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Re: Argyll-the Geal=Names
At 07:28 01/09/99 +1000, you wrote:
Neal , that is a most interesting comment on
the "diaspora" of the Sinclairs. As an Australian member
from the Caithness branch, I find it even more interesting. The fair
skinned Redheads are still turning up among my grandchildren, despite
my father being a mixed red/black ( he had a red beard) and two of
my grandchildren have the red hair.
My mother had dark hair and brown eyes, yet her siblings were fair. I was
born with dark hair and skin which fried in the sun, and all my children
with my dark haired, fair skinnned husband are fair skinned ,
differing shades of hair, blue eyed, with one brown eyed exception. Most
are unmistakeably resembling my Sinclair cousins.
As people tend to marry physical types that are like to their family of
origin or psychological types that compliment their own strengths and
lacks, it may not be surprising that there is a similarity in colouring
I know I recognised Niven on our first meeting, although I had never seen
photographs of him, becasue of a physical resemblance to my Dad.
Yet they were second cousins.
At 11:56 31/08/99 -0400, you wrote:
Thank you John and Niven for your
One of the curious aspects that led me on a tangent
this summer in research was the use of gaelic language and the naming or
descriptive uses of the names of individuals. Let me share with you what
I am gradually discovering.
One is that the naming traditions before 1600 are something
of a mystery. We are so imbued with the thought that an individual has to
have a christian name and a surname it comes a bit foriegn to us that a
surname may not be important or more easily descriptive than a proper
family surname. It may be advanced that surnames were not important, not
commonly used and never were written where the culture was illiterate,
(meaning they couldn't either read and /or write or had little need to
learn). This was widespread before 1700 and very widespread before 1600
in rural areas as well as the cities.
In discussions of this aspect of the absence of a Proper
Surname name in social traditions I have found the reasons were simple.
The concept of ancestral history was limited to those with property and
others simply had no reason to use or adopt one in the absence of a need
for written records. The key importance for naming was Christian names
which focused then if anything primarily on father - to - son
relationships. I have found it is with Christian naming patters that the
ancestral ties were preserved. Hence the practice was common of using
grandfathers names as Christian names for their
Descriptive names in both Gaelic and English were
common and refered to the individuals trade or occupation. It was oddly
enough an early form of advertising and recognizing the skills or
abilities of the individual. Secondarily, some descriptions were based on
geography. This ment that we had descriptive names in both languages ie
Gealic=Ceards and ie. English = Smiths. Now the key question is simply
that one can make no assumption that everyone carrying the trade name or
a descriptive name was related by blood nor can one assume that the
gaelic "sons of" all were related to one another. This may be
different when the "son of" refers to a proper name ie.
MacDougall or son of Dougall.
The conclusions I get thus far, is that the naming
traditions were, prior to 1600, at best confusing and at worst followed a
number of social patterns that combined descriptions of trades, geography
and tradition, families and titles. The further back one gets in time the
more the social use of surnames / proper names appears unimportant (apart
from property). On the other hand from 1700 to today the use of surnames
becomes increasingly important until today it requires a statutory
process to legally change ones name after birth. Not so in Shakesperes
time. This conclusion in so far as I have come to have a conclusion,
is limited in this one important aspect. In Scotland and elsewhere
there were common use of surnames based on geography and family
relationship going well back in time to before 1000 with some family
names which obviously are the basis of what we appreciate today as the
core of Clan History. But these names are best traceable with the chief
or lairds connected with title and family peoperty. Hence the line of the
Earles of Caithness and Sinclair is well documented through lineage,
property and title. This does not apply directly to the general
population of the Orkneys, Caithness or for that matter Argyll betewn
1000 and 1800.
The second I have a really interesting learning curve to
understand and that is our assumptions arising from gaelic as a langauge
written and spoken. I am further behind here. Gaelic is blurred with
Scots useage, dialects and it being a "sort of dead language"
here is North America. It does not help that it was outlawed in 1745 in
Scotland and English became dominent for education. I have good evidence
that gaelic was spoken widely in Argyll and used by the first immigrant
Sinclairs to Canada and the United States and Australia (1200-1850'sff).
