ORIGIN OF CLAN SEPT NAMES
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
During one of my first trips to Scotland back in the mid-1980s, I visited Hamilton and Inches, a famous jewelry store in Edinburgh. My purpose was to purchase a gold signet ring with a Robertson crest. They showed me several old volumes filled with Robertson crests but would not sell me a crest ring without my identifying the Robertson family from which I descended. At the time I was surprised to learn that there were more than 200 different Robertson crests, plus over 50 Duncan and 50 Reid crests in addition to the Clan Donnachaidh crest we all are entitled to wear when surrounded by the belt and buckle which identifies us as followers of our chief, Robertson of Struan.
Since then, further research has not determined whether any specific crest is related to my personal Robertson line so there probably isn’t one. Likely this means that my Robertson ancestors were probably dependents or tenants on one of the many Robertson estates. They probably took the laird’s surname when surnames came into general usage during the 1500s.
That got me thinking about the origin of various sept names associated with our clan. After the ’45, supporters of the Stuart cause had their estates forfeit and managed by government factors. To support these factors, Atholl was garrisoned by both English troops and Campbell militia. The troops were to maintain order and attempt to capture and arrest rebel fugitives that had supported the Stuart cause. To avoid arrest, many clansmen could have assumed a different surname, based on their occupation, mother’s maiden name (if not clan related), estate name, translated back into Gaelic, etc. Some chose or were driven to migrate to other areas of Scotland or overseas to escape persecution.
Several older out-of-print history books have provided interesting information on some of these clan sept names. The following series of articles attempts to summarize known information. These articles may be updated and added to in the future.