISH ARMIGEROUS FAMILIES
The Scottish system of heraldry reaches back to the Middle Ages but it is alive and flourishing today. Scotland’s heraldic tradition and laws influence many aspects of the Scottish clan system, including as mentioned above, helping to determine which ‘clans’ have chiefs and who those individuals are and will be.
The expert organization in the field of Scottish heraldry and armigerous families is The Society of Scottish Armigers (SSA), based in the United States. Visit the SSA online and learn more about this fun and fascinating aspect of Scottish clan and family history, law and tradition.
(Inside Scotland, it remains the Court of the Lord Lyon, external to that it is the Heraldry Society of Scotland. ed.)
As the SSA reminds us, ‘outside the jurisdiction of the Lord Lyon, it is in the worst possible taste to pretend that someone else’s Scottish arms are you own, although many people do not realize that this is the case.’
The Arms, the main part of which is the shield, but includes a mantle, helm, torse and crest, with the motto above (Scottish Style), are owned by an individual not a family. As stated in the piece by COSCA, misuse is offensive at best. The Arms above are the Carruthers Arms, which belong to a Carruthers chief once confirmed by the Lord Lyon.
As you can see, a very succinct, descriptive and informative piece by the Council of Scottish Clans and Associations on what a Scottish clan or family structure is, who can use it, who can call themselves what and where that recognition comes from.
Clan Carruthers Society International has been working over the last 10 years to achieve our goal of having a Chief confirmed by the Lord Lyon leading to the Carruthers clan being considered official through that process. We hope you support us in our endeavours as the official society of Clan Carruthers