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Sept Lists

Seemingly everywhere you look on the internet, and even in published literature, you will find endless lists of clan names and associated septs. They generally look very familiar, if not identical, so it's not hard to imagine that they probably started with a common list or lists in a small number of places and then exploded across the internet to all the general clan sites and online retailers of highland wear.

I'm sure that many of you have come across the Electric Scotland website, which is an excellent resource for many things clan-related and for wider topics on Scottish history and culture. On their List of Clan Septs and Dependents page they provide the following list of surnames related to that of Watson: Belboys, Boas, Boece, Boeis, Boes, Boess, Boice, Boiss, Boiste, Boos, Boost, Bos, Bouse, Boust, Bowayse, Bowes, Bowis, Bows, Bowys, Boyce, Boyes, Boyess, Boyis, Boys, Boyse, Boze, Buist, Buste, DeBosco, MacQuat, MacQuattie, MacQuhat, MacQwat, MacRowatt, MacWalter, MacWater, MacWatson, MacWatt, MacWatters, MacWattie, Vatsoun, Vod, Vode, Void, Voud, Voude, Vould, Walter, Walterson, Wasson, Waters, Waterson, Watson, Watsone, Watsoun, Watt, Wattie, Wattson, Wod, Wode, Wodde, Woid, Woide, Wood, Woyd, Wyatt.

Before we start to look at the list, let us discuss the difference between a sept and a variant. As we discuss on the page on the Watsons as a clan, septs were kin groups that formed an assocation with a bigger clan and typically swore fealty to the bigger clan in exchange for protection or other advantages. The septs could be an offshoot of the bigger family or they could be completely unrelated.

The term "variant" is used to describe a different spelling of a name. The two main reasons that variants of the same name pop up in general in genealogy are that the scribes making entries into parish registers would write down names as they heard them rather than conform to a standardised list of names, and the same name might show regional variations. In areas in which there was more than one endemic language or dialect, you could also find versions of the same name in different tongues, as is the case in Scotland, with some names having both Gaelic and English forms.

Before we look at the list from Electric Scotland in more detail, let's take a look at the reason we find such extensive lists of septs nowadays.

More About Septs

It is difficult to have a conversation on septs without upsetting at least half of the people in the room.

As we discuss above, the clans of old would have had many kinds of relationships with other kin groups, ranging from formally-signed alliances and polically-arranged intermarriage through to merely occupying lands in each other's vicinity. There were also instances in which a kin group split into subgroups, some or all of which remained loyal to the parent clan.

As such, it is hard to apply such a black-and-white concept as a clan-sept arrangement to these historic relationships. The inconvenient truth (to many) is that the clan-sept relationships that we see today were largely a 19th Century creation. Let's look at a highly-condensed history1 to see why.

Following the last Jacobite uprising and the Battle of Culloden, the Dress Act of 1746 was brought in that - amongst other things - effectively banned all males in Scotland from the wearing of highland wear. The act was repealed in 1782, which coincided with the start of a period of romanticisation of "The Highlander" that really hit its peak in 1822 with the royal pageant that accompanied the visit of King George IV to Scotland.

The revived interest in all things highland, which carried highland dress at its core, was partly driven by Sir Walter Scott and partly by the Scottish textile industry. From the late 18th Century, a concerted effort to assign clan-specific tartans to the major highland clans commenced. In a small number of cases, the major clans were able to lay semi-legitimate claim to one or two of the tartans prevalent in their region, but in the vast majority of cases the tartans that the clans adopted had no real relevance to a particular kin group and, in many instances were effectively made up on the spot! This process started primarily with those clans that still had chiefs in place, but it wasn't long before every kin group in Scotland jumped on the band wagon.

It soon became evident that there were a large number of family names in Scotland that had no association with any of the recognised clans and, under the new romantic ideal of the highlander, no "right" to wear a tartan. In a marketing masterstroke, an extensive process of categorisation commenced, in which clanless family names where assigned as septs of established clans, thus enabling members of these families to adopt the tartans of their new parent clans, and simultaneously increasing the revenue for the tartan mills and hawkers of highland wear!

People understandably have a strong attachment to their family name, but we also often see a similar attachment to the name of a parent clan, even if there is no evidence of a relationship stretching back before the 19th Century. As we discuss above, the old notions of what it means to be a clan have clearly evolved over the centuries. As such, we should ask ourselves whether we should get too hung up on the 19th Century fabrication of sept lists or just accept it as yet another perfectly-valid phase in the changing nature of the clans?

Again, we invite you to come and join us on the Clan Watson Facebook group and tell us what you think!

Septs of the Watsons

When we take a look at the list of septs presented by Electric Scotland, we can break it down into two groups:

  • Variants of Wood: Belboys, Boas, Boece, Boeis, Boes, Boess, Boice, Boiss, Boiste, Boos, Boost, Bos, Bouse, Boust, Bowayse, Bowes, Bowis, Bows, Bowys, Boyce, Boyes, Boyess, Boyis, Boys, Boyse, Boze, Buist, Buste, DeBosco, Vod, Vode, Void, Voud, Voude, Vould, Wod, Wode, Wodde, Woid, Woide, Wood, Woyd, Wyatt
  • Variants of Walter/Watt/Watson: MacQuat, MacQuattie, MacQuhat, MacQwat, MacRowatt, MacWalter, MacWater, MacWatson, MacWatt, MacWatters, MacWattie, Vatsoun, Walter, Walterson, Wasson, Waters, Waterson, Watson, Watsone, Watsoun, Watt, Wattie, Wattson

    In our research to date, we have not come across anything suggesting a formal arrangement between the Walter/Watt/Watson variant group and any of the Wood variants. Indeed, if we take a look at the Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia2, and even on different pages of the Electric Scotland website, we see that Boyes is listed as a sept of Clan Forbes, and Wood is a clan in its own right, complete with a chief.

    We will be on the lookout for any signs of a relationship between the Watsons and the Woods/Boyes, but if anyone out there is aware of one please contact us or join the the Clan Watson Facebook group to point us in that direction!

  • Notes

    1 We will look to enhance this condensed history with some sources, and maybe even write an expanded article at some point, but in the meantime it is easy to find a lot more information with a quick internet search.

    2 Scottish Clan & Family Encyclopedia, third edition, written by George Way of Plean and Romilly Squire, published by St. Kilda (Holdings) Ltd.

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