Scottish Tartans And Your Family Name!

By | November 25, 2017

Interested in your Scottish ancestry? Well then discover the origins of Scottish tartans and find your family name with this helpful post. In this post I will uncover when this fascination with tartan began for the Scots, and also show you a few sites where you can buy anything from coasters to cuddly soft toys.

Scottish Tartans Family Name

* Affiliate Disclaimer *

Special dates:

National Tartan Day – April 6th

International Tartan Day – July 1st

St Andrew’s Day (Patron Saint of Scotland) – November 30th

Topics discussed in this post:

What Is Tartan?

Ah, tartan. One of the most famous Scottish symbols that dates to at least the 16th Century. The first mention of tartan appears in 1538 where there was an order for a bale of cloth of Heland Tartane.

But what exactly is tartan?

Tartan is a pattern that consists of criss-crossed lines both horizontally and vertically. These lines are of varying thickness and can be in a multitude of different colors.

The pattern of stripes that you see running vertically is exactly the same on the horizontal axes.

One of the most popular tartans is the Royal Stewart, which you may have seen Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II wearing. Other popular tartan designs include Black Watch, Caledonian, Hunting Steward and Jacobite.

Difference between tartan and plaid

You may have heard of plaid and you may have associated it with tartan. However, plaid and tartan are actually two completely different things.

Plaid is a piece of tartan cloth that is draped over the shoulder and is a kilt accessory. Not to confuse you though plaid is also a pattern as well. But it does not contain stripes that are exactly the same on both the horizontal and vertical axes.

How is tartan made?

Before alternating these bands of colored threads they needed to be pre-dyed. Common ingredients used to color the wool included alum, copper, iron, fir club moss and oak galls. Even urine was used for this coloring process.

After the wool was colored they were then woven together at right angles. This will result in a block of colored lines both horizontally and vertically. This pattern that is repeated is known as a sett.

Originally tartan clothing was made from woven wool but what with the advancements in technology other materials are now also used.

History of Scottish Tartan!

As I noted earlier the earliest existence of tartan in Scotland appeared sometime in the 16th Century. But it was not until the late 17th to early 18th Century that tartan designs were used to differentiate between the different Scottish clans.

Scottish Tartan History

A tartan pattern was loosely associated with the weavers of a particular region. However, it was not uncommon for highlanders to wear different tartan clothing at the same time.

Then in 1746 a Dress Act was introduced that would ban the wearing of tartan, except for the Highland regiments of the British Army. This ban was brought in in order to suppress the Highlanders who were fighting for the Jacobite cause, (which was a fight to stop parliament interfering with the succession of the English and Scottish thrones).

However, in 1782 this act was repealed, largely thanks to the Highland Society of London.

The weaving manufacturer William Wilson & Sons became the predominant suppliers of tartan. By 1822 William had amassed a collection of over 200 different setts.

These setts were collected from samples of cloth from clan districts all across Scotland. Many of the setts were numbered, but some were given names.

In 1822 King George IV visited Scotland which increased his popularity with the Scottish population. This was the first visit to Scotland by a reigning monarch in 171 years and so there was such enthusiasm for his visit.

Because of this excitement there was a sudden demand for tartan and as such it was made the national dress for the whole of Scotland. Subsequent clan tartans were designed and created. And so they are regarded as an invented tradition.

How many tartans are there?

Today, there is anywhere between 3,500 to 7,000 different tartans. The number is difficult to calculate as there is some confusion as to how “different tartan” is defined. New tartans are always being added with approximately 150 new designs created each year!

The Scottish Register of Tartans is maintained by the National Records of Scotland and is the official database for all Scottish tartans. The database lists tartans by name, whether they are for a clan, corporate, district, or fashion, and when it was designed, (if known).

National Tartan Day!

To recognize Americans that have Scottish ancestry Congress established in 1997 National Tartan Day. The date chosen was April 6th as this was when the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. This was a declaration of Scottish independence.

This day originated in Canada in 1987. And soon spread all over the world in countries where many Scottish people emigrated to, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

On this special day you will see parades of pipe bands, Highland dancing as well as other Scottish themed events.

There is also International Tartan Day which is held on July 1st. This date was chosen as it is the anniversary of the repeal of the 1747 Act of Proscription. This act banned the wearing of tartan.

Where To Buy Tartan Products?

Lang Syne Shop

Lang Syne Shop has been trading for 35 years and supply gifts that you will remember. Originally publishing books about Scottish ancestry they now offer fun memorabilia and souvenirs.

Lang Syne Shop

Lang Syne Products include:

  • Family surname / clan books
  • Coasters
  • Bookmarks
  • Fridge magnets
  • Keyrings
  • Posters
  • Postcards
  • Tea towels
  • Bookazines

You won’t find your tartan featuring on these products. However, the clan and family books uncover the meaning of your Scottish name, as well as a bit of history behind the name.

Presently there are more than 300 English family name books and 19 Welsh books. So if your ancestry is spread out across the United Kingdom you can learn about your other British ancestors as well.

