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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)


Old Irish Naming Patterns

 

Sons

1st son was named after the father's father

2nd son was named after the mother's father

3rd son was named after the father

4th son was named after the father's eldest brother

5th son was named after the mother's eldest brother

Daughters

1st daughter was named after the mother's mother

2nd daughter was named after the father's mother

3rd daughter was named after the mother

4th daughter was named after the mother's eldest sister

5th daughter was named after the father's eldest sister

If the father remarries after his first wife dies, the first daughter born to this new marriage is often named after the deceased wife, and includes her whole name.

If a child dies young then their name is then used for the next child of the same sex, thereby keeping alive the name of the relative who they are ‘named for’

GIVEN NAME

or "Christian name," is the first name of an individual listed before their surname.  "Middle names", do not seem to have been used in either Ireland or Scotland until some time after the 16th century.  In both Ireland and Scotland, men used male given names, and women used female given names. There was only a small group of given names that could be used for both men and women. The typical Irish byname is a patronymic, which would indicate who your father is.

MAC

Irish and Scotch Gaelic prefix meaning "son of."  Also m' and "mic," giving rise to the racial slur for Irish men as "micks," "mics," or "micky's."  Scottish and Irish patronymic surnames frequently have the prefix Mac or Mc.

When these surnames were originally developed, they were formed by adding the Gaelic word mac, which means son of, to the name of the original bearer's father. For example, the surname MacDonnell literally means son of Donnell.

In later times, these prefixes were also added to the occupation or nickname of the bearer's father. For example, MacWard means son of the bard and MacDowell means son of the black stranger.  Numerous variations of this prefix emerged, for a number of reasons.  It was rendered Mag before vowels and aspirated consonants.

Historical records concerning Irish and Scottish names reveal that the common prefix Mc and the less common prefixes M' and Mcc developed as abbreviations of the original Gaelic prefix Mac.  Thus, the popular beliefs that Mc is a distinctively Irish prefix while Mac is exclusively Scottish, and that one prefix is used by Catholic families while the other one is specifically Protestant are erroneous.

In actuality, the same person often had his surname recorded using both Mac and Mc on separate occasions.

NI

(also nee and nighean or inghean or even inghean uí) In the Irish patronymic naming system, indicates that the individual is the daughter of the man whose surname follows.

The form is:

<single given name> inghean uí <eponymous clan ancestor (in genitive case)>,

which means: <given name> daughter of a male descendant of <eponymous clan ancestor>.

For example: Dearbhorgaill inghean uí Conchobhair' which means: Dearbhorgaill daughter of a male descendant of Conchobhar (or, fully Anglicized, Dervorgilla daughter of a male descendant of Connor). Later the word inghean was corrupted to nighean, which was further shortened to ni.

Ó

Irish and Scotch Gaelic prefix to a patronymic name literally meaning "of the generations of," or the more commonly understood term "grandson."

Ua, Uí

Family, clan. E.g. Uí Néill

SURNAME

The last, or "family name" of the individual. All Gaelic surnames are patronymic," it is the father, and not the mother, whose given name was used to form this type of byname.  Gaelic bynames formed from the mother's name (metronymics) are vanishingly rare to nonexistent in both Scotland and Ireland.  In Ireland, clan affiliations were often used to form bynames.

Simple patronymic bynames and clan affiliation bynames are the two most common types of Gaelic byname found in medieval and early modern Ireland.

Men: The standard form of Irish clan affiliation bynames for men is:

<single given name> ó <eponymous clan ancestor (in genitive case)>, the ó being a contraction/corruption of uá, which gives us the meaning:

<given name> male descendant of <eponymous clan ancestor>

For example: Donnchadh ó Conchobhair, which means Donnchadh male descendant of Conchobhar (or, fully Anglicized, Duncan male descendant of Connor).

Women: Women patronymics are formed the same way, so the standard way to form Irish clan affiliation bynames for women is:

<single given name> inghean uí <eponymous clan ancestor (in genitive case)>,

which means: <given name> daughter of a male descendant of <eponymous clan ancestor>

For example: Dearbhorgaill inghean uí Conchobhair' which means: Dearbhorgaill daughter of a male descendant of Conchobhar (or, fully Anglicized, Dervorgilla daughter of a male descendant of Connor).  Later the word inghean was corrupted to nighean, which was further shortened to ni.

Note the the nominative form of Conchobhar is Conchobar.

The h in Chochobhar is the result of a feature of Gaelic called "aspiration," their way of recognizing the living or inherent "spiritual" aspect of names.  Most consonants are aspirated after ingen nighean and ni, but in the period when ingen was used, this aspiration usually wasn't reflected in the spelling.  Also note that the parental name is often modified even further.  For example, if you are Cormacc son of Aed, the Irish would be Cormacc mac Aeda.  This is because Gaelic has a distinct genitive or possessive case that looks (and often sounds) different from the nominative case.

For instance, Aeda means "of Aed" or "Aed's."

A subgroup of patronymic style names is formed from the father's occupation, status or nickname instead of his given name.

Ó Gobhann means "(male) descendant of (the) smith.

Mac an Bhaird means "son of the bard."

Mac an Ghoill means "son of the foreigner."

Mac an tSionnaigh means "son of the fox."

(These are modern spellings; in Middle Irish these might have been Ua Goband, Mac in Baird, Mac in Gaill and Mac int Shinnaig.)

There are other forms of Irish bynames, including epithets, occupational name and locatives. An epithet is a descriptive phrase added after the given name. These tended to be extremely simple and concrete. A colour might be added to describe a person's hair or complexion.

Maine with the red hair might be called Maine Ruad.

Little Lugaid might be called Lugaid Beag.

Cathan, who is clever like a fox, might be called Cathan Sinnach.

Locative names state that someone is from a particular place.

In Mulind, in modern Irish an Mhuilinn means "of the mill" and indicates that the person lived at or near a mill.

Muimnech, now spelled Muimhneach is a byname meaning "Munsterman, the man from Munster."

(From Choosing an Irish Name, by Dame Cateline de la Mor la souriete, aka Kristine Elliott, and © 1997.)


The information contained in these pages is provided solely for  the purpose of sharing with others researching their ancestors in Ireland.
© 2001 County Carlow Genealogy IGP

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