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How do I find my Family or Clan Tartan?

Does my surname have a tartan?

This is the number one question we get asked by our customers and the best way to find your family or clan tartan is to use our Tartan Finder. Here, you can enter your family name and the tartan that it is associated to will be shown. Do not panic if your name produces no results. Historically, names were spelt in lots of different ways, so MacKay and McKey is actually the same family. Why not try another spelling of your name?

If that still does not produce results, there are other options. You can use your grandparents maiden names or your mothers maiden name. Tartans are not just named after families, they are also named after districts of Scotland, so if you know where in Scotland your family were associated, you could wear that tartan, for example, the Glasgow tartan. You can also wear some universal tartans, like our Mist range of tartans that anyone can wear. 

If you still want to find out more about the history of your family name, contact us and we will dig a little deeper and find out if your name is associated with a clan tartan and its history. Once we find out the results, we can then organise for you to receive samples of the tartans and discuss products you can have made in your clan tartan. 

Some clan tartans can differ in colour between weavers, so it’s important that you see all the different options on offer. Weavers are known for making tartans lighter or darker, so there is not an exact set of colours for any tartan. 

For a quick search, you could also use the Scottish Tartans Authority website which has an independent information source containing over 60,000 surnames with Scottish connections. They are a charity organisation who preserve, protect and promote tartan. 

An alternative way to discover your family clan tartan is to visit the National Library of Scotland which holds many books relating to Scottish culture and history. 

Find my Family Tartan

Does every Scottish family have a tartan? 

Not every Scottish family has a tartan and even having the same surname as the tartan does not mean you would be a direct descendent of the original clan chief. 

If you do have a clan tartan, it would have been most likely associated with the social and political status of a district of Scotland, as opposed to direct lineage to the clan chief. For example, many clan chiefs were simply landlords and the families that lived within their lands would have been tenants, extended branches (septs) of the main clan. There were also instances of family members getting married out with the clan name and some families simply swore loyalty to a clan chief, meaning they could wear the clan tartan. 

What the clan name does accurately provide us with, is the location of your ancestry, which at times can be very specific to a district of Scotland. Infact, there is little evidence that tartans were associated with family names before the mid-18th century. 

The lack of evidence for this is most likely due to the ban on wearing highland dress in Scotland during the 18th century. What this backs up is that tartan colours were more of a personal preference for families and more so, depended on the natural dyes created from local plant life to create the colours of the tartan. 

So why do we associate family names to tartans?

The system of associating tartans with family names came about in the 19th century. This came about as all things Scottish became extremely popular during the 19th century, with special thanks to Walter Scott and his relationship with King George IV. 

How do I find my family clan tartan

Why are there different colours of my Tartan?

Tartans have different colourings due to a number of reasons - 
  • Ancient tartans - this does not mean the colours are older than other colours, but simply refers to the colour scheme used in the tartan. The colours are softer and lighter and are the closest colours to the natural dyes that would have been used when making tartan.
  • Modern tartans - again, this does not associate with the date of the design, but with a darker and stronger set of colours. Dark green and navy as opposed to lighter greens and blues used in Ancient tartans.
  • Hunting tartans - as the name suggests, these are tartans worn during a hunt. The colours would tie in with the woodland background with greens and browns regularly being used.
  • Dress tartans - it is very easy to identify dress tartans due to the thick use of white to create the design. These tartans were, and still are, predominantly used for Highland Dancing, but have also been incorporated into other fashion items such as kilts, scarves and blankets.
  • Weathered tartans - as the name suggests, the colouring of weathered tartans are to show a weather beaten tartan, exposed to a harsh Scottish Winter. These tartans are very close to ‘muted’ tartans, were the colours look to have been beaten out of the tartan and are paler in colour. 

Are there still Clan Chiefs?

Yes, there are still Clan Chiefs and to confirm this status, the prospective individual must prove to the Court of Lord Lyon that they have the right to carry the clan’s coat of arms and therefore leadership over the clan.  

What is a coat of arms? 

When few people could read or write, a coat of arms was used for individuals to identify themselves to a clan. The origin of these coats of arms came from knights using the symbols on their armour, as the rest of the body, and their face, would be concealed. 
The coat of arms were also used on seals, for example on private documents sent between clan chiefs. It led to identification of where the documents would have come from.
Nowadays, only the holder of the coat of arms has the right to use it. This is usually the clan chief and allegiance must be approved by the chief before the coat of arms can be used. In practicality though, almost all clan chiefs have allowed their coat of arms to be used on products and merchandise for general use. 

What is a family or clan crest?

A clan crest is commonly worn by people who identify with a Scottish clan or clan chief. The badges usually consist of elements taken from a coat of arms. It can show loyalty to a clan, or even to an individual, for example, someone who was never recognised as a clan chief.
Clan crests are relatively new additions to identifying your family or allegiance, having become popular during the 19th century. The original ‘badge’ used by clans or aspiring chiefs would have been specific plants, local to their territory, worn in their bonnets or hung for a height. 

Tartan Finder

How many clan tartans are there?

There are estimated to be approx 4,500 different tartans and this number is always increasing with around 150 new tartan designs being produced each year. These new tartans are created by families who identify with Scotland but do not have a clan tartan or any association with a tartan. It has also become popular for businesses and organisations to design their own tartans based on corporate colours or themes and even sporting clubs have created their own tartans. 
We offer this Tartan Design Service to our customers and you speak to our team 7 days a week about designing a tartan of your own, or about your own Family tartan.