There is a revival movent today with the language and there are 2
colleges of Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Celtic study departments are here
in the University of Toronto and St Francsis Xavier University to name a
couple of other acedemic institutions. I have learned two thing on this,
it is a tough language to learn and appreciate and secondly I am not
about to devote what it takes to absorb this so I have approached some
wiser than I in the spealing of the Gael..
Now Niven you may have given a clue for the dispora of the
Sinclairs when at one point you suggested that there were at least 11
pockets of Sinclairs that started following the Battle of Hastings and
that they may have initially dispersed all over. This would be
interesting if true because it would not be illogical as other families
did this. The tight unit of families associated with geography is not a
neat as we would hope.
Now the current speculation of skin colour I have
reservations about. One can remember that if any gene mix from 1588 is
examined there are some 20 or so generations of "mixing" and
whether we are dark or light skinned is very moot. Even if there was a
pocket of Spanish that did not inter mingle I imagine that physical
characteristics are complex when origins are studied. Then one realls the
migrations into Argyll 1700 to 1900 were massive Sinclairs included and
all best are off. I mention the fair skinned red heads but in my family
they could have come as easily from the Earle of Morton as from the
Sinclairs of Argyll.
Now some of the discussion with the Spanish recalls some of
the debate with Mr. Ramsay as to proofs and folklore. Our group has been
reading all we can on Argyll and this Spanish hypothesis has just now
surfaced. Karen informs us that McNokairds go back to 1200 in naming
traditions and the Spanish is a connection with 1588? The interesting
part is the connection with Gaelic in Spain illustrating if anything
those picts and scots "got around". Still even verbal folklore
has an importance so we wait to learn more.
So the Sinclair History is advancing a bit and the current
discussion is relevant to Sinclairs whether they be tied to Caithness the
Orkneys or the Argyll regions and assists us in appreciating genealogy,
names, and derivations of names in a social context.
My second cousin from Australia recognised me because we Sinclairs
have a dominant characteristic which
remains no matter how much inter-breeding
takes place. I often liken this fixed character to Hereford
cattle. You can cross
the Hereford with any other breed: Aberdeen Angus for
example. The calf will be black but the face will be white.
will never get rid of the white face no matter how
many times you cross that animal with other strains.
That which is born in the bone can never be driven out
of the blood.
To the consternation of many Sinclair parents, a
red-haired child will suddenly appear and it has nothing to do with
milkman or the postman! It has to do with our link
with the Stewarts who, as I have said in an earlier communication,
were invariably carrot-topped. The tinkers, too, were
invariably red-headed. Not surprisingly, the majority of tinkers
called Stewart - here again, as Neil points out, it was a
question of 'adopting' a name when registration became
compulsory. Stewart and Sinclair were well known
names. The first was that of the Royal Family of Scotland and
second had a certain phonetic similarity to 'tinker' or
We have to accept that we are not all descendants of Prince Henry
Sinclair or of various Earls of Caithness. The important
thing is that we are all Sinclairs with a contribution to make to
our Clan today . Whether we stem from
Orkney, Shetland, France, Norway, Sweden, England or Jamaica seems
to me to be of as little consequence as the colour
of our skin (be it black, olive, or fair) or, indeed,
whether we are called Sinclair because there are just as many people
there with Sinclair genes who do not carry the name of Sinclair
but who are still intensely proud of their Sinclair lineage.
We are richer because of our diversity and, just in case there are
those who equate Caithness with fair skins and Argyll
with dark skins, the Ulbster Branch of our family have always been
dark skinned and dark-haired and they are Caithness
folk through and through. John Sinclair, the current
Viscount Thurso, is a striking individual who could match any
Don Juan in looks, manners and achievements.
Let us be worthy of our heritage by realising and releasing the
varied talents which lie within each of us. Together we
build a Clan Association which will be the envy of others and a
source of pride to ourselves.
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