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Being Chief Of The Name

I have had correspondence with Mr Paul Doucette, a member of the Southborough (Mass.) Historical Society, who are working on a genealogy of the Joseph Burnett family, prominent former residents of our town.  During their research, they have found several variations of the family coat of arms and clan badge and requested my permission to put my Burnett Coat of Arms image, text, and Clan Badge on their website. To this I offered no objection


He points out that Joseph Burnett and his family were quite remarkable people. He had thought the Burnett Coat of Arms with the Horn of Leys, represented all of the Burnett Family. Joseph Burnett’s family were originally Burnaps and they can trace his family back to the early 16th Century in England.  Years later, John Burnap changed his surname to Burnet. He questions whether or not the Burnap line, later Burnett, from County Hertfordshire, England, are connected to our Ley’s branch and share the same Coat of Arms and Clan Badge?  If not, he has not been able to locate arms for the Burnap Clan and wondered if I had a source. He points out that there are a number of slightly different versions of the Burnett’s of Leys Coat of Arms, as well as about the same for the clan badge.  The reason for the similarities, or use of horn and holly leaves, is because in Scotland all bearing the same surname are assumed to be related – however distantly. Because the Chief was the first to record holly leaves and horn for his coat of arms thereafter any Burnett who wishes a coat of arms must include these elements as well, but with differences, so that their Arms are not confused with the chiefly Arms.


No link has been traced between a specific Burnap family and Burnett of Leys. I would suggest that this is an example of the many variations in spelling of names that occurred during the centuries when many people were illiterate and names appearing in records were written and spelt phonetically as the clerk/recorded heard them. Hence one can see how a variation through Burnap-Burnat-Burnet-Burnett could have occurred. No Burnapp Coat of Arms has been found


It may be of interest that the following information from the College of Arms should be noted: There is no such thing as a ‘coat of arms for a surname’. Many people of the same surname will often be entitled to completely different coats of arms, and many of that surname, will be entitled to no coat of arms. Coats of arms belong to individuals. For any person to have a right to a coat of arms they must either have had it granted to them or be descended in the legitimate male line from a person to whom arms were granted or confirmed in the past.”

The College of Arms also points out “There is also no point in asking us about clan membership, clan badges and the like. The clan system is entirely Scottish and as this website is at pains to point out the College of Arms has no responsibility for Scotland. English families cannot be associated to a clan, and still less form a clan themselves, unless they are ultimately of Scottish descent.”

Paul Doucette also asks whether as Chief of the Burnett Family, I am also the head of all members who have joined the family, by marriage or have “adopted” themselves into the Burnett family? I accept that it does sound a little pompous to state that, as Chief of the Name, I am the nominal head of all Burnetts but it is correct. However, no chief would ever claim or insist on allegiance from every Burnett in the World.

Without appearing too serious about it, the following might be of interest. Historically a ‘broken’ man or outcast from a clan could seek shelter and protection by giving allegiance to another chief, and if that chief was agreeable, the broken man would become a member of the clan.  With that concept in mind, it has been suggested that I might consider the issue of a House of Burnett Certificate accepting someone into the House, even if the surname was not Burnett, on condition that the person accepted me as Head of the House of Burnett. The “fee” for such a document could be membership of the House of Burnett!


Any comment may or may not be welcome


James C. A. Burnett of Leys