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Irish Surnames and Gaelic Grammar

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Post April 20 2006, 17:50 PM
stephor
New Arrival
 
Posts: 8
Like many people I'm learning about my family history. I've put together the following information mostly by researching the Internet. However my knowledge of Gaelic is very limited so I thought I might begin a thread on this forum in order to hear the opinions of people with some expertise in the language. I welcome any, and all, comments on my assertions in this extract. The history aside, I am interested in the discussion of grammar.

"The first ÓRuairc (O'Rourke) was Sean Fearghal O Ruairc, who died in 964 (grandson of Ruarc mac Tighernain Uí Briúin Bréifne). Sean here just means old - i.e. Old Fergal - he lived to an old age. From what I can determine, Ruarc become Ruairc because the "i" in the middle of Irish names simply indicates the genitive (possessive).

The surname can be written variously as ÓRuairc, Uí Ruairc or Ua Ruairc - depending! "Ó" denotes 'of the generations of' (originally derives from Ua 'grandson of'). "Ó" is often quoted as meaning 'grandson' and "Mac" is often quoted as meaning 'son', but this is a simplification. Incidentally, Ó is never O' in Irish - only in English (the accent is over the Ó not after it O').

Uí is in fact more interesting because it is not only the genitive singular of 'ó'; it is also a nominative plural used in historical names and terms: grandsons, descendants. That's how Uí Ruairc as a stand-alone unit comes about: Uí Ruairc = the ÓRuairc's, the collective descendants of Ó Ruairc . The alternative nominative plural in the modern dictionaries, however, is 'óí'. This seems to mean = 'grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of'. So we could refer to ourselves as Ui Ruairc (meaning we are the ÓRuairc's, the descendants of Ó Ruairc) or as Ói Ruairc (the greatgrandchildren of Ruarc).

The difference between Ua and Uí is grammatical. (NB: Uí is not Ui - in the first there is an accent above the í and in the second there is a dot above the i). Ua in the nominative form (meaning grandson) and Uí is the genitive form (meaning grandson of). In the same way that Mac is the nominative case meaning "son" and Mhac is the genitive case, meaning 'son of'. I should qualify all of this by saying my understanding of the declension of Irish nouns is very limited. As far as pronunciation goes I'm not much better practiced, but from what I have determined you might say ú ~ like 'oo' in 'moon', ua ~ like ú followed by short a – so ooa, uí ~ like ú followed 'ee' as in 'see' and ói ~ like 'ow' in 'know' but no following 'oo' sound as there is in English."

Stephen.

 
Post April 20 2006, 18:31 PM
Redwolf
Ard-Banríon na Ráiméise
 
Posts: 57599
Er...well...

"Uí" is the genitive form of "Ó." You will see "Uí" used in the names of married women who have taken their husbands' names, or when the entire name of the family is in the genetive (for example "Clann Uí Ruairc").

"Ó" DOES mean "descendent," and Mac DOES mean "son"...those aren't "oversimplifications" at all.

Wait for more.

Redwolf

Post April 20 2006, 18:54 PM
oisin718
Andúileach IGTF
 
Posts: 14098
"Ruarc" is the original given name.

According to your research, the first person to take the family name "Ó Ruairc" did so because he was Ruarc's grandson. "Ó" meant "grandon."

The addition of the "i" marks the palatization of the final consonant cluster, a remnant of an ancient case ending in -i that is now lost. This is how the genitive case is formed in the majority of masculine nouns, male given names included in them.

Surnames became fixed, so that they were inherited regardless of the actual name of the individual's grandfather. So, with a surname of "Ó Ruairc," a person is more accurately "the descendent of the grandson of Ruairc."

Likewise, someone named "Mac Carthaigh" is the descendent of the "son of Carthach."

"Mac" names are of later historical formation than "Ó" names. Because Scotland was colonized by Gaelic speakers after Ireland, this explains why O-surnames are not found in Scotland by Mac-surnames are plentiful in both countries.

"Ua" and "Ó" are dialectal variants. They have the same meaning.

The plural, "Uí" is used only in reference to tribal unites. For example, the Uí Ruairc were the ruling tribe of the region of Breifne.

It's not really appropriate for anyone today to refer to themselves by this demarcation, because it entails a social and economic and political structure that doesn't exist any more.

It is standard today to create and adjective out of the surname by adding the ending -ach to the base name.

If you were referring to someone simply as "O'Rourke," you would call him "An Ruarcach." Calling someone simply "Ó Ruairc" implies that that person is the O'Rourke, the chief of the tribe. The current O'Rourke is Geoffrey P C O'Rorke of London, but since he is not the senior representative of the family his claim is being investigated by the office of the Chief Herald.

"The O'Rourke's" today, if you were referring to your family, you'd say "Na Ruarcaigh."

Post April 20 2006, 19:23 PM
stephor
New Arrival
 
Posts: 8
Thank Redwolf, if I'm understanding correctly then

Uí as the genitive form would appear as Derforghaill (.i. ben Tighernain Uí Ruairc) ingen Murchadha Uí Maoileachlainn -- Dervorgilla wife of Tiernan O'Rourke daughter of ? (not sure of the translation).

