Collected Name Resources from LoARs (2010-present): - Gaelic and Anglicized Irish -
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Collected Name Resources from LoARs (2010-present)

Articles from Juliana de Luna and Lillia de Vaux

- Gaelic and Anglicized Irish -

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October 2010 - Juliana de Luna Link to LoAR Cover Letter

This month, I'm going to focus on issues around Gaelic and Anglicized Irish names. Irish names, both in Gaelic and in Anglicized Irish, cause a great deal of fear and confusion for submitters and heralds alike. To start, we need to review the kinds of names that we see in these languages.

Gaelic is the language spoken in Ireland since at least the 4th century AD; it goes through a series of stages we call Oghamic Irish, (roughly 400 AD to 700 AD), Old Irish or Old Gaelic (roughly 700 AD to 900 AD), Middle Irish or Middle Gaelic (roughly 900 AD to 1200 AD), and Early Modern Irish or Early Modern Gaelic (roughly 1200 AD to after 1600 AD).

Anglicized Irish is defined by Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada (in "Names Found in Anglicized Irish Documents") as "Irish Gaelic words rendered in a phonetic or pseudo-phonetic form in historical documents written by an English speaker." In other words, they're the names of Gaelic speakers written down by English speakers using the rules for English writing (we often refer to this as "orthography" which is a fancy term for the rules a language follows in writing down sounds).

Examples of names in Gaelic include: Toirdhealbhach Ó Néill, Cormac mac Taidhg Mhic Cárthaigh, Doireann inghean uí Bhirn, and Fionnghuala inghean Fhínghin Uí Mhathghamhna.

The same names in 16th century Anglicized Irish are: Tirlogh O'Neale, Cormack m'Teige M'Carthie, Dorren ny Birne, and Finolla nyn Fynine Y Mahowny.

For Gaelic names, the main source that I use is Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada, "Index of Names in Irish Annals" (http://www.medievalscotland.org/kmo/AnnalsIndex/). It includes the standardized forms of a variety of names and the years the names were used, as well as documentary forms. In general, it's better to use the standardized spellings, because each set of Annals, which were written in late period from earlier sources, uses an individual orthographic system that combines early and late spellings (sometimes inconsistently using early and late spellings). While we'd register a documentary form consistent with a single set of Annals, it would have to be consistent with the orthographic system used in that set of annals. I also use Donnchadh Ó Corráin and Fidelma Maguire, Irish Names, and Patrick Woulfe, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames (see the next section for notes on how to use Woulfe).

There are a couple of things about Gaelic grammar that you need to know to construct a name (this is all summarized in Sharon Krossa, "Quick and Easy Gaelic Names," http://www.medievalscotland.org/scotnames/quickgaelicbynames/). First, the form that a name takes is different when it's used as a given name than when it's used as your father's name (in a patronymic byname) or another ancestor's name (in a clan byname or second generation patronymic byname). The given name form is the nominative form, while the form used in bynames is the genitive (possessive) form. Both are listed in Mari's article, while in books like Irish Names, we only have nominative forms. The next thing about Gaelic grammar is that bynames are literal, so that the bynames are different for men than they are for women. The byname mac Fearghusa can only be used by a man, as it means "son of Fergus;" the feminine form meaning "daughter of Fergus" is inghean Fhearghusa. Similarly, the byname Ó Conchobhair means "male descendant of Connor;" the feminine form is inghean Uí Chonchobhair.

For Anglicized Irish forms, we have a new source. For given names, I start with Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada, " Names Found in Anglicized Irish Documents" (http://www.medievalscotland.org/kmo/AnglicizedIrish/). For bynames, I generally use Patrick Woulfe, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish Names and Surnames; those forms that are given in italics are dated to the time of Elizabeth I or James I (1559-1625). Mari's article also includes bynames, but they are not indexed (yet).

Anglicized Irish bynames are less literal, so that women are sometimes identified using the masculine Mac and O instead of the feminine forms like ni. Women are also sometimes identified in these records using their husband's byname instead of their own byname, so that a woman with the byname M'Geoghegan is identified as her husband's widow.

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