Category: Gaelic names
By K. M. Sheard, of NookofNames
There’s an old method of naming first recorded in use in the Old Testament.
It’s called homophony, and basically is the principal of choosing a name because it sounds like something which the bestower wants to commemorate. Or, putting it another way, the choice of name was inspired by something, which, in most cases is entirely unrelated to the name.
It works in all languages; amongst the biblical Hebrews, for instance, there was a period when names which had become long-established were chosen because of their resemblance to a word or words which suggested themselves during pregnancy or labor.
This is partly why the meaning of so many biblical names have gotten so muddled. It’s common in the OT for the mother to make some explanation as to why she’s naming a newborn such-and-such, and this explanation was often interpreted in the past as being the meaning of the name, when, in many cases, it’s actually homophony going on.
Manx is one of the six Celtic languages that hail from the British isles. It is the native language of the Isle of Man, an island uniquely situated between the coasts of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. From its highest point, Snaefell, you can even see all four countries on a clear day.
Over the centuries it has passed from and between Welsh, Viking, English and Scottish rule, though now has its own democratic parliament. The Manx language — a close relative of Irish and Scot Gaelic — was spoken up until the 1970s, when its last native speaker died. However, it is now beginning to see some signs of revival.
Every now and then we like to take a look at the most recent British and Irish newspaper birth announcements, to see what parents in those countries are naming their babies at this particular moment in time.
What we see right now in Ireland is a mix of old and revived Gaelic/Celtic names, classic Anglo names, nickname names similar to those popular in the UK, and more internationally trendy modern names.
The most widely used recorded Emerald Isle favorites of the last two months include Alice, Florence, Grace, Lily and Molly for girls; Henry, Hugo, Liam and Oscar for boys, as well as several varieties of Fin-starting names. ( One trivia note—if you’re surprised by the unusual geographical middle name Abyssinia, you should know that little Luke was actually born in Ethiopia.)
And if you need some pronunciation help for one of the Gaelic names, you can hear the way many of these actually sound as recorded by the late Irish writer Frank McCourt on the website babynamesof Ireland.com
Here are some of the most interesting examples, with sibling names in parentheses.
- Alice Dáire
- Alice May (Charlie, Aoibheann)
- Amélie Anne
- Aobhai Sadhbh (Deborah, Bródaí)
- Aoife (Caoimhe, Aisling)
- Aurelia Isabelle
- Dearbha Margaret (Ruairi)
- Eleanor May (Matthew, Aisla)
- Elsa (Quin, Muireann, Milo)
- Elsa Elizabeth
Our latest book, Cool Irish Names for Babies, will be hitting the bookstores in a few weeks and we’ll be offering you a few hors d’oeuvres (that doesn’t sound very Irish) before then. The book contains lots of undiscovered Irish baby names drawn from myth, legend and history, cool celebrity and popularity stuff, and a history of Irish names in America. And for Celtic-pronunciation-phobic American parents, we give the pronunciation of every problematic name–every time it’s mentioned.
To bring it up-to-the-moment and not just rely on national popularity lists, we scoured the birth announcements in newspapers to find out what Irish baby names real parents in Dublin and elsewhere are actually using today. Here are some that are in the book, and others added just this week. With pronunciations, but, unfortunately, not the accents.
CLODAGH (KLO-da)–very popular
NIAMH (neev)–very popular
SADHBH (sive–rhymes with five)
SORCHA (SOR-ka or SOR-ra)
AILBHE (ALL-bay) unisex