Tartan Wood

Here you will find a range of high quality products that have been beautifully handcrafted by Michael Yuill. And as the name suggests tartans are created on wood, (actually reclaimed timber), and are made in Kirkintilloch, Scotland.

Tartan Wood Products

Tartan products include:

  • Candle plinth
  • Chairs
  • Coasters
  • Mirrors
  • Tables
  • Whiskey Sets

Shipping is available within the United Kingdom as well as worldwide. And also shipping is free if you purchase more than $1000. And if you are not completely satisfied with the product then you can return it for free within 24 hours.

Gift cards are also available. So if you are not entirely sure what to get for someone then why not buy a gift card and let them decide.

There is also a reward points system. The more you buy then the more you earn points, which can then be redeemed later.

My Final Thoughts on Scottish Tartans and Your Family Name!

Even though clan and family tartans are an invented tradition there is definitely a lot of fun trying to find your Scottish tartan. And if you don’t find your family’s tartan then you can simply design your own. Just head on over to the Scottish Register of Tartans.

There is though a £70 fee for this privilege, but you can give your tartan your very own unique name. Now that’s pretty cool isn’t it.

If like me and your proud of your heritage why not display your family’s tartan on a coaster or a candle plinth. The products at Tartan Wood as I have mentioned are of very high quality. So please, check out their website and see for yourself.

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post discussing Scottish tartans and your family name. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

12 thoughts on “Scottish Tartans And Your Family Name!

  1. Jilystar

    What an informative post! Well-researched and engaging. I have obviously heard about tartan before but I just didn’t know the history behind. Who would have thought that it is an invented tradition. That really blew my mind.

    Thank you!

    1. Owain Post author

      You’re welcome and I am glad that you liked the post. It really is amazing what you find out if you just dig a little.

      And that’s what this site is all about. Not only do I show you, the visitors, useful guides and tips but I also like to explore the origins of anything family oriented. By looking a little closer at our ancestors lives it just makes us even more connected with them. And also appreciative of what their life must have been like.

      At least that’s what I think.

  2. LaVerne

    Thank you for this article. I do not have Scottish ancestory that I know of, but I found this very interesting anyway. I always though plaid and tartan were the same thing. Now I know that it is not. I learned a lot from this article. Well done and thank you for the information.

    1. Owain Post author

      Glad you found it interesting Laverne and that you did learn from it. I think that it is important to learn about different cultures. And who knows maybe one day you will discover a Scottish ancestor.

  3. Anthony Hu

    Hi Owain, Thank you very much for the very well-written article, like a history lesson to me. I was impressed by the origin of tartan. Good luck with your efforts.

    1. Owain Post author

      Glad you liked the history lesson Anthony. As I have mentioned in the post I like looking at the origins of different cultures and special days.

  4. Danielle Richard

    I found this post to be very interesting, and even looked up my family tartan. My maiden name is Dunbar, very Scottish. It was so cool to be able to find my family name in the registry and see our pattern! I feel as though this post appeals to your consumers (especially the Scottish ones), on a personal level, as they are able to search their name in the link provided for the registry. Thorough, and informative. I’d like to see more posts on my genealogy.

    1. Owain Post author

      Not only do I like to know all that I can about my ancestors but also what their traditions and what life was like for them. Discovering your family’s tartan can make you feel more connected with them. At least that’s what I think anyway.

  5. Craig

    I’m Scottish and I didn’t know there was a Tartan Day or International Tartan Day so thanks for the info. My tartan is the Gordon and they also have a Dress Gordon which is the white background.

    I chuckled when I read about the first record of it was an order for Heland Tartane. It’s funny how spelling changes over the years. Heland (pronounced Heelind) is a slang word for Highland, which I haven’t heard for a while.

    Hard to believe there are so many tartans now and I remember when football clubs introduced their own tartans, it’s big business now. I always wear my kilt in Malaysia for New Year’s Eve, it always attracts a lot of attention 🙂

    1. Owain Post author

      Hey Craig,

      Thank you for dropping by and commenting. It is surprising what days that they celebrate. But we shouldn’t be surprised to have a Tartan Day should we?

      I am though pleasantly surprised that you have Gordon’s in your family. I too have Gordon’s in my family although as yet I just have stories, nothing concrete to prove that one branch did come from Scotland. Who knows we maybe related.

      Spelling does change over time so I did realize that Tartane meant Tartan. But I didn’t even connect Helmand with Highland. Silly me.

      I didn’t even know about Scottish football teams bringing out their own tartans. But I can see that it would bring in money. So there’s no surprise there.

      1. Craig

        Ha ha wouldn’t that be a turn up for the books, being related! The Gordon clan originated in Aberdeen-shire if I remember correctly. My mother was a Gordon, that’s where it comes from.

        I was always fascinated by the different tartans and the clans. Of course, it doesn’t just stop at tartan. Each clan has their own brooches, pins, ties, etc. and their own clan logo.

        1. Owain Post author

          I can trace my family to a Mary Gordon who was my 4th great grandmother, and her father was George Gordon. I haven’t traced that branch further back than that. I would though need to look at parish records to see where that line would go. But as yet I have not done that.

          Interesting about clan logos. I will have to have a look at that.


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