Scottish Tartans Family Name

Scottish Tartans And Your Family Name!

Interested in your Scottish ancestry? Well, then discover the origins of Scottish tartans and find your family name with this helpful post. What are you waiting for?

Scottish Tartans Family Name

* Affiliate Disclaimer *

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.

Special dates:

National Tartan Day – April 6th

International Tartan Day – July 1st

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

Discussed in this post:

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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 crisscrossed 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 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 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 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 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 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 supplier of tartan.

The great collection of William Wilson!

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 are 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 was 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, 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 tartans.


Where To Buy Tartan Products?

Lang Syne Shop

Lang Syne Shop has been trading for 35 years and supplies gifts that you will remember.

Lang Syne Shop

Originally publishing books about Scottish ancestry they now offer fun memorabilia and souvenirs.

Lang Syne Products:

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

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.

Tartan Wood Products

And as the name suggests tartans are created on wood, (actually reclaimed timber), and are made in Kirkintilloch, Scotland.

Tartan Products:

  • 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 too. The more you buy then the more you earn points, which can then be redeemed later.


My Final Thoughts!

Even though clan and family tartans are an invented tradition there is 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 you are 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.

What do you think?

If you decide to buy anything from these two sites then please come back and let me know what you think. I would love to hear from you.


Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this post discussing Scottish tartans and your family name. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.

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26 thoughts on “Scottish Tartans And Your Family Name!”

    1. You’re very welcome Sylvia. When researching your family history it’s fascinating to learn everything about your family, and even if you have a tartan associated with your last name.

      And that is why I wanted to discuss that on my site.

      Glad you liked the post.

  1. Michael Northorp

    Hi Owain,

    I have enjoyed reading the information you have posted on this webpage. Can you assist me with identifying what my family’s Tartan is as our Surname is Northorp having variations of: Northrop, Northup, Northrup, Northorpe, etc. Any assistance with this effort is greatly appreciated at this time.

    Regards,

    Mr. Northorp

  2. I am having trouble finding the tartan for my family. We have information leading to the fullest of Dunse Berkshire Scotland ! Please help me in my search!

  3. I am related to John Welsh, the Scottish Presbyterian Leader, born Dumfriesshire, Scotland, 1568-1622, married Elizabeth Knox.

    Everything I have read it states he folded his tartan and laid it at the head of his bed.

    The tartan I can find is a Welsh National, Jones Welsh and a Military Welsh, I don’t think either are his.

    Can you help me to find the right one?

    Donna Waterhouse Tingue

    1. Hi Donna,

      I found the Jones Welsh you were referring to, and also 3 different versions for military Welsh over at The Scottish Register of Tartans.

      I tried searching Google and the Register and didn’t find what you were looking for.

      My advice is to contact the Scottish Register of Tartans as they would be the best people to help you. Their email address is: enquiries@tartanregister.gov.uk

      Hope this helps, and all the best with your search.

      Kind regards,
      Owain

    1. Hi Mic,

      Apologies for the delay in replying. I have been on holiday and have just returned home.

      The Burns surname does have Scottish origins, yet the Hays name does not. Here are two links that discuss the origins of these surnames:

      Burns surname
      Hays surname

      Plaid and tartan are different things. Here is a link to the Burns tartan:

      Burns tartan

      Hope you find this information helpful.

      Kind regards,
      Owain

  4. Hi found your article interesting. I have a plaid in this exact tartan that is pictured with your article – do you know which clan it belong to?
    Thanks

    Rose

    1. Hi Roseline,

      I thought that it was Erskine black and red, but on closer inspection I’m not too sure now. Best bet is to contact Scottish Register of Tartans.

      I’m sorry that I can’t be of any further help. Please let me know what you find out, I’m interested to know what it is.

      Kind regards,
      Owain

      1. Sorry to contradict you Owain but there is indeed a HAY tartan. Originally recorded in the Scottish Tartans Society which then became the Scottish Tartan Authority records which in turn became the basis of the Scottish Register of tartans.
        The number given for this tartan is 1555. In my records I have it dating from 1842 and is illustrated in the Vestiarium Scoticum Pl.51.
        I have another two setts recorded in respect of the name of Hay. One is a sett recorded, date unknown, by MacGregor Hastie and is named Hay Dress White and finally there is the Hay and Leith recorded in the Cockburn Collection No.30 and dated 1815..
        I am sorry I am so late in sending this information to you, it is almost a year and
        half out of date, but perhaps you could forward it to the enquirer. If you think I could be of assistance to you another time, please contact me.
        I forgot to mention that I am a researcher in tartans but I almost gave up when all the mickey mouse tartans started flooding in to help fill the scottish coffers.

      2. Argh! Thanks for the help Trudy. As you can tell I’m no expert but I thought I would give pointers to people who maybe interested in tartans for their family history research.

        I will be sure to contact you in future if I need your help.

        Thanks again,
        Owain

  5. 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. 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. 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.

      2. 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.

  6. 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. 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.

  7. Hi
    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. 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.

  8. 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. 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.

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