31. What’s in a name?

mason coat of arms

Mason family crest accessed from https://www.houseofnames.com/mason-family-crest on 10 January 2016)

Well, just about everything, that’s all! I have been looking into my own surname, Mason, recently (I’ll get to Ancestry.co.uk sometime soon too), and found out all sorts of good stuff. You should look into your own. I bought a little book, “Mason: The Origins of the Masons and Their Place in History”, Iain Gray, Lang Syne Publishers Ltd, 2012, in one of those typical gift shops you find in Scottish towns and villages such as Pitlochry, and in only 32 pages it gave me sufficient information and confidence to share my new enthusiasm with you all.

Like other surnames, Mason arrived as Macon or Masson (French spellings) with the early invader, Rollo, in around 900 as well as with the later invasion by William the Conqueror and his cronies who arrived on these shores in 1066. These Normans were originally descendants of The Vikings (Norsemen) from Norse territories via their first site of rape and pillage, Normandy (the shores of Norse – men – land), on the coast of France. My little book also gives these spelling variants: Machin, Machon, Massen, Massons in addition to the above mentioned, Macon and Masson; as well as Clacher, used in the Highlands and Islands (Gaelic). So, if you have one of the aforementioned surnames all I have written and will write applies to you too, and you will be entitled to pick one of several tartans with which to have a full 8 metre kilt constructed, as I intend to do.

Mason Tartan Montage

A few of the many Mason tartans.

As a member of the North Eastern fraternity by origin, and hence sometimes referred to as a, “wannabe Scot” I have no problem wanting to wear a kilt – as an Englishman. Anyway, who knows, I may even be derived from a Scottish Lineage such as those of Richard Le Mason (1271 from Aberdeen); William Maceoun (1320 from Berwick) or Thomas Mason (1490 from Couper Angus). Now, my dad had a brother (one of another 11 brothers and 1 sister, to two fathers!) called Tom and my son is called Richard – perhaps I’m on to something here, after all.

Following the early, inherited Norman habit of giving surnames based upon geographical locations (eg Moray, Galloway, Renfrew), occupations were strong contributors to the spread of surname use, initially amongst aristocracy and later more and more of us commoners. So, in addition to Mason others such as Cooks, Porters and Constables (take note Irene and Alan!) grew in popularity. Mac (and Mc) means “son of”, so like the Robertson (~MacRobert in Scotland) in England and Wales, gave rise to the distinctive Scottish flavoured surname category. There are many more classes but I haven’t time to list them all here.

My fascination with my surname, perhaps not surprisingly stems from my interest in the “Masons” and “Freemasons”, both having strong connections with the building and architectural businesses that grew around the time of the Norman Invasion with the building of castles, forts, fortresses and grand homes for chivalrous Knights and their families. The Masons were workers and formed closed cliques with their own internally recognisable system of crafty handshakes and passwords to protect their growing guilds. They often lived in lodgings and their guild, the Craft Masonry, protected their interests early in their history, but its membership was extended to non-workers, including the aristocracy ie Freemasons.

Masons Montage

Masonic symbols of The Grand Lodge of Scotland in Edinburgh (Accessed at http://www.grandlodgescotland.com/ on 10 January 2016)

The Scottish Masonry (including Freemasons) established the three major ‘Craft’ degrees or levels within the Masons’ framework: “Entered Apprentice; Fellow Craft and Master Mason. These three degrees or grades together with many higher levels make up the total hierarchy, some of which none of us will get to know about, unless you become one of them, a very tricky manoeuvre to pull off, I understand.

Rosslyn Chapel Montage

External and Internal images of Rosslyn Chapel Nr Edinburgh accessed at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosslyn_Chapel. on 10 January 2016.

Now here is the intrigue that has me very interested to find out more. The Sinclairs (St Clairs) were nominated as the head of the Grand Lodge of Scottish Masons (1736) having also ancestry stemming way back, and forwards to 1446 when the now-named Rosslyn Chapel, standing just outside Edinburgh, was founded, and three years later when William Sinclair was created Lord Sinclair (1449). This incomplete chapel comprising only the East Transept and Choir of the originally planned church cross is thought to have links with the Knights Templar who may have travelled to Scotland to escape the inquisitions taking place following a Papal Bull in 1307 outlawing their existence; and (maybe) links about secrets relating to the Holy Grail – Wow!!

Knight templar2

A Knight Templar in full battle-cry accessed at https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwih95qBzKDKAhUJVRQKHfhKDAsQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fgreyfalcon.us%2FThe%2520Knights%2520Templar.htm&psig=AFQjCNGivd2znrwBP5oY8IL0LO9dDEyzqQ&ust=1452561662608100  on 10 January 2016.

Finally, and the crowning glory or capstone (sorry, I couldn’t resist this building link!) is that the Sinclairs and Masons themselves are blood or near relations or kinfolk (whatever that means), according to Iain Gray (2012). So, there we have it, I might be a Viking descendent or close friend who knows someone, who knew someone, who knew someone way back that may be party to the secret of the Holy Grail; and I may be entitled to wear Sinclair as well as Mason (or Masonic) tartan kilts. So there, put that lot in your pipe and smoke it!

Sinclair Tartan Montage

Just two of the many Sinclair Tartans (Red modern and Hunting Ancient) with which to make a kilt at about £60 per metre! Accessed at www.scotlandshop.com on 10 January 2016.


That’s all for today, but I’ll be back soon.


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