Scotland Travel Blog

Scotland Genealogy: Finding Your Clan

There are so many reasons to come to Scotland: the castles, the golf, the stunning scenery, Fringe festival. I could go on for days. But the reason I first traveled to Scotland, and the reason that brings thousands from America and elsewhere each year, is to connect with Scottish ancestors. Maybe you’ve dug deep into your genealogy already, and want to go beyond what you can find online, or maybe you just want a hands-on experience with the family history you already know about. Either way, I want to help you get the knowledge and experience of your Scottish ancestry. One way to start is by learning about your clan.

Creative Commons photo by James MacDonald.

Creative Commons photo by James MacDonald.

What exactly is a clan?

In Scotland, a clan is more than just an extended family, and doesn’t always imply genetic links. Just because my last name is Rose doesn’t mean I’m directly descended from the Roses that have lived in Kilvarock Castle for centuries. Many times, local farmers and families who depended on the clan chiefs for protection took on the name of their chiefs. A clan name is a good hint that some of your ancestors lived near the clan’s territory, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can trace your family tree back to nobility.

Most clans have a symbol or crest, usually with a clan motto featured on it, as well as one or more clan tartans, such as the MacDonald tartans shown in the photo above.

How do I find my clan?

This step was easy for me, because my name happens to be a clan name. But that’s not always the case. In addition to family ties, clans were held together by political and military alliances, and several smaller families would group together under each larger clan. Here are a list of some (not nearly all) of the Scottish surnames that are associated with each major clan:

(Keep in mind that the spelling of your name may have changed over the generations. For example, Clyne, Kline and Klyne are all variations and offshoots of the same family.)

Clan Buchanan: Buchanan, Coleman, Donleavy, Dow, Findlay, Gibb, Gibson, Gilbert, Harper, MacCook, MacKinley, MacLay, MacMaster, Masterson, Morris

Clan Cameron: Cameron, Chambers, Clark, Clarkson, Cleery, Kennedy, Leary, MacAllen, MacPhail, Taylor

Clan Campbell: Arthur, Burns, Campbell, Cowell, Cusack, Dunmore, Fisher, Harris, Hastings, Iverson, MacIver, Pinkerton

Clan Chattan: Chattan, Clark, Clarkson, Cleary, Dole, Gowan, Hardy, Leary

Clan Douglas: Cady, Dickie, Drysdale, Douglas, Forrest, Forester, Foster, Glenn, Kirkpatrick, Morton

Clan Forbes: Berry, Boyes, Forbes, Walters

Clan Fraser: Cowie, Fraser, Gilroy, Lovett, MacSimon, Oliver, Simon, Simpson

Clan Gordon: Adams, Addison, Atkins, Atkinson, Barrie, Cullen, Duff, Edison, Gordon, Huntly, Todd

Clan Graham: Allardice, Conyers, Graham, Grimm, Haddon, Haldon, Howe, Howie,

Clan Grant: Alison, Allen, Grand, Grant, Herron, Kern, Pratt

Clan Gunn: Enrick, Gunn, Jameson, Keane, MacComas, MacKeamish, MacRobb, MacWilliam, Swanson, Williamson, Wilson

Clan Hannay: Anna, Hannay

Clan Hay: Ayers, Dalgattie, Errol, Getty, Gifford, Hay, Hayden, Hayes, Hayfield, Haynes

Clan Innes: Ennis, Innis, Middleton, Mitchell

Clan Keith: Austin, Aston, Dickie, Dixon, Falconer, Keith

Clan Leslie: Abernathy, Bartholomew, Lang, Leslie

Clan MacAulay: Cambley, Coolie, Cowlie, Howie, MacAllie, MacAulay, MacCaulley

Clan MacDonald: Alexander, Beaton, Bowie, Burk, Coulson, Hawthorn, Hewitt, Houston, Hudson, Kelly, MacAllen, MacCall, MacDonald

Clan MacDougall: Carmichael, Cole, Dow, Dougal, Doyle, Duvall, Hale, Livingstone, Lucas, Luck, MacClintock, MacCormack, MacDougall, MacDowell

Clan MacKenzie: Clunys, Cromartie, Iverson, Kinsie, MacKenzie, Smart

Clan MacLaren: Law, Lawrence, Lawson, Loughlin, Lowe, Lowry, MacLaren, Paterson, Patrick, Wright

Clan MacLean: Alden, Black, Fadden, Garvey, Gillan, Huey, Lean, MacAboy, MacCraken, MacLean, Rankin

Clan MacLeod: Callum, Harold, Lewis, MacClure, MacCaskill, MacLeod

Clan MacNab: Abbey, Abbot, Dewar, George, Hagerty, Killian, MacNab

Clan MacNeil: Neil, Nelson, MacNeil

Clan MacRae: Cray, MacCraw, MacGrath, MacRae, Rae, Raith

Clan Menzies: Dewar, Kinder, Means, Menzies

Clan Munro: Dingwall, Fowly, Kiddie, Munro

Clan Murray: Dunbar, Gilmore, Fleming, Murray, Piper, Small, Spalding

Clan Rose: Baron, Corbett, Farley, Rose

Clan Ross: Andrew, Anderson, Crowe, Darlington, Hagerty, MacTaggart, Mitchell, Ross

Clan Sinclair: Harrow, Kline, Linkletter, Mason, Sinclair

Clan Stewart: Chappell, Cook, Crookshanks, Frances, Gray, Herron, Jameson, Lennox, Lombard, MacMicheal, Mitchell, Moody, Sharp, Stewart

Clan Sutherland: Gray, Gaunt, Hicks, Lockette, Sutherland

You might notice the same name listed under a few different clans. Families moved and split and intermarried in the clan days of Scotland just like every other time and place. If you didn’t find your name in any of these lists, check the handy tool at for a more exhaustive list.

Another interesting thing you might notice perusing that list is the number of traditionally Irish names on there: Leary, Kennedy and Keane for example. There was always traffic back and forth between Ireland and Scotland, which accounts for some of the overlap, but many of these, like Kennedy, aren’t directly related to their Irish counterparts. The similarity comes from the fact that the Scottish Gaelic language is based on Old Irish, and like most cultures around the world, both people took their surnames from professions as well as personal details like size or hair color. It’s only natural that speaking similar languages, some of these names would pop up in both places.

What’s Next?

Identifying your clan isn’t the end of your search for answers about your Scottish heritage – it’s the beginning, and as I hope I’ve shown you, it’s not always a simple matter. I’ve compiled a list of some great online resources to help you continue your research.

One great way to learn more about your clan and get a fantastic travel experience at the same time is to attend your clan’s annual gathering. Not only can you meet distant relations, but you won’t find more knowledgeable or eager tour guides, and many of the gatherings feature excursions to sites important to the clan and its history.

One thought on “Scotland Genealogy: Finding Your Clan”

  1. Erin Coleman says:

    I want to know more about my dads side of family and meaning of my last name Coleman

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