AskDefine | Define clan

Dictionary Definition

clan n : group of people related by blood or marriage [syn: kin, kin group, kinship group, kindred, tribe]

User Contributed Dictionary



From clann, from cland, apparently from planta.


  • /klæn/
  • Rhymes: -æn


  1. A traditional social group of families in the Scottish Highlands having a common hereditary chieftain
  2. A group of people all descended from a common ancestor, in fact or belief.
  3. Any association of people behaving clannishly.


group having common ancestor






  1. clan

Extensive Definition

A clan is a group of people united by kinship and descent, which is defined by perceived descent from a common ancestor. Even if actual lineage patterns are unknown, clan members may nonetheless recognize a founding member or apical ancestor. As kinship based bonds merely symbolical in nature some clans share a "stipulated" common ancestor, which is a symbol of the clan's unity. When this ancestor is not human, this is referred to as animallian totem. Generally speaking, kinship differs from biological relation, as it also involves adoption, marriage, and fictive genealogical ties. Clans can be most easily described as sub-groups of tribes and usually constitute groups of 7,000 to 10,000 people.

Organization of clans

Some clans are patrilineal, meaning its members are related through the male line; for example, the clans of Armenia. Others are matrilineal; its members are related through the female line. Still other clans are bilateral, consisting of all the descendants of the apical ancestor through both the male and female lines; the clans of Scotland are one example. Whether a clan is patrilineal, matrilineal, or bilateral depends on the kinship rules and norms of their society.
In different cultures and situations a clan may mean the same thing as other kin-based groups such as tribes and bands. Often, the distinguishing factor is that a clan is a smaller part of a larger society such as a tribe, a chiefdom, or a state. Examples include Irish, Scottish, Chinese, Japanese clans and Rajput clans in India and Pakistan, which exist as kin groups within their respective nations. Note, however, that tribes and bands can also be components of larger societies. Arab tribes are small groups within Arab society, and Ojibwa bands are smaller parts of the Ojibwa tribe. In some cases multiple tribes recognized the same clans, such as the bear and fox clans of the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes.
Apart from these different traditions of kinship, further conceptual confusion arises from colloquial usages of the term. In post-Soviet countries for example it is quite common to speak of clans referring to informal networks within the economic and political sphere. This usage reflects the assumption that their members act towards each other in a particularly close and mutually supportive way approximating the solidarity among kinsmen. However, the Norse clans, the ätter, can not be translated with tribe or band, and consequently they are often translated with house or line.
Polish clans differ from most others in being a collection of families bearing the same coat of arms, as opposed to actually claiming a common descent. This is discussed under the topic of Polish Heraldry.
Clans in indigenous societies are likely to be exogamous, meaning that their members cannot marry one another. In some societies, clans may have an official leader such as a chieftain or patriarch; on others, leadership positions may have to be achieved, or people may merely say 'elders' make decisions.

Clans by country


clan in Arabic: عشيرة
clan in Danish: Klan
clan in German: Klan
clan in Spanish: Clan
clan in Esperanto: Klano
clan in Persian: عشایر کرد
clan in French: Clan
clan in Croatian: Rod (prvobitna zajednica)
clan in Italian: Clan (antropologia)
clan in Kurdish: Eşîrên kurdan
clan in Lithuanian: Klanas
clan in Dutch: Clan
clan in Japanese: 氏族
clan in Norwegian: Klan
clan in Polish: Klan (antropologia)
clan in Portuguese: Clã (antropologia)
clan in Simple English: Clan
clan in Serbian: Клан
clan in Finnish: Klaani
clan in Swedish: Klan
clan in Tamil: குலம்
clan in Turkish: Aşiret
clan in Chinese: 氏族

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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