Scotch-Irish-L ArchivesArchiver > Scotch-Irish > 2005-12 > 1134153877
From: "Linda Merle" <>
Subject: Re: [Sc-Ir] Re;Irish Surnames
Date: Fri, 9 Dec 2005 10:44:37 -0800
I have also read that the Irish had the earliest 'surnames'.
I put it in quotes because they were actually sept names.
Apparently this began happening before the Normans came.
However a study of Irish surnames shows that when an important
person came along, a new sept was spawned. So over time
the number of sept names expanded.
Also in the medieval period the Normans arrived. Largely they
only managed to hold onto the "Pale" as it was called,
eastern Ireland. Not Ulster, which was protected by the
mountains. South of Ulster the marcher lords, largely from
the marches near Wales as well as Wales, are believed to
have brought over tenants to farm and settle. The Irish
considered farming to be beneath them. They had a warrier
society. So they didn't take well to farming. Some did. So
in the Pale you had a mix of settlers from Britain and
natives. Relations between the 'wild Irish' and the
English became so bad that eventually laws were passed against
intermarriage, wearing of Irish clothing, etc. The Statues
of Kilkenny (http://www.ibiblio.org/gaelic/Eire/7.8.2.html )
in 1366 forced Irish living in areas controled by the English
to take English-style names. I believe they were given
choices like a color, occupation, etc. So many a fine Irishman
doesn't have a thousand year old sept-name.
It is still believed by some surname experts that Irish are
more likely to have actual DNA related to the sept whose
name they bear than Scots. That's because in Gaelic Scotland,
since they were not conquored by the Normans and later
the ENglish, the sept system evolved or devolved (depending
on your point of view <grin>) into a geographical-based
system. People were adopted into the clan that controlled
the territory. As septs alligned themselves with others,
we have the notion of related septs. When the Campbells took
over from the McDonalds, immediately Campbells appeared in
the baptism records and McDonalds disappeared because people
automatically shifted their 'surname' to the dominant clan's
name. The idea that the surname was somehow attached to the
individual was not one they had at all. It was a sign of
IN Ulster, heavily influenced by Gaelic Ireland and Gaelic
Scotland, we are told by Bell "Book of Ulster Surnames" that
some used various surnames interchangably as late as 1900.
Sometimes they were an anglicized version of a Gaelic name,
a translation, so they don't 'look' similar and are not
based on phonetics. So without reading Bell you'd not have
a clue to also check the other surname.
There are also cases in MacLysaght of individuals choosing
new surnames when a single one became so predominant that
everyone has the same surname.
However if you find an Irish surname (in Gaelic) that is
a geographical feature, it is more probable that it derives
from an English surname translated into Irish as the Irish
didn't take geographical surnames, from what I have read.
Of course there are always exceptions. If you determine what
the English version of the name is, sometimes you can trace
the name to a soldier. Cromwell settled the first standing
army in British history: the New Model Army, in Ireland
in the 1650s. While many soldiers sold their land to their
officers and headed for the West Indies, many settled. As
in those days few women were allowed in the army, they were
all men. There was one kind of woman available for those who
wanted to raise a family: a nice Irish girl. She spoke Erse
and was Catholic. Hence most of Cromwell's army assimilated
into the Irish nation. Their grandchildren were as green as...
Michael Collins. Most could not speaka da English. As having
an English surname is embarrassing, it was translated into
>One of the oldest British surnames is Mabon. It is one of my family names ( Scotland) and found in Cornwall, Ulster and southern Scotland. It probably developed from a tribal name as Mabon was likely a pre Christian god.
He was indeed. It's interesting to study some of the Welsh
texts that date from the late middle ages and compare them to
earlier surviving Irish versions of the same stories. The
Irish ones are pre Christian. You get a rawer version of the
>The development of surnames in Wales is hereditary, was patronomic and had little initial influence from the English. Welsh geneologies were constructed out of fictiona, mythical,legndary characters to give status.
Actually, some say the same is true with the Irish <grin>.
Though by the time the ENglish conquored Ulster in the early
1600s the sept system was completely in decline (largely
destroyed by the earls -- you can learn about the decline
in a history of Medieval Ireland), what you had was intersting
from our point of view. The 'newer', aggressive O'Neills,
identified as a Milesian clan, had been displacing older,
indiginous clans for centuries. That's why the Scotti moved
to Scotland in 500 AD ... pressure from newer clans.
Apparently the older clans often moved to Scotland. So many
Scots descend from the older clans. My mother's KELLYs,
a small, very old clan of no consquence, living in a bog in
County Down in the late 1500s (Bagenal's spy trip there for
Queen Lizzie is printed in Hanna "the Scotch-Irish" and it
places Ulster septs on the map for us). We'd been squeezed
out by the O'Neills. Apparently, some say, these 'landless
clans' often were glad to see the ENglsih arrive as they
got a better deal under English law. Many converted to
Protestantism (if you can call it a conversion when the
only kirk on the block is the only kirk on the block <grin>).
It's difficult to prove any of this of course. As we're
not scholars, most of us can only report what we've read,
written by scholars (some of whom have been debunked by their
peers of course).
Also some would distinguish between a sept name, which is
not a surname and a surname. Apparently in Gelic societies
the sept name was never used quite like a Norman style surname,
which is what we all now bear. The Normans introduced them
to the British Isles the eleventh century. I think that's
why some overlook the Irish claim to having the oldest
'surnames' in Europe -- which near as I know, is true.
Maybe the Latvians would disagree??? Donno.... Hope whoever
does disagree doesn't JOIN the list and start a BIG FIGHT!!!!
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