Amo Probus – Why Not Just Amo?

headstone of john and patricia scott with scott clan crest
Headstone for John & Patricia Scott, Guelph, ON

For various reasons, when my father passed away in 2001, there was no headstone placed at his grave in the Woodlawn Cemetery (Woodlawn Memorial Park) after he was buried. Interestingly, the cemetery is located almost adjacent to “Bailey Park” in Guelph – the name of his maternal mother’s family.

After our mom passed, my sister made a very wise decision to insist on a headstone for the grave site of our parents. Some great discussion resulted in how it should look, what should be inscribed on it, and we looked at a number of different things. We all ended up feeling it important to have some kind of emblems that were symbolic of their family heritage – and this was quite interesting as several ideas came up. In the end, we settled on the Harp and Crown, similar to the RUC badge for our dad, and a Scotch thistle on my mom’s side for her Scottish heritage.

Of course, we could have used the Scotch thistle for both, but the discussions resulted in agreeing it was important to have something that represented Northern Ireland, specifically. A “Red Hand” was also discussed, but if we had that, nice to be on the side of the headstone, but for some reason, the cemetery rules would not allow engravings on the sides or back of it.

Scott Clan Crest

My father was quite proud of his Scottish heritage, although he would refer to himself as an “Ulster/Scot” or “Scotch/Irish.” But our surname, “Scott,” did obviously originate in Scotland and that is where his grandfather was born before heading to Belfast and live out the rest of his life in the north of Ireland (I realize some have issues with that bit: “north of Ireland” but consider that when he arrived, there was no such place as “Northern Ireland.” Of course, we could refer to Ulster as well).

Finding a Scott Clan crest was not hard to do – but I was not particularly satisfied with the so-called “official” Scott clan motto of simply “Amo.” For those who don’t know, “Amo” is Latin for “I Love.”

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But there was more to it from my dad’s point of view, and something I wanted to seriously discuss with my siblings.

Amo Probus And My Dad

When I was younger, my dad would tell me about the Scott clan, and how most of them were “borderers,” a very powerful clan at times. But, they also spread out, and our particular branch of the Scotts had been settled in Fife for generations. My own research indicates likely part of the “Scotts Of Scotstarvit” near Cupar, Fife, or Scotts of Ballwearie, that had houses in Fife, Balwearie Castle, near Kirkcaldy, and Killernie Castle.

Research indicates this branch of Scotts (Scotstarvit) had been in this area since the 13th century, and even our own family lore, long before the internet, claimed an association with Michael The Wizard Scott, who would end up renowned for his scientific and mathematical knowledge as well as of languages. He was also an instructor to the mathematician, Fibonacci, today best known for the Fibonacci Sequence. Do I believe this to be true, that our family has some direct connection to Michael “The Wizard” Scott? I really have no idea, and in reality, it doesn’t matter. Today is today. But my father had a strong belief; it had been knowledge passed down through the generations, that there had been some family connection with Michael Scott.

Another thing my father told me was that while the official Scott clan motto has been “Amo,” some family branches, after the Protestant Reformation, added the word “Probus” to Amo, meaning, “I Love Truth.

Some years back, I had correspondence with the Secretary of The Clan Scott Society and had asked about this possibility of some Scotts having an adapted motto of Amo Probus. He advised me that there could be no official motto other than “Amo”; that was all that was recognized.

I thought about that, but also wondered about my dad’s ideas. Although he had little formal education, he was often correct about things; indeed most of the time, looking back, he seemed to have more knowledge about some things than experts do.

My father had insisted that “Amo Probus” was the motto he wanted for himself, and that former Scotts had used it as their motto, and the addition of “Probus” to mean truth was very important to him. This idea of truth, and ideas of justice as defined by the enlightenment period were an important premise to my dad’s thinking about anything.

Amo Probus Vs Amo Probos

My father had never spelled out “Amo Probus” to me, and I’d later discover that the Latin term that’s very similar, “Amo Probos” was the “official” motto of Clan Blair. But this is more closely translated as “I love the virtuous” and not really what my father had in mind. The idea of “Probus” spelled with a u implies more about truth than being virtuous.

My father always had pronounced the motto as a-mo pro-bus (as in a school bus), as opposed to pro-bos (as in Bose speakers 😀 ).

So with that in mind, I went on another deep dive into some research to see what I could come up with.

Lo and behold, my father was indeed correct! While there may be so-called “official” mottoes of clans, historical tradition suggests that it was not absolutely necessary for a branch family of any clan to be required to use the motto the Clan Chief had decided upon and handed down. Indeed, it was actually very common for different family members to take on a similar or even completely different motto for their own family, in Scotland. I went through several texts showing many different mottoes for the same surname, through the ages, in Scotland.

And, I even found historical tradition to justify the use of Amo Probus for our wee Scott family.

First, I found in the book, “A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland Volume I” by Bernard Burke a reference to a John Scott widower of a Blair, that took the motto with the spelling of “Amo Probus.” It’s also true though, that this John Scott also took the surname Blair. But it’s worth noting he did not use the Blair spelling of “probos” but instead, “probus.”

But there was more – we find that John Scott of Malleny took on the motto “Amo Probus” – and while he was from an area just south-west of Edinburgh (not far but not really close either to Cupar/St. Monance/Burntisland where we trace our Scotts back to), we also do have a Scott from Edinburgh in our ancestry.

Regardless, it’s reported in The History Of The Scott Family by Henry Lee that “Amo Probus” has been a motto used by a Clan Scott family member.

Whether part of the reasons for its choice had anything to do with the Protestant Reformation or Enlightenment period, I don’t know. Perhaps there is even more research that can be done that may dig deeper into other Scotts who took Amo Probus for their family motto. Anyone up to the task? 🙂 I’ve at least provided some hints for further research and it has also provided some very interesting reading.

What Does “Tradition” and “Official” Actually Mean?

Sir Walter Scott was a great writer – but he also wrote some myths, myths that have been carried on today, about so-called traditions. Much of what he wrote, and what some have taken to be standard reference with more books written – is actually myth. In trying to create a “romance” around Scottish clans, much misinformation has also abounded, but it seems some have want to standardize and make “official.”

The fact is, having a standardized “Clan” motto is likely a recent phenomenon; the actual tradition is much different when one examines the historical record of various people with different surnames taking on their own mottoes for their own particular circumstances.

Having said that….

Our Clan Scott Connection, With My Dad’s Twist

In the end, and with the evidence I provided my siblings, it was agreed we’d go with the “official” or as close as possible to whatever that is, Scott Clan Crest, but with the motto that was dear to my father’s heart; the addition of “Probus.”

For me personally, especially in this world as we know it, this idea of “loving truth” is important; and understanding how to arrive at truth – with sometimes a skeptical mind, experiment, observation, and digging deeper into claims.

Often, it is wise to remember that sometimes truth is found not just in what a person or document claims, or what is presented at a scene, but also by looking for what has been omitted.

I’m happy my siblings went along with my suggestion for “Amo Probus.” I believe my father would also be very happy, and that if anyone questions why we did not choose to stick to the so-called “official” motto, we’ve done our research and have found it is actually quite traditional, to make modifications.

For my father’s wee Scott family, with close connections to Scotland, but in Canada via Northern Ireland, “Amo Probus” it is.

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