What Does “McClellan” Mean?

Someone recently arrived at my blog by googling “what does mcclellan mean.” It’s an interesting story, so I thought I’d share it. The most traditional spelling, MacLellan, is based on a Gaelic phrase, Mac Gille Fhaolain, which means “son of the servant of St. Filan.” Filan is based on a Celtic word for “wolf.”

My ancestry is first attested in Galloway, Scotland, in the 13th century. A charter from 1217 that is now lost is said to mention Duncan MacLellan. The MacLellan castle still stands in Kirkcubright, but it’s fairly gutted and doesn’t belong to the clan anymore. During William Wallace’s time in France after the Battle of Falkirk in 1298, MacLellan of Bombie was a close supporter.

The coat of arms to the left shows the motto, “Think On,” which also has an interesting story behind it. In the 15th century, Sir William MacLellan hunted down and killed a notorious criminal called the Black Morrow. There are several theories as to who this was, but despite the Moor’s head on the coat of arms, the Black Morrow doesn’t seem to have been a Moor. According to the tradition, Sir William brought the head of Black Morrow to the king, demanding the reward for his capture. When the king said he didn’t think there was a reward offered, Sir William responded, “Think on!”

The clan maintains a cohesive membership to this day. Their website is here. When I finish my degree at Oxford my family and I are planning a trip up to Galloway to find some official tartan, go visit MacLellan castle, and then shoot over to St. Andrews to play the Old Course and see if I can get out of Hell Bunker.


8 responses to “What Does “McClellan” Mean?

  • Claude Mariottini


    Thank you for sharing a history of the MacLellan clan. Who knows, maybe Sir William left a castle for you in Scotland.

    Claude Mariottini

  • monte

    good story my name is monte mcclellan not maclellan but just thought id read your story verry good btw

  • raven

    my last name is McLellen, are they thhe same root or different?

  • Kelsey

    Do you happen to know the original gaelic for “think on”?

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      I know the Scottish Gaelic for “think” in the imperative singular is “smaoinich,” but I don’t know the Gaelic for the whole phrase.

  • Linda (McClellan) Stone

    My maiden name is McClellan. Do you have any suggestions on tracing for sure my ancestry? I would love to visit McClellan castle and find out what our true tartan looks like.

    • Daniel O. McClellan

      Hi, Linda! To start tracing your ancestry, you’ll need some data about some ancestors, and you probably have the easiest access to data about your parents. Dates of birth, marriage, baptism, children, death, or anything else that might have been recorded in a census or document stored somewhere official, can be plugged into a variety of online tools for genealogy to see if your ancestry has already been charted. FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com are two very popular sites, but there are a number (most require accounts, some required paid accounts). Go as far back as you can in your line to try to find some hits. If you don’t find anything, you might have to start putting it there yourself so someone else can find it someday. The MacLellan Clan (http://www.clanmaclellan.net/) has a lot of genealogical data as well, so if you want to join that group, you’d get access to it, which might cover a lot of the ground for you. You can see the tartan there, too, although the whole tradition about tartan is actually rather modern in origin, and the tartan one adopted was handed down through the mother’s line (the only one that was pretty well demonstrable). Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns, and I’d love to hear how it goes!

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