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To adequately describe what a Clann Sept is, one must first have a grasp of what a Clan/Clann is:
The ancient Celtic (that's C pronounced as a "K" folks- sorry pet peeve) peoples were organized tribally and once dominated prehistoric Europe, parts of western Asia, and what later became the British Isles. Today most of the remnants of these intriguing peoples inhabit the northern and eastern reaches of modern Britain (though many European nations are of mixed Celtic stock- i.e. the French). The modern remnants of the Celtic Tribes live primarily in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany.
In ancient times, power and protection were derived from a common tribal Chief, who was essentially the representative of a Clann's collective ancestor. Often this collective ancestor was a person of some fame or distinction, perhaps intermarried with the crown, and most Clann names resulted from such a patriarch. The earliest Clanns lived in hillforts, which were walled compounds typically on top of a hill. To honor their ancestor, his descendants adopted his given name as their surname, and often added (what became) a prefix which helped to denote their relationship to their ancestor. In Ireland the prefix was often Ui' or later O' which originally meant "grandson of", but became more akin to "descendant of"- being derived from either parent- male or female. For Celtic peoples in general the Mc or Mac prefix initially denoted "son of", presently denoting a direct male line of descent.
The Chief was then the Lord-Protector of his Clann, whose members derived their kinship through the name of their common forefather. Life however, is hardly so simple! Since early Clann members had to marry, and were not always inclined to do so with their brothers or sisters. Hence other families became drawn into these earliest Clanns, and systems of mutual intermarriage sometimes even developed.
Sometimes the individual Septs of a Clann had their own representative of their collective ancestor. Such a person was often termed a Chieftain, and he was ostensibly subordinate to the parent Clann's Chief. This appears to have been the case at least at one point in history for the Acheson family, as one Archie of Ginles is cited as Chief of the Clann in 1552 (he presumeably being a "Chieftain"). Coincidentally or not, both the Gordon's and Acheson's appear to have reached the peak of their power and influence in Scotland at about this period in history.
Through intermarriage Clanns grew in strength and number, and occasionally forged peace or alliances with their neighbors by betrothal of sons and daughters. Such early intermarried families were not always, but often remained loyal to a single Clann from whence they derived lands and protection. In modern times these families are termed Septs of the Clann, but are more correctly called "Families" of the Clann.
It should be noted however that not every Sept was necessarily married into the parent Clann, though most were. Some families entered the Clann fold initially for mutual defense purposes, lending their sword arms for the collective good of all. Most such families often intermarried later however, as it was typically advantageous to do so, to improve one's bloodline and relationship to the parent Clann.
The Scottish Clann of Gordon originally held lands in the Lowlands near the present day English border. Their surname is arguably of Norman extraction as were many early Scottish Clanns and families (i.e. the Sinclairs/St. Clairs, the Montgomeries, the Frasers/Frasiers, the Setons, the Comyn's/Comines etc.). The following is a list of the Septs of the Gordon Clann, and though this list is heavily published with some variations, I do not as yet know from what source(s) it is originally derived (perhaps one of our readers knows?)
Adam, Adams, Adamson, Addie, Addison, Adie, Aitchison, Aiken, Aitken, Atkin, Atkins, Barrie, Connon, Craig, Cromb, Crombie, Cullen, Darg, Darge, Dorward, Duff, Durward, Eadie, Eddie, Edie, Edison, Esslemont, Gardiner, Gardner, Garioch, Garrick, Garriock, Geddes, Gerrie, Huntly, Jessiman, Jopp, Jupp, Laing, Lang, Laurie, Lawrie, Leng, Marr, Maver, Mavor, Meldrum, Mill, Mills, Milne, Milnes, Moir, More, Morrice, Morris, Muir, Mylne, Tod, Todd, Troup
At even a cursory glance at the list of Clann Septs, one notes that many of the surnames are most likely derivatives of a common root name-
Adams, Adam, Adamson
Adie, Addie, Eadie, Edie, Eddie, Addison, Edison
Aiken, Aitken, Atkin, Atkins etc.
So truthfully the
number of early Sept surnames of the Gordon Clann was probably
much smaller than this list might suggest, considering that many
of the surnames are mere repetitions or variations of a single
surname. Remember also that Septs did not restrict themselves
to intermarrying with members of the Clann surname, but probably
did so as often with some of the other Septs, and with outsiders
as well. Some Septs occasionally became powerful enough to warrant
being termed a Clann in their own right, as occured at various
points in history. There were likely no firm criteria for full
"Clann" status other than power, influence, and strength
of numbers; though some have suggested descent from Scots Kings.
One unique feature among the early Celtic peoples is their ability
to relate the history of the Clann in an oral tradition (bardic),
thereby alleviating the need for written language to some extent.
Another unique ability among many Celtic Clanns (for which they
are oft dmired by other peoples) is the ability of the lowliest
of Clannsmen/women to trace their lineage back to ancient Kings
and Queens of various nationalities (Scottish, Irish, Danish,
Flemish,Viking, Norman, Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, etc.)
One noteworthy surname which is not listed above as a Sept, but was a Clann in its own right was that of the Seton Clann. A male Seton actually intermarried with a Gordon chief's daughter, and their son and his descendants eventually became the Gordon Clann line of Chiefs (though this Seton's own paternity was arguably not even Seton!). This is discussed in more detail in the section called
A History of the Clann Gordon-