A clan is a group of people united by actual or perceived kinship[1] and descent. Even if lineage details are unknown, a clan may claim descent from a founding member or apical ancestor who serves as a symbol of the clan's unity. Clans, in indigenous societies, were not endogamous: their members could not marry one another.

Clans preceded[citation needed] more centralized forms of community organization and government, and have existed in every country.[citation needed] Members may identify with a coat of arms or other symbol.


The English word "clan" is derived from old Irish clann[1] meaning "children", "offspring", "progeny" or "descendants"; it is not from the word for "family" or "clan" in either Irish[2][3] or Scottish Gaelic. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "clan" was introduced into English in around 1425, as a descriptive label for the organization of society in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.[4]

None of the Irish and Scottish Gaelic terms for kinship groups is cognate to English clan; Scottish Gaelic clann means "children":

Clans as political units

In different cultures and situations, a clan usually has different meaning than other kin-based groups, such as tribes and bands. Often, the distinguishing factor is that a clan is a smaller, integral part of a larger society such as a tribe, chiefdom, or a state. In some societies, clans may have an official leader such as a chief, matriarch or patriarch; or such leadership role is performed by elders. In others, leadership positions may have to be achieved.

Examples include Irish, Scottish, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese clans, which exist as distinct social groupings within their respective nations. Note, however, that tribes and bands can also be components of larger societies. The early Norse clans, the ætter, are often translated as "house" or "line". The Biblical tribes of Israel were composed of many clans.[5] Arab clans are sub-tribal groups within Arab society. Native American and First Nations peoples, often referred to as "tribes", also have clans. For instance, Ojibwa bands are smaller parts of the Ojibwa people or tribe in North America. The many Native American peoples are distinguished by language and culture, and most have clans and bands as the basic kinship organizations. In some cases tribes recognized each other's clans; for instance, both the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes of the Southeast United States had fox and bear clans, who felt a kinship that reached beyond their respective tribes.

Apart from these different historical traditions of kinship, conceptual confusion arises from colloquial usages of the term. In post-Soviet countries, for example, it is quite common to speak of "clans" in reference to informal networks within the economic and political sphere. This usage reflects the assumption that their members act towards each other in a particularly close and mutually supportive way, approximating the solidarity among kinsmen. Similar usage of the term applies to specific groups of various cultures and nationalities involved in organized crime. Polish clans differ from most others as they are a collection of families who bear the same coat of arms, as opposed to claiming a common descent (see Polish heraldry). There are multiple closely related clans in the Indian subcontinent, especially South India.

Romani people have many clans which are called vitsa in Romani.

Scottish Clans

Scottish clans are social groupings that have played a pivotal role in the history and culture of Scotland. Unlike some other clans that focus solely on common descent or a shared coat of arms, Scottish clans are unique in their elaborate systems of tartans, insignias, and mottos. Clan culture in Scotland also extends to community events such as clan gatherings and Highland Games. Each clan may have an official leader known as a "Chieftain" or "Chief."

Members of Scottish clans often have a shared interest in preserving their historical and cultural landmarks, as well as the natural environment and wildlife of Scotland. The clan system in Scotland has also been influenced by key historical events like the Highland Clearances and the Jacobite uprisings, which have left lasting impacts on clan structures and Scottish diaspora.[6]


Clannism (in Somali culture, qabiilism)[7] is a system of society based on clan affiliation.[8]

The Islamic world, the Near East, North and East Africa in general, and Somali culture specifically, is patriarchal[9] and traditionally centered on patrilineal clans or tribes.[10]

Clans by continent or region

The Battle of Culloden of 1746, where British troops defeated the army of Scottish clansmen
  • Anishinaabe,
  • Cherokee,
  • Iroquois,
  • Omaha clans,
  • Muscogee Clans
  • Asia
  • Central Asian,
  • Baloch,
  • Ao Naga,
  • Angami Naga,
  • Bon-gwan (Korean names),
  • Chinese (family name)
  • Japanese,
  • Luwang,
  • Mangang,
  • Punti,
  • Khuman Salai,
  • Angom,
  • Moilang,
  • Kha Nganpa,
  • Salai Leishangthem,
  • Kazakh,
  • Manchu (names),
  • Minangkabau (names),
  • Mongolian,
  • Ngoche,
  • Pashtun
  • South Asia
  • Ahir,
  • Arain,
  • Bania,
  • Bhuiyar,
  • Bunt,
  • Chero,
  • Gakhars,
  • Gotra,
  • Gurjar (Gujjar),
  • Dhangar (Gadariya),
  • Jat,
  • Khatri,
  • Kshatriya,
  • Chowdary,
  • Reddy,
  • Maratha,
  • Meena,
  • Mukkulathor,
  • Nai,
  • Nair (Malayala Kshatriya),
  • Patidar,
  • Paraiyar,
  • Rajput,
  • Sengunthar,
  • Tarkhan,
  • Vellalar,
  • Yadav
  • Middle East
  • Arab,
  • Israelite,
  • Parthian,
  • Kurdish,
  • Syriac
  • Eurasiaa
  • Armenian nobles,
  • Bashkir,
  • Chechen Teips,
  • Nakhchivani,
  • Turkish,
  • Russian nobles,
  • Yeraz
  • Europe
  • Spanish nobles,
  • Irish,
  • Irish and Scottish septs,
  • Brussels,
  • Irish and Scottish Chiefs of the Name,
  • Norse,
  • Polish,
  • Scottish (Scottish clan chief),
  • Armigerous,
  • Albanian,
  • Montenegrin,
  • German nobles,
  • French nobles
  • Oceania
  • Rapa Nui,
  • Māori
  • a Meaning the transcontinental area between Asia and Europe.

    See also


    1. ^ a b Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Clan" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 419–421.
    2. ^ Dineen, Patrick S. (1927). Foclóir Gaeďilge agus Béarla [Dictionary of Irish and English]. Dublin and Cork, Ireland: The Educational Company of Ireland.
    3. ^ a b Ó Dónaill, Niall (1992). Foclóir Gaeilge–Béarla [Irish–English Dictionary]. Dublin, Ireland: An Gúm. ISBN 1-85791-037-0.
    4. ^ "Clan". Online Etymology Dictionary.
    5. ^ See, for example, 1 Chronicles 4 and Numbers 26 in the Old Testament.
    6. ^ "The Unique Features and History of Scottish Clans". CLAN.com. 2023-09-29. Retrieved 2023-09-29.
    7. ^ Farah, Abdulkadir Osman (25 October 2012). Transnationalism And Civic Engagement. Adonis & Abbey Publishers. p. 25. ISBN 9781912234776.
    8. ^ Banana, Canaan (1996). The church in the struggle for Zimbabwe. p. 41.
    9. ^ Asuelime, Lucky (2014). Selected Themes in African Political Studies: Political Conflict and Stability. Springer. p. 15. ISBN 978-3-319-06001-9.
    10. ^ Warah, Rasna (2014). Selected Themes in African Political Studies: Political Conflict and Stability. p. 45.