More Gunns

I’ve written about the Gunns before: Recovering the Gunn Lineage (Jan. 31, 2019), so we already know I’m an admirer of Alastair Gunn and his work putting the Gunn lineage on a firmer footing. I still haven’t done the work of cleaning up my own notes. Some day. Soon. I promise.

I saw recently on the Facebook page for Clan Gunn that Alastair Gunn has published The real history of (Clan) Gunn. It’s an abridged version — 59 pages, a very quick read — of his earlier The Gunns: History, Myths and Genealogy. I didn’t know about that one either, until now.

Summary: “Gunns are the original, non-related inhabitants of northern mainland Scotland.  They have no Orkney islands origin. Gunns are not a Clan as they had no founding father and nor did they have historic Chiefs. The first Gunn known was Coroner Gunn of Caithness (often wrongly called Crowner Gunn) who died around 1450. His eldest son started the MacHamish Gunns of Killernan line which still exists today and whose line is explored in detail in this book.

I love this stuff. Any time someone does the work to firm up the facts, they have my heart.

So, I grabbed the chance to ask Mr. Gunn how his theory makes the Gunns any different from other Celtic tribes that coalesced around a chiefly family. In other words, why aren’t the MacHamish Gunns just as chiefly as any other Highland family? If the Gunns are, as he argues, the unrelated “people of the country”, doesn’t that mean they the old tribe gathered around and adopting the surname of a leading family?

I’m broadly interested in the various ideas of this subject. I’m often asked to give my opinion about why this family or that doesn’t match the yDNA signature of the clan whose name they bear. It’s a difficult question to answer, not because the answer is unclear, but because the answer contradicts beloved myths. The question is frequently a prelude to a complicated and highly speculative DNA scenario.

The answer I would give, nearly always, is that clans were “artificial” groups. More like our modern notion of tribes than like families. But God help anyone who uses the word artificial in a context where it can be misinterpreted to mean fake. So, mostly I waffle.

Alastair Gunn responded to my question by writing a new piece on his blog, “DNA testing and Scottish families / Clans.‘Clan Gunn’ history or, more accurately, Gunn history <>. Nov. 20, 2020.

The meat of his answer is this. “[T]he majority of people who lived in a Clan area – or drifted into such an area – simply accepted the Clan name for convenience. This is different for the Gunns who had their surname applied to them by outsiders.

I like that answer. It’s a subtle distinction, and no doubt he will elaborate in future posts, but for now it’s short and easy to understand.

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