Septs of Clan Davidson

What is a Clan Sept?

We often get asked while manning a tent at Highland Games “What is a Sept?” This is a good question since many people are confused by the words “Clan”, “Family”, and “Sept” when these terms are used to describe the Scottish Highlanders and their way of life. They also ask questions such as “Is a Family different than a Clan?” and “How did Septs come into existence?”

A Clan or Family is a legally recognized group in Scotland, which has a quasi-legal corporate identity in the same way that a company, club or partnership may have a corporate identity in law. There is now a belief that “Clans” are Highland and “Families” are Lowland but this is really a development of the Victorian era. The Lyon Court recognizes both the Clan and the Family as being the same thing now.
A sept is a family name that can be related to a Clan or larger Family for various reasons. Usually this came about either through marriage or by a small family seeking protection from a larger and more powerful neighbor. Nowadays, this relationship is most often seen in the clan tartan that individual families are “entitled”* to wear.

“Sept” is actually a term borrowed from Irish culture in the nineteenth century to explain the use of a variety of surnames by members of a single Clan. Where Scots would say “MacGregor and his Clan” and Irish historian might say “O’Neill and his Sept”.
Over time, many Septs have become Clans in their own right and, in the political turmoil that Scotland has seen over the centuries, many others came to be related to more than one Clan.

Even more telling in the origin of Septs in the USA is the name jumbling that happened to many of our ancestors who entered the country via Ellis Island or other ports of landing. The clerks registering the new arrivals did the best they could with trying to document the names as spoken by the immigrants, most of whom had heavy accents very foreign to the ears of the clerk. Modern day Western governments also tend to place much more emphasis on surnames that what was common in the past.

There is no “official” (i.e. legal) list of which Septs belong to which Clans. There also is a tendency for some Clans to try to claim as many Septs as possible for purposes of attracting as many new members as possible. CDS-USA does not hold with that position…
That said, the list we have complied here is not definitive but just a compilation of various Septs that Clan Davidson organizations and publications have listed in the past.**

The Septs of Clan Davidson are generally considered to be: (continued on page 2)