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Saturday, 16 April 2016

Gunn history; 'Clan Gunn Society history' and St Donan's Day

St Donan's Day is tomorrow and it is an event much celebrated by the Clan Gunn Society even though it has nothing to do with any academically based Gunn history.

By this I mean St Donan had nothing to do with Kildonan in Sutherland. One has to consider the traditional Gaelic name for Kildonan - and it has nothing to do with St Donan. If St Donan had impact on the Kildonan area then it is logical to assume the traditional name would show it. As well, the lives of the saints on the west coast are quite well documented, including St Donan, but there is no paperwork for him visiting what is now Sutherland. And we are talking the 600s here - moving from the west coast of Scotland to Sutherland would be like visiting Mars today. For more see

Which gets to the point of this entry. There are basically two Gunn histories now operating -

I like real Gunn history and will continue my research...

Friday, 15 April 2016

Origin of the Gunn surname

'Professor Carole Hough, Professor of Onomastics at Glasgow University, said most (Scottish) surnames came from a place, an occupation, a relationship, or a characteristic.'​ 

The origin of the Gunn name is from a place (northern Highlands) and that place had a characteristic people ('prickly'). As said, to believe that all Scottish surnames are clan names is simplistic nonsense. The Gunn name being of a regional / characteristic origin  is not an unusual idea if one considers all Scottish surnames.

Monday, 11 April 2016

'The Gunns' by Thomas Sinclair - are Gunns a clan?

I note the title of the seminal Gunn history text is 'The Gunns' and not 'Clan Gunn'. Given 'The Gunns' was published in 1890 it provides incidental support for the idea that even in the late 1800s the Gunns were not axiomatically viewed as being 'Clan Gunn'.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Are Gunns a clan? Chief implications...

The more I research Gunn history the more unrealistic so much of it seems.  Consider -
  1.       The idea that Gunns descend from an aristocratic Orkney Islands family is absurd. Consider–

·         There is no primary source proof that Snaekoll  Gunnarson  (son of the person who supposedly started the Gunns) returned from his exile in Norway (discussed in the next bullet point), nor that he married, nor that he had children  – and his life is decently documented in the Orkneyinga Saga and Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar. Without his return to Scotland and without children then there is no ‘Orkney Islands’ Gunn descent.

·         And logic says Snaekoll would never have returned to Scotland. Why? Snaekoll Gunnarson basically was forced to go to Norway in disgrace as he helped kill the King of Norway’s representative in Caithness – the Jarl. Others involved with the murder were also forced to go to Norway. Many of those involved in the murder were then executed by order of the King of Norway, but not Snaekoll.  Snaekoll stayed in Norway and got heavily involved with a major civil war to overthrow the King. And his side lost. Do we really think the King of Norway would then forgive Snaekoll, give him land in Scotland and help him home? No. And if he had it would have been documented in Hákonar saga Hákonarsonar which in essence recorded every action the King made. Snaekoll was last heard of in Norway - late in the civil war - in a battle where many of the rebels were killed and so, presumably, was Snaekoll (or soon after). And consider Snaekoll’s record – if he had survived the battle his character is such he would have turned up in other real histories… Ottar, Snaekoll’s supposed son is also just wrong. See

·         A further problem with this impossible Orkney Islands Gunn descent is why would Gunni Andresson (Snaekoll’s father) be the first Gunn (the eponym Gunn)? He is an anonymous person.  All he did was marry well. But his grandfather was Sweyne Assleifsson - a great pirate (think 'Pirates of the Caribbean'); the sort of person from whom clans would originate. But Gunns are not Sweynessonn / Swanson, they are Gunns. No anonymous person, but none, gets a family name / surname created after them which then sticks through time especially when the grandfather of the anonymous person was so well known.

