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March 17, 2006

Many Irish Names Not Irish At All

Happy St. Patrick's day, Sean and Mick, you've actually got slave names:

Many popular male first names commonly thought of as being Irish, such as Patrick, Mick and Sean, actually originated with the English and the French-Danish-Norwegian Normans, who invaded Ireland in the 12th century and led to radical changes in the way Irish families named their children, according to a new study.

Freya Verstraten, a doctoral postgraduate student of history at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, authored the study, published in the current Journal of Medieval History.

She studied name registries and other documents dated to, and concerning, the Middle Ages. She determined that upper-class Irish nobles fought to retain their traditional Gaelic names, which emerged out of thousands of years of Celtic dominance of the Green Isle.

Irish families from other social classes, however, wound up adopting Anglo-Norman names because of military and political alliances, intermarriages, and other means.

The name Patrick, for example, is not Gaelic, but instead comes from the popular Latin name Patricius, meaning "noble one." According to the Patron Saints Index of the Catholic Community Forum, Saint Patrick was born in Scotland in 387-390 A.D. His given name at birth was Maewyn Succat, which was changed to Patricius when he was baptized.

Verstraten told Discovery News, "Patrick was not a popular name in Ireland until well after the Middle Ages, but it was used more commonly in conjunction with 'Giolla' and 'Maol'— both these words indicate a religious subservience: the name 'Giolla Pádraig' or 'Maol Pádraig' would basically mean something like 'servant of Patrick.'"


[Another researcher] said, "Archetypal Irish names in Irish America, such as Patty and Mick, really are more a product of the Roman Catholic Renaissance (which occurred well after the Anglo-Norman invasion in 1167 A.D.). The clergy tried to wipe out traditional Irish names by replacing them with Biblical names."

Canonical laws in Ireland for many years prevented the baptism of children unless the chosen name was that of a saint. Girls often took on variations of the name Mary. At the same time, harsh penal laws from the 16th to the 19th century further weakened traditional Gaelic/Celtic culture.

Verstraten, however, suggests that the earlier Anglo-Norman invasion had possibly a more profound impact on Irish names.

"A name like Seán is usually thought of as typically Irish; however, it is an Irish adaptation of the Biblical name John, and this version of the name was used in Ireland only after the invasion," she said. "There are many other names people consider to be Irish, although they are in fact Irish versions of Anglo-Norman names. Séamus, for example, is the Irish form of James."

Because of a geneological interest, and because I've tried sometimes to make sense of the tribes in Age of Empires, I've tried to figure out exactly what people are originally "British" or "Irish," and it's just too confusing. The only indiginous people in the Isles are the Picts, or so my real-time computer strategy-game based research informs me.

That whole thing with Robin Hood about the "indiginous" Saxons being repressed by the invading Normans? The Saxons were invaders several hundred years before, too. King Arthur fought the Saxon invaders; Robin Hood defended the "Saxons" from the Norman invaders. And King Arthur himself, if he existed at all, was probably a Roman, or half-Roman. Scotsmen are of course almost pure Anglo-Saxon-Jute-Dane Vikings.

The whole thing is confusing. I'm not sure if other nations have as much a confusing racial geneology. It seems that virtually everyone in north Europe (and Rome) invaded and colonized the British Isles at one time or another.

But now that I know I have a slave name, I'll go by the name "Cormac X."

I'll bet you the "Irish" came from somewhere else, too, and wiped out the poor oppressed Pictish aboriginals.

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posted by Ace at 12:00 PM

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