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Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 11:12 am
by Brad

I'm new here. I'm hoping someone can tell me what the proper spelling of the the name MacLean is in Gaelic. I have seen many spellings some of which omit the G and others that have a capital M, G and E. My grandmother passed recently and I'm writing a little history of the family , etc. Since we are MacLean's I would like to get spelling right. Are names in gaelic acceptable with different spellings? Anyway I guess I'm looking for the 'traditional' spelling. If anyone can help that would be greatly appreciated.

Here are the ones that seem to be the most correct (if I can even say that)


All okay? What about accents?

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 4:44 pm
by eideard
Well, one of the best known MacLeans hereabouts is Roddy MacLean, writer and author of Litir-do-Luchd-Ionnsachaidh. He writes his name Ruairidh MacIlleathain.

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:49 pm
by GunChleoc
And of course the bard Somhairle MacGill-Eain, just to confuse matters with yet another spelling :spors:

I guess you better pick what suits you best, unless you have records for your branch of the family. Names can always be quirky with their spelling.

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 6:58 pm
by Ceid
Yeah, all are OK. When it comes to "traditional" spelling, there's not really a single way for many of these really older names. Maclean is a pretty old one, like my grandmother's maiden name, Macleish. That's an really old name and there's a gazillion variations of that name in both Gaelic and English. As long as people understand what you mean, it's fine.

There's tons of Macleans up in Cape Breton where I visited recently. They have different spellings for it there too, depending on which dialect they preserved, but everyone understands what it means. But if you really want to get "traditional" you can do it the way Cape Bretoners do, and instead of using their surname, they'll say something like "S' mise Iain Dhaibaidh Bhig 'ic Aonghas Iain." Or "I'm John of Little Davey (father), son of Angus John (grandfather)." That's the way they used to do it in Scotland too, because you would live in a small communities were everyone was closely related and too many would have the same first and last names. So you identified yourself by your family members and everyone would know exactly who you were. Yeah, it's a bit of a mouthful, but pretty fun once you get the hand of it.

They still do that in Cape Breton, especially the older Gaelic-speakers, because it's sort of the same situation--not many people live there, a lot of them closely related and a lot of them have the same names. They're kind of losing that though, sadly, because fewer and fewer people who are speaking Gaelic there today were raised speaking Gaelic but had to learned it later in life, so they didn't grew up in a Gaelic-speaking culture, and the communities aren't as closely knit as they once were.

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 9:47 pm
by Brad
Well, I'd like to thank you all for your help. I was getting the feeling that there isn't a 'correct' spelling exactly but merely variations. Interesting about Cape Breton. This is sort of relevant to me because although I'm in Toronto, my family is from Antigonish county on the north shore of Nova Scotia which is probably the most Scottish part of Nova Scotia aside from Cape Breton. Definitely less Gaelic speakers though. I'm very new to the Gaelic language but I'm really glad a forum like this exists and I'll continue to participate in some way. I've started learning a little from the Alba BBC site and hope to learn more and more. Thanks again everyone.

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 10:51 pm
by akerbeltz
Ah, the minefield question. I like it.

Here's my partial non-answer 8-)

1) Mac/Nic invoke the rule of lenition blocking (cf sgian-dubh, Caimbeul vs Camshron, air an taigh vs air an fheòrag etc); so the one spelling that can be discarded as a typo is MacGhilleathain.

2) However, in pronunciation the double whammy of c followed by g leads to the auditory impression that there is only one of the two. Resulting in the variants Mac'Illeathain and MacIlleathain (you missed the 2nd one)

3) Gaelic has a general deletion rule which (simplifying slightly) says that if two vowels meet and one of them is a weak schwa /?/, the schwa dies (cf (in spoken Gaelic) 's e cù th' ann (rather than 's e cù a tha ann)). Resulting in variants missine one e such as MacGillEathain and MacGhilleathain.

4) Gaelic also uses capitalisation to show that stress shift has occurred away from the first syllable. That's why we have MacDhòmhnaill, Dùn Éideann, DiLuain, Crois MoLiubha etc. Your surname has 3 elements and the stress has shifted to the last element, the Eathain bit. Which is why some spellings capitalise the E: MacGillEathain and MacGilleEathain.

So there's no right answer. It depends on your personal preference, whether you prefer to write things as they're said or in the way that shows where it's coming from. Both are legitