The family at one time held extensive lands in the Western Isles and mainland, and were descended from Gilleathain na Tuaidh, Gillian of the Battleaxe in the 13th century. Two brothers, his descendants, were Lachlan Lubanach, progenitor of the MacLeans of Duart and Eachan Reaganach, progenitor of the MacLaines of Lochbuie. They were supporters of the MacDougalls of Lorn, but later transferred their allegiance to the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles and became one of their most powerful vassals. The MacLeans fought at the Battle of Hawlaw, where their chief Red Hector of the Battles was killed. The use of fixed surnames or descriptive names appears to have commenced in France about the year 1000, and such names were introduced into Scotland through the Normans a little over one hundred years later, although the custom of using them was by no means common for many years afterwards. During the reign of Malcolm Ceannmor (1057-1093) the latter directed his chief subjects, after the custom of other nations, to adopt surnames from their territorial possessions, and there created 'The first erlis that euir was in Scotland'. At first the coat of arms was a practical matter which served a function on the battlefield and in tournaments. With his helmet covering his face, and armour encasing the knight from head to foot, the only means of identification for his followers, was the insignia painted on his shield, and embroidered on his surcoat, the draped and flowing garment worn over the armour. During the Middle Ages, when people were unable to read or write, signs were needed for all visual identification. For several centuries city streets in were filled with signs of all kinds, public houses, tradesmen and even private householders found them necessary. This was an age when there were no numbered houses, and an address was a descriptive phrase that made use of a convenient landmark. At this time, coats of arms came into being, for the practical reason that men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way.
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