Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Passion and our Scottish Heritage.

Here is an excellent piece taken from the COSCA Newsletter-Winter Edition, written by Andrew Morrison, 3rd Viscount Dunrossil, which is both an interesting read and covers the challenges many of us in Scottish clan and family society can sympathise with.

We hope you enjoy it.

Viscount Dunrossil

Enthusiasm and Authenticity.

I was born and raised on “the other side of the pond,” but moved to the US in my late twenties and have now lived in Texas for over thirty years. The longer I’ve been here, the more passionate I’ve become about my Scottish heritage, and that, of course, is the story of the Scottish diaspora. We here often seem to value what Scots in Scotland take for granted.

On the other hand, friends visiting from Scotland are sometimes bemused, even confused, by some of the ways we express that enthusiasm. Sometimes it looks as if what we are doing no longer bears any relation to actual history or heritage and has taken on a life of its own. The challenge facing a heritage group like COSCA is how to channel that enthusiasm, to keep it as authentically Scottish as possible, without it degenerating into mere fantasy. If you want Game of Thrones, turn on the television.

Balancing the desire for authenticity with the need to nurture and encourage the enthusiasm is not always an easy task. But it is an important one. Scotland is a small but emerging nation, regardless of its legal status within the United Kingdom. To any nation, the concept of soft power, of the way it can spread its influence into the world at large, is an important one, and this is especially true of a country like Scotland. We speak about the five million and the fifty million – the five million who live in Scotland and the fifty million around the world who identify as Scots. Keeping the two groups on the same page, singing from the same song sheet, as it were, matters.

So what are some of the ways we get carried away, where we risk running free from our moorings and sailing off into fantasy land? Some of the more obvious ones concern surnames, clans and families, septs and so on, and the broad area of heraldry and protocol, titles and feathers. It seems we all want to be in a clan and lots of us want to be called a laird or chief and strut around with a feather in our bonnet, brandishing the personal Banner of the King of Scots. Some have invented their own clans and even made up “clan badges” which they’ve registered as US trademarks. Needless to say, the actual clan chiefs find this less than amusing.

Most Scots are not members of a clan, nor were their ancestors. And that’s OK, at least for them. The most common names in Scotland are Smith and Brown. Smith is or was
a profession, of course, and there are Smiths all over the country, just like other professions. There is no Clan Smith. Brown is a common hair color, the most common. There is no Clan Brown or Black or Gray (my own hair has turned from dark brown to gray while I’ve been here, but my clan affiliation remains the same).

Even patronymics are not all kindreds. Sam, William and Patrick/Peter are all among the most common forenames in Scotland historically, but there is no clan Simpson or Wilson or Paterson, nor ever was. One of the most common forenames of all is, of course, Andrew, after the patron saint of Scotland. There is no Clan Anderson in Scotland either, but one was founded in the US.

What some refer to as “clan creep” and the absurd proliferation of “septs” listed outside clan society tents are symptoms of this earnest desire to identify with the land of our ancestors and the mistaken belief that it can only be through the medium of a surname. We need to do a better job of developing other ways for people to express and cultivate their love for their heritage. District family associations do exist. Caledonian and St Andrew’s societies are already part of COSCA too. It might be interesting to see modern guilds for the descendants of traditional Scottish professions. It would be fascinating to explore ways Smiths, Taylors, Wrights or Clarks might still be expressing their ancestral skillsets in contemporary society.

These are difficult and delicate issues, but they must be addressed, if we are not to continue to diverge. Authenticity without enthusiasm is dry nothing. Enthusiasm without authenticity is rootless and worthless. We owe it to each other to try to identify where the fulcrum is whereby the two can be properly balanced.

To this end, a small group, with participation from the Standing Council, from COSCA and from the Society of Scottish Armigers, is hoping to produce a paper with guidance and guidelines.

Scottish law doesn’t extend outside the physical boundaries of Scotland, but it is my belief that most members of the Diaspora who care about their heritage care also about getting it right. Scottish law may not apply, but if one knows the right answer, good manners may be enough to ensure that people show respect for their traditions and their heritage.

After all, isn’t that what we say we’re all about?

1 thought on “CLAN CARRUTHERS: Passion and our Scottish Heritage.”

  1. Absolutely great article. And here in the states I believe that it goes both ways. While the primary idea is to preserve our heritage, there are done parts where being in the states, how we portray our heritage has evolved into something new. I love both sides heritage and the evolved portrayal, as long as it’s understood that, that’s what’s happening. Great article!

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