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Q: Clan leader's title ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   15 Comments )
Subject: Clan leader's title
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: apteryx-ga
List Price: $4.82
Posted: 27 Dec 2003 21:14 PST
Expires: 26 Jan 2004 21:14 PST
Question ID: 290807
Tell me about the use of "the" as in "the Wallace," "the MacGregor,"
"the Bruce."  I infer that it's the designation of the head of a
Scottish clan, but I find it pretty hard to look up online.

- Is this the correct understanding of the expression?
- What is its origin?
- Do any besides the Scots of the Highlands style their leaders this way?

Thank you,
(Proud of her few drops of MacNeill blood)

Clarification of Question by apteryx-ga on 28 Dec 2003 00:49 PST
Thanks for your comments, aht-ga.  They show me that I have to clarify my question.

First, I'd like positive verification that my inference is correct
("the" is for the head of the clan) or else a true explanation of what
that terminology means.  Second, with respect to origin, I am as much
interested in a linguistic sense as I am in a historic sense.  And
third, when I ask about people other than the Highland Scots, I really
mean people other than Scots:  not Scotsmen outside the Highlands but
other cultural/ethnic/racial/linguistic groups entirely.  I added "of
the Highlands" just to signify that I know not all Scots are
identified as clansmen, complete with tartans and the rest of it.  But
I am really asking if tribal groups of any kind in other cultures use
a linguistically similar designation for their leaders.

I priced this question low because it is a just-for-fun or
just-curious one.  I always picture myself handing over the cash to
someone at an answer desk and ask myself, "How much would you actually
pay to find this out?" and if it's not a serious matter, the answer is
generally not much (figuring the researcher is going to enjoy the
quesation too).  But for a three-part query, I guess I'd better up the
fee a little bit.  I picked $3.67 because inside my head it is the
same colors as a Royal Stewart tartan; now I'll choose a number that
is the color of a Black Watch plaid.
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
Answered By: pinkfreud-ga on 30 Dec 2003 09:26 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Thank you very much for accepting my remarks as your answer. Like all
of your questions, this was a fascinating hunt.

Best wishes from
The Pink, of that ilk
apteryx-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $3.94
The Pink of Pink,

Many thanks.  You've satisfied my relentless curiosity yet again.  I
don't know of any tartan that uses pink, but this one is kinda close.


Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: aht-ga on 27 Dec 2003 23:00 PST

I haven't found a definitive web resource for you to learn more about
this; from the various sites I've scanned, the origin of this use of
"the" in naming the head of a clan harkens back to the origins of the
Scottish Highland clans, when the leader of the clan claimed direct
blood-descendancy from the original founder. Since the leader of the
clan was regarded as the "father" of the clan (the word clan itself
being from the Gaelic word for "the children"), it made sense to refer
to him as "the Bruce" or "the Wallace".

While clans existed in one form or another in other societies around
the world, I am not aware of any others where the clan leader was
referred to as "the..." clan name. If there is, I'm sure one of my
fellow Researchers will find it for you!


Google Answers Researcher
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: markj-ga on 28 Dec 2003 06:13 PST
It may take some real digging to find an authoritative answer to this
interesting question, and I leave it to the genealogy experts among us
to come with it most efficiently.  The best I can do before having to
go "off duty" for a while this morning is this link to a thread on the
"Sinclair Family Discussion List":
Re: "THE Bruce"

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 28 Dec 2003 12:19 PST
Howdy, Apteryx! You may find this interesting:
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 28 Dec 2003 12:57 PST
More on the Irish use of the prefix "The" for a chief:

"Only very few of the old Irish families are allowed to use  the
prefix 'The' before their family name. There is good documentary
evidence to confirm an unbroken use of the O'Donovan title by the
Chiefly House. Furthermore successive Chiefs asserted, through
heraldry, their DE JURE position as Chiefs and Gaelic lords by
displaying supporters in their armorial achievements (supporters being
considered, by the British authorities, an attribute permitted only to
Peers of the Realm or Knights Grand Cross of Orders). They also used a
feudal chapeau of lordship in their crest.  The continued interest of
the Chiefly line in Gaelic culture is demonstrated by the present
O'Donovan's membership of the Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and
Chieftains. Today the O'Donovan family is one of only fifteen Irish
families to have a chief,  still known as The O'Donovan  who is
officially recognised by the Chief Herald of Ireland." 

"There are two aspects of recognition with regard to Irish Chiefship. 
It is important to remember and differentiate between the two, for
that is how much of the confusion surrounding the issue starts.   The
main difference is between 'Chief of the Name' and 'Chief of the
Clan'.   As stated, there are three organizations that recognize and
work with Irish clans.  They are:

The Genealogical Office and the Chief Herald of Ireland 
The Standing Council of Irish Chiefs and Chieftains 
The Clans of Ireland 
The Genealogical office and the Chief Herald are the official entity
of the government in Dublin.  It is concerned with recognizing those
who are 'Chiefs of the Name' and thus, the title of 'The', not with
the conduct of the clans themselves...

The Clans of Ireland.  This organization, which was at one point an
official branch of the Genealogical Office, is focused on the clans
themselves.  The Clans of Ireland are not in the business of
recognizing pedigrees or lines of descent.  They do not give the title
'The' to the head of a clan.  Instead the Clans of Ireland recognize
what the clan organizations themselves do.  If a clan does not have
one of the nineteen 'Chiefs of the Name', then that organization can
select one of their own to become 'Chief of the Clan'.

