People like to trace their family’s heritage back and see what clan they are related to. This is something I have found to be more common in the diaspora than in Scotland itself, but here they target it and market to tourists. My family is not Scottish and therefore does not have a clan, but being Polish we do have something similar. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to it as a clan, but please do not take that to mean we originated in the Scottish Highlands. The most I know of my family’s origins are this – in the Middle Ages, we were living in the countryside in Belorussia; farmers, but with status. It was required that the family always have a horse for war and the like. For those who have not studied medieval history, that is an indication of higher status. My family were quiet farmers and the like until the last century or so, when they shifted towards academia.
The clan my family traces back to is the Habdanks, which is quite clearly Germanic in origin. When I was little, my father used to tell me the story of how they got their name, Habdank. As the story goes, the leader of the family was a very important man, and once when he met a rival king and shown all his gold and jewels, the man took off his gold ring and tossed it onto the pile. “Gold to gold,” he said, “we Poles prefer iron.” The king laughed at this and said to have thanks, which is how the name Habdank came about. As for the crest (commonly called a coat of arms, though my father objects to that term and says it was a call to war), it is two silver chevrons on a red shield. Keeping the heraldry short, it essentially means honour and soldiering.
In the modern world, family ancestry and clans are simply romantic notions and carry no real value anymore – formal Scottish attire and a few other exceptions recognised. But for me, the story of the Habdank name always stuck with me. Gold is fancy and nice, but it is not practical. Have thanks for what really matters, and do not forget it. And then there is the crest, which reminds me that I come from a long line of people who were willing to fight. An old joke about Polish history involves writing “Poland” on the board, erasing it, writing it again, erasing it again, etc. While this is true – Polish history is full of fighting for their kingdom – it also touches on a key point that I have known my entire life – there is a very strong sense of independence that runs through the Polish. It is centuries old, and in the today’s world manifests itself differently than in the Middle Ages. Nevertheless, it is there. You fight for what you need; pretty is nice but practical is what matters. Go ahead and take me down, but I will not go down without a fight and I will not just lay down and die. And always have thanks for what you have.
And that is what my family’s “clan” means to me.