Is your Surname Scottish?
The Zabrowsky tartan.
One of the most frequent inquires that we deal with is
along the lines of: "My surname is Zabrowsky and I can't find my
tartan!" Not all the surname queries are quite as unusual as that
one but there does seem to be a widespread misconception that if
your granny was frightened by a Scotsman, then you must have a
We joke of course, but if there's the slightest hint of Scottish
blood in the family, many think that their own special tartan is
sitting there waiting for them to discover, regardless of how many
generations have passed and how many new surnames have been
introduced to the family
We obviously want to help you but a good bit of preparatory work
from your end will greatly increase the chance of us being able to
identify your 'tartan roots.' If you've searched in our Tartan
Ferret for your surname and you get a 'nil return' then it's
probably for a very good reason - we have no documented links
between your surname and any Scottish clan. Now our surname
database isn't infallible and we're continually updating and
upgrading it, but if your name isn't there, then you're going to
have to tackle the problem in a slightly different way.
One of the reasons for a nil return is often that the spelling of
your surname has changed over the years and whilst we do try and
accommodate such variations, we can't possibly know them all. A
point of surprising conflict with enquirers looking for their
tartan that we've often come across when looking at the 'Macs' is
their refusal to accept that McDonald is exactly the same name as
MacDonald and when we've gently insisted, some have even gone off
in a huff!
Mc is just an abbreviation for Mac and is not a different surname;
neither does it indicate that you're Irish. So. . . . if your name
is spelt 'Mc' and you can't find anything, then search again using
'Mac'. And do try alternative spellings for other names that are
causing a problem.
If you can't unearth a connection in the surname search then the
next step - if you're sure there's Scottish blood in the family -
is to look as far back as you can at your family history and make a
list of the surnames on the male and female side. One of those may
prove to have a clan - and therefore a tartan - connection.
Still no luck?
If that produces nothing, then we move on to the next step and
that is to find another kind of link that might produce a tartan
for you. It's important to remember that just because you have
Scottish blood doesn't automatically mean that you have a tartan:
tartan and clans were a Highland phenomenon and there are probably
a few million Scots living in Scotland today who have no clan
There are no laws governing what tartan you can wear but most
people like to feel they have some historical or 'genetic' link
with what they choose. If that type of link can't be found, then
having a geographical connection is the next best option.
Having delved into your family history you'll no doubt have
details of some of the areas in Scotland in which your forebears
lived - if you know the name of the city or area, then try typing
that into the 'Tartan Name' search box. If that doesn't come up
with anything, then type 'District' into the Keywords Search box
and read through the listings.
No luck with the District tartan idea? One last throw of the dice
is to look at any other tartan connections that any of your
forebears might have had. If one was a Minister then why not think
about the Priest or Clergy tartan . . . . or a connection with a
Scottish regiments . . . Or with a particular university or church
or major event for which there is a tartan. Cast the net far and
Then fall back on what we call universal tartans - the Royal
Stewart, Hunting Stewart, Black Watch, Jacobite and a growing band
of modern tartans intended for general use.
Read some fascinating facts about surnames by Dr. Philip D Smith
Jnr at Surname Compilations and Scotch-Irish?
Go play with
the Tartan Ferret