SUTHERLAND – THE SURNAME
This is a toponym, a name derived from a place - the former County of Sutherland, which covered 5252 square kilometres, or over 6% of Scotland. To the Norse (Vikings) it was Suðrland, (ð being a th-type sound) or "South Land" as it was south of their sea-kingdom strongholds of Shetland, Orkney and, in part, Caithness. In modern Scotland, however, Sutherland lies in the far north of the country.
In ancient times, the known languages in Sutherland were both Celtic (ie. Pictish and Gaelic). By 1800, the population of the area had reached over 22,000 in total, including many MacKays, Gunns, Murrays, Rosses, MacDonalds and MacLeods. The infamous Highland Clearances then saw much of Sutherland depopulated. In Gaelic it was known as Am Fuadach nan Gàidheal (um FOO-ah-duhk nahn GAY-ehll), or The Exile of the Gaels.
Historically, Sutherland was one of the most common surnames in Scotland. However, many Sutherlands emigrated, especially to North America and to Australasia.
It is now said to be one of the three hundred most common surnames in Australia, with at least 9,000 Australian residents bearing the surname. Across the Tasman, it is even more prevalent, with about 4500 bearers placing it well in the top hundred New Zealand surnames. In Scotland, it remains in the top fifty, but only just, with about 9000 bearers. That's right - there are most probably more Sutherlands in Australia than there are in Scotland, which probably says something about the effect of those Highland Clearances!
South of the Borders, in England, it almost makes the top five hundred surnames. Canada has a similar number of Sutherlands to England, with over 13,000 estimated bearers. It is also frequent in South Africa. In percentage terms, though, the small Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines comes out on top, where it ranks in the top forty. However, by far the greatest number of Sutherlands is to be found in the US, where the surname accounts for more than 0.01% of the population, or over 35,000 Americans.
World-wide, there are approximately 110,000 Sutherlands in over 120 countries. Add in the number who are known to be Sutherland descendants of just a few generations hence and one would quickly pass one million!
CLAN SUTHERLAND – Na Sutharlanaich
Sutherland, the place, is known in Scottish Gaelic as Cataibh or the Land of the Wildcat. The Sutherland Clan has been known as Clann nan Cataobh or the Clan of the Land of the Wildcats (roughly pronounced CLAhN nan KAhT-urv). The Chief of Clan Sutherland was often referred to in Gaelic as Morair Chat or The Nobleman of the Cat (MOR-airh KAhT or MOR-airh HAhT) and, thus, this native Scottish feline (Felis silvestris silvestris) also features on the chief’s clan crest and in the name our society's newsletter, The Wildcat.
This is an ancient association, first recorded with the Pictish kingdom or sub-kingdom of Cait that ruled the area from the 1st to 9th centuries AD. The Pictish Catti, from which this kingdom evolved, maintained a foundation myth of being attacked by ferocious wildcats upon landing in the area, prompting them to adopt the animal as their totem or symbol. The region of Caithness owes its name to this, along with the addition of the Norse word for promontory (ness). An historic literary association between the wildcat and the Scottish highlands may be heard in William Shakespeare's MacBeth, with the line - "Thrice the brinded cat hath mew'd."
The official motto is Sans Peur, which is French for Without Fear.
The clan seat is Dunrobin Castle near Golspie.
The surname Sutherland has been rendered in Gaelic in a variety of ways. For males: Sutharalan, Sutharlainn, Suthurlanach and Suithearlarach. However, for females, an “h” is added, thus becoming: Shutharalan, Shutharlainn, Shuthurlanach and Shuithearlarach. This is because the forms of surnames in Gaelic differ between the genders, altering both spelling and pronunciation. An Cinneadh Shutharlanaich (roughly pronounced un-KEEN-nee HOO-ar-uh-lahn-nihk) is another name for the clan. Na Sutharlanaich, The Sutherlands, is pronounced like nah SOO-ar-uh-lahn-nihk.
The clan crest is the Cat Salient Proper.
The Wildcat is our animal symbol.
The plant badge is the cotton sedge or bog cotton,
Eriophorum angustifolium, which is often found in the Highlands on the
peaty or acidic soils of bogs. It flowers in May and during summer develops
white seed heads which resemble cotton.
The clan war-cry is Ceann na Drochaide Bige! (roughly pronounced KEE-yown-nuh DROHK-ij BEEGK) which means "The Head of the Little Bridge". This refers to a lost wooden bridge over the Golspie Burn at which the clan would rally when needed to do so. A newer stone bridge, dating to 1810, has an obelisk with the old Gaelic description "Morfhear Chatt do Cheann-na-Droichait big gairn Chlann Chattich nam Buadh" or "The Chief of the Sutherland Clan, to the head of the little bridge, calls the Sutherland men of the victories."
The clan pipe tune is The Earl of Sutherland's March -
Photo taken by Michelle Williams at the abandoned Badbea Village
Photo credit Michelle Williams June 2023.
The newer stone bridge.
Photos taken by Michelle Williams 2019
A Clan Without Fear
With thanks to The Clan Sutherland Society of North America
Sutherland Tartan Variations
Tartan is the most recognisable Scottish symbol. It comes from the checked cloth that has been associated with the Celts for thousands of years. There are a number of tartans associated with Clan Sutherland. The most common three may be seen below. A "weathered" tartan which sports a brownish hue is also not uncommon, as it was more suited to pursuits such as deer-stalking where an element of camouflage was required.
The Old Sutherland tartan made with modern dye colours.
The Old Sutherland tartan made with historic or ancient dye colours. The dyes available were sourced from plants such as heather (dark green), lichens (red or brown), oak bark and acorns (black or brown) and
blaeberry (blue). These were not always as bright as modern dyes.
This, like the "dressier" or more formal version of many clan tartans, incorporates white into the "usual" tartan.