Uí as the nomative plural Uí Ruairc -- The O'Rourke Clan.
________________________________________
re: simplification:

My understanding of "O" is that it is either 'grandson of' or 'of the generations of' (your word 'descendent') rather than the simplification 'grandson'. Ua is more 'grandson'.

Yes "Mac" means 'son' (I believe), but is it more correct to write "Mhac" for 'son of'? Or is there no distinction here?

I am only a beginner at this. I appreciate your help.
______________________________________________________
I think oisin718 (who posted while I was typing) cleared up my confusion here

>> "Ua" and "Ó" are dialectal variants. They have the same meaning.

So that would mean that both are the nomative form - meaning 'grandson'.

I'm still coming to terms with declension!

Post April 20 2006, 19:56 PM
oisin718
Andúileach IGTF
 
Posts: 14098
You are correct that "Uí Ruairc" is the genitive form.

This is used when referring to anything belonging to someone named O'Rourke -- teach Stiofáin Uí Ruairc -- Stephen O'Rourke's house.

It is also used as the surname of married women:

Máire (Bean) Uí Ruairc -- Mary O'Rourke. Litterally, "Mary, O'Rourke's woman." The "bean" is optional.

Unmarried daughters have the prefix "Ní" -- Cáitlín Ní Ruairc.
"Ní" is her a contraction of "iníon uí" -> Cáitlín Iníon Uí Ruairc -- Kathleen, the daughter of O'Rourke.

So, when Devorgilla married Tiarnan, she could have been referred to as Dearbhfhorgall Bean Uí Ruairc.

The "Uí Ruairc" refers to the tuath/tribe/clan of that name organized as a tribal entity according to the ancient Gaelic social order.

"Ó" and "Ua" have the same meaning. Both mean "Grandson." The person who first called himself "Ó Ruairc" was proclaiming himself "the grandson of Ruarc."

"Ó" does not mean "of the generations of." There is no semantic difference between "Ó" and "Ua."

I don't know about "Mhac." I haven't encountered that form in named. But "Mac" is the standard for "Mac" names, and means "son."

Dónal Mac Carthaigh -- Daniel McCarthy (Dóna, [descended from] the son of Carthach)

Siobhán (Bean) Mhic Charthaigh -- Joan McCarthy -- (Joan, woman of the son of Carthach)

Máiréad Nic Charthaigh = Máiréad Iníon Mhic Charthaigh = Margaret, daughter of the son of Carthach.

Post April 20 2006, 20:08 PM
Riadach
Craiceáilte
 
Posts: 5263
ah but no dearbhorgilla woulf have dearbhorgilla ní mhaolsheachlainn no matter who she married. they didn't take their husbands names then in ireland.
Níl leigheas ar ghrá ach pósadh

Post April 20 2006, 20:12 PM
oisin718
Andúileach IGTF
 
Posts: 14098
Riadach wrote:ah but no dearbhorgilla woulf have dearbhorgilla ní mhaolsheachlainn no matter who she married. they didn't take their husbands names then in ireland.


I know. Hence my use of "could."

I was using Stephen's own example to illustrate the grammar.

Post April 20 2006, 20:48 PM
stephor
New Arrival
 
Posts: 8
>> teach Stiofáin Uí Ruairc -- Stephen O'Rourke's house.

Stiofa(i)n -- is the i here the genitive form, or is Stiofain just and alternative to Stiofan.

Whenever I have been brazen enough to attempt to write my name in Gaelic, I've always written it as Stiofan. :wink:

Post April 20 2006, 20:54 PM
oisin718
Andúileach IGTF
 
Posts: 14098
stephor wrote:>> teach Stiofáin Uí Ruairc -- Stephen O'Rourke's house.

Stiofa(i)n -- is the i here the genitive form, or is Stiofain just and alternative to Stiofan.

Whenever I have been brazen enough to attempt to write my name in Gaelic, I've always written it as Stiofan. :wink:


That is the genitive form.

Nominative: Stiofán Ó Ruairc

Genitive: Stiofáin Uí Ruairc

Tá Stiofán Ó Ruairc ina chónaí sa teach úd -- Stephen O'Rourke lives in that house over.

Is é sin teach Stiofáin Uí Ruairc -- That's Stephen O'Rourke's house.

Post April 20 2006, 21:36 PM
stephor
New Arrival
 
Posts: 8
This has been very helpful. I've learned heaps.

Can you elaborate on "The addition of the "i" marks the palatization of the final consonant cluster, a remnant of an ancient case ending in -i that is now lost." What do you mean by "now lost"? -- it is still used to form the genitive!

Also, what is the exact interpretation of "ingen Murchadha Uí Maoileachlainn" in Derforghaill (.i. ben Tighernain Uí Ruairc) ingen Murchadha Uí Maoileachlainn.


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