·         Another  major issue concerning the Gunn Norse / Orkney / Viking origin are huge problems with the patronymic surname Gunn  which one has to accept if one believes in the  Norse / Orkney origin idea–

Many Scottish surnames originated in patronymics, whereby a son’s surname derived from the father’s forename, e.g. John Donaldson’s son might be Peter Johnson, whose son might be Magnus Peterson, and so on. Patronymics present something of a challenge for the family historian in that the surname changed with each successive generation.  This practice died out in Lowland Scotland after the 15th century, as patronymic surnames became permanent family names. It persisted, however, in the Highlands & Islands well into the 18th century...[i]

So according to the Gunn Norse / Viking / Orkney origin myth the Gunn patronymic surname was fixed roughly six hundred years before everyone else's surnames / family names were fixed in the Highlands of Scotland and also when all Scottish Highland society was doing something totally different to the Gunns for family names / surnames. That's impossible to believe but that's what you have to believe if you support the idea that the Gunns originated from Gunni Andresson as he was born around 1180.

So this means the Orkney Islands descent for the Gunns is really rubbish – and that then means Gunns have no ‘founder / eponym Gunn’.  (The name Gunn is better viewed as a ‘non-kindred tribal group’; a regional name[ii] – see . And see

2.  This raises a major issue for the Gunns due to the academic meaning of the word ‘clan’. The question of whether Gunns are – or are not - a clan will seem nonsensical to those who simplistically believe all Scottish surnames are clan names. But Scottish surnames and clan names are not identical; non-clan based surnames include location based ones such as Murray and Ogilvie, and occupational surnames include Stewart, Smith, Baxter and many more[iii]

But what defines a clan? An important position is put forward by David Sellar (an ex Lord Lyon) -

the eponym or name father of the clan was a historical, and not a mythical, character[iv]

In other words clans require a central, historically real, founder to be a clan. (There is much other academic support for this view.  Some also argue that Scottish clans should be viewed as ‘cognatic descent groups’[v] but this still requires a ‘founder’ of the clan as kinship is needed). Given the collapse of the Orkney Islands descent idea the Gunns have no viable origin theory which provides an historically valid central founder so, on academic definitions of ‘clan’, the Gunns are not a clan.

3. And, if Gunns are not a clan then a clan chief is not logical - a ‘Clan Gunn Chief’ merely symbolises fictional ‘Clan Gunn’ history…


But if the above is true, what about the early Gunn ‘chiefs’?

·         The supposed ‘Gunn Chiefs’ before Gunn Coroner (often wrongly called George Gunn Crowner) fail when examined, not least as we don’t even know who Gunn Coroner’s parents were. See

·         The ‘later chiefs’ after the Coroner have no primary source proof to show they were accepted as Chief in their time however a primary source exists when being Chief should have been mentioned but was not, so suggesting that the whole line should not be considered as ‘Chief’ see The noise about these ‘Gunn Chiefs’ probably started when ‘Highlandism’ became extremely popular in the early 1800s (part of the ‘tartanisation’ of Scottish history which is often blamed on the fiction of Sir Walter Scott. Or 'keep the tourists happy' pseudo-history...)

[ii] Wikipedia, for example, includes Fleming Galbraith and Scott as example of Scottish regional or ethnic names. accessed 1 April 2016
[iii] For further information see  accessed 10 February 2015.
[iv] Page 92 David Sellar, Chapter 4 The Family, in ed. E. J. Cowan and L. Henderson A History of Everyday Life in Medieval Scotland, 1000 to1600, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2011.
[v] See, for example, page 61 of Andrew Strathern and Pamela J. Stewart’s Kinship in Action: Self and Group, Routledge, 2010

Monday, 21 March 2016

'Scotland and Beyond; the Families of Donald Gunn (Tormsdale) and John Gunn (Dalnaha, Strathmore and Braehour)'

I have placed a copy of 'Scotland and Beyond; the Families of Donald Gunn (Tormsdale) and John Gunn (Dalnaha, Strathmore and Braehour)' in the State Library of Victoria (Melbourne, Australia). Further copies are available at the National Library of Scotland, Timespan Museum Helmsdale and the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness. The book includes much discussion of the Braehour line which is one of the many traditional 'Clan Gunn Chief' lines of descent and includes much of Canadian interest; for example the Hon. Donald Gunn 1797-1878 was a 'Braehour' Manitoba politician and he had many descendants. For his biography see - I note Mr Iain Gunn of Banniskirk used his Braehour descent as a key part of his early 1980s claim to be 'Chief of the Clan Gunn'.