Herein lies the major difference.  Courtesy recognition from the Chief
Herald entitles a person to be known as 'The X, Chief of the Name' and
use a noble coronet on their arms.  Recognition from Clans of Ireland
is recognition purely as 'Chief of the Clan X'."
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: apteryx-ga on 28 Dec 2003 13:05 PST
Very nice, markj.  "The" as a corruption of "de"?  Logical.  Wonder if
it can be confirmed.  I confess I was a little troubled by the leap of
logic in aht's response:

>Since the leader of the
clan was regarded as the "father" of the clan (the word clan itself
being from the Gaelic word for "the children"), it made sense to refer
to him as "the Bruce" or "the Wallace".

I did not see a necessary connection between being regarded as father
of a clan and being styled "the."  It may be there, but I don't see

I expect that someone with a deep knowledge of clan history and Celtic
languages will know the answers to the first parts without research. 
As to the third, I thought a student of comparative cultures or
linguistics might know.

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: apteryx-ga on 28 Dec 2003 13:07 PST
Pinkfreud, you're hot on the trail again!  I'm sure there's a
connection between the Irish and the Scottish usages.  Thanks for the
interesting links.  We're not quite there yet, but this takes us

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 28 Dec 2003 13:18 PST
"Whilst a number of them [Highland chiefs] have latterly preferred to
reduplicate the patronymic, e.g. Macleod of Macleod, yet the ancient
practice was for all chiefs to use the form 'of that ilk,' which is
the more characteristically Scottish form of title, and Lamont of that
Ilk was officially recognised under that title in 1909.

In the fourteenth century, chiefs of Lowland families, and principally
those of Norman origin, for a time distinguished themselves as 'Le
Graham,' 'Le Lindsay,' 'The Bruce,' and this was carried to the
Highlands by 'The Chisholm' 'The MacNab,' and usefully denote a chief.
In full description the title 'of that ilk'--so characteristically
Scottish--is almost invariably the form used, whether by Highland or
Lowland chiefs, until the nineteenth century."
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: apteryx-ga on 28 Dec 2003 20:26 PST
Well, I'd say the first of the three parts is answered, and the second
partially answered.  Thanks, Pink.  I also like the explanation of "of
that ilk."

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 29 Dec 2003 12:40 PST
I haven't found evidence that any groups other than the Scots, the
Irish, and the Normans have commonly used the prefix "The" to
designate a chief or leader.

Robert the Bruce's name, in Norman form, was "Robert de Brus," and the
use of "de" or "le" in this manner was apparently commonplace among
the Normans:

"The name of Ross, as applied to the Earls, appears as in the Norman
form of de Ros in papers around the time of Robert de Brus. Normanized
documents don't aid in clarifying matters, but some documents of the
period also refer to William the Ross in the same fashion as King
Robert I was called the Bruce."
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 29 Dec 2003 17:38 PST

I can't take credit for this batch. My good friend and colleague
leli-ga sent me a message with this useful and interesting material:


Some Highland chiefs have the definite article (an or am or a') before
their name, but it varies from clan to clan. 

The -ach ending may indicate a genitive, but not always. 

Some clans don't seem to have ever used the definite article style of title. 

"It has been customary to refer to the Chief of the Frasers as
MacShimidh [son of Simon] throughout Fraser history." 

In Gaelic, the chief of the Clan Campbell is known as "MacCailein Mór"
meaning "Son of Colin the Great" 


The Lord Lyon and the Lyon Court preside over arms and, to some extent, titles. 

The Lord Lyon can rule on who is clan chief, though I'm not sure that
this is clear-cut from a legal point of view, but he doesn't appear to
confer a "The" (though he's big on eagle feathers).

"It is in that spirit that, with the revival of clans in recent
decades, people in Scotland and abroad have naturally turned to Lyon
as an arbiter, since, indeed, no more proper person could be found." 

"After establishing his identity as ?Urquhart of Braelangwell?, he was
recognised by the Lord Lyon as Chief of the Name and Head of Clan
Urquhart in 1959 " 

" in 1957 the Lyon Court was petitioned by Ronald Steuart Menzies (a
branch of the Culdares family of Menzies) and he was awarded the name
and arms of Menzies of that Ilk (clan chief)." 


The Irish have apparently "copied" the Scottish use of the definite
article in clan chief titles.

Burke's Peerage: "Probably in imitation of Scottish practice, the
custom grew of affixing the definite article before the names of Irish

Ireland seems to be trying to regulate this usage, unlike Scotland.
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: apteryx-ga on 29 Dec 2003 20:33 PST
Very fine work, Pink.  I'd like you to claim the answer for this one. 
I do thank aht-ga and markj-ga for their helpful contributions, but
you sank the ball.

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 30 Dec 2003 20:49 PST

Many thanx for the great question, the five stars, and the nice tip!

I am insatiably curious about one thing: 

You have said "I picked $3.67 because inside my head it is the same
colors as a Royal Stewart tartan; now I'll choose a number that is the
color of a Black Watch plaid [$4.82]."

Does the $3.94 tip represent the rather dour MacKay tartan? Although I
experience a variety of synesthesias, I am a dummy at Tartan Math. ;-)

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: apteryx-ga on 30 Dec 2003 23:03 PST

Naw.  That's a number as close as I could get to purple in more than
one digit (purple surrounded by red and blue), with the red in the
dominant initial position.  The sample I chose looked very magenta, at
least on my screen.  The regular Mackay tartan (not the grim dark one
but the more modern one) looks to me like a very nice blue mixture
that would have cost me $4.76.

What do *you* do for a pink plaidie?

Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: pinkfreud-ga on 31 Dec 2003 14:47 PST
>> What do *you* do for a pink plaidie?

I have distant ties to Clan Wallace. 

I could always get some Wallace tartan and soak it in Clorox. :-D
Subject: Re: Clan leader's title
From: apteryx-ga on 31 Dec 2003 20:16 PST
Very resourceful, Pink.  I bet you'd surprise the ghillies off the
Wallaces if you showed up at the ceilidh in that!

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