The 700-year old Milnholm Cross at Castleton, Scotland, is one of the most ancient Clan Armstrong relics.

The 700-year old Milnholm Cross at Castleton, Scotland, is one of the most ancient Clan Armstrong relics.

Cultural talk looks at link between names, clans and lands

What is the link between a land and a name?

In 2006 on a tour of the Scottish Borders, as I visited the Liddesdale and Eskdale river valleys, I came to appreciate my Scottish roots and the connection between my clan name and the land of my ancestors. In a Langholm pub hung my coat of arms with the image of a flexed, muscular arm. Outside the Castleton graveyard I saw one of the oldest Armstrong relics, the Milnholm Cross from 1300, erected to honor Alexander Armstrong, a clan laird, or chief, murdered at Hermitage Castle. That cross also had the clan image. In the graveyard were hundreds of Armstrong gravestones, some almost illegible, dating back hundreds of years. All around me were signs of my distant ancestors, their immediate connection to me still unknown.

Next Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in Pioneer Hall Room 201, Kachemak Bay Campus, in a talk, “It’s All In a Name,” Nancy Lee-Evans of the Kachemak Celtic Club explores the connections between family names of the Celtic peoples and the lands they came from.

“Your name is a doorway to your culture — a clan, their lands and history,” Lee-Evans said.

Formerly known as the Kachemak Scottish Club, the Kachemak Celtic Club has been expanded to celebrate the culture, history and heritage of Celtic cultures. “It’s All in a Name” starts a series of talks and discussions about aspects of Celtic culture. Other events include a St. Patrick’s Day celebration March 17 at Alice’s Champagne Palace, a Tartan Day event in April and the Scottish Highland Games next summer.

Lee-Evans runs the Anam Cara Program, a program of spiritual development and healing rooted in Celtic traditions. She has a doctorate in indigenous Celtic traditions from Wisdom University, California, and also runs heritage tours to Ireland and Scotland.

The Celts descended from the ancient people who sought refuge in ice-free corners of Europe during the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, Lee-Evans said. New research, in the past 30 years, particularly in genetics, has shown the spread of the Celts into France, Germany, Switzerland, northern Italy and even into Eastern Europe. Many of these Celtic traditions were suppressed during the Roman conquest. 

“If you just scratch under the surface, you’ll find the Celts,” Lee-Evans said. 

Modern Celtic cultures — the Atlantic Celts — survive in Ireland, Scotland, Cornwall, Wales, the Isle of Man, Brittany and Gallacia or northern Spain.

In her discussion, Lee-Evans will use maps, histories and genealogies to show where surnames came from in Ireland, Scotland and other areas.

“It’s more than the O’s and the Macs,” she said, referring to the traditional prefixes to Irish and Scottish names — O’Neill and MacDonald, for example.

The Scottish Border clans, for example, include not just the Armstrongs, but Johnston, Nixon, Elliot, Graham, Bell, Maxwell and other names.

People who may know their ancestry, but not necessarily where clan names came from, can ask questions to find possible origins. Lee-Evans will have books on clan history, discussions of coats of arms and maps — lots of maps.

“I think there will be a fair amount of talking with maps,” Lee-Evans said. “To me, the most important thing is to say ‘This is where your people are from.”

The history of surnames and their connection to lands also includes a discussion of tribal movements. Many of the Border clans, for example, emigrated to Ireland, particularly Ulster and the northern counties. Some were forced out, as during the Highland Clearances. Emigrants to Ulster became emigrants again when many of the Ulster Scots — the Scotch Irish — left later for North America and the American colonies. Irish also left later during the potato famines. Many were forced by religious or cultural persecution to leave.

“What’s your family story?”
Lee-Evans asked. “One of the things that’s clear is everybody came by
ship. … Literally, we were all in the same boat.”

That connection between name and land is only part of the story of the Celtic culture. Lee-Evans said in future talks she hopes to look deeper into Celtic culture through history and spiritual development.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at

More in Community

Town Crier

Update: Town Crier has been updated with new information on closures at… Continue reading

Lione Rae Bell

Lione Rae Bell was born at 7:30 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2021,… Continue reading

The Homer Police Station as seen Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020 in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Cops and Courts

Information about fire, police and troopers is taken from public records consisting… Continue reading

Mama Mona, Lakshmi, Georgia and Lil’ Stripe (Photo courtesy of Alaska Mindful Paws)
Pets of the week: Mama Mona, Lakshmi, Georgia and Lil’ Stripe

How is this possible, folks, that this sweet family of four is… Continue reading

Cooked by a combination of pan frying and steaming, delicate tofu and vegetable dumplings require a delicate hand and patience. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Chubby bites of goodness

Pan-fried and steamed tofu and vegetable dumplings take patience and practice.

Homer High School. (Homer News file photo)
School announcements

School district risk level update and upcoming events

Kim Terpening's "Wetands Daydream" is part of the Homer Drawdown Peatland exhibit showing at the Pratt Museum & Park through Oct. 10, 2021, in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)
Peatlands exhibit at Pratt merges art and conservation

In its exhibits, the Pratt Museum & Park has used artistic expression… Continue reading

The Alaska Grown logo.
Homer Farmers Market: Winding down for the season

Vendors will continue through October, but market booth closes this Saturday.

The masthead for the Homer Weekly News.
Years Ago

Homer happenings from years past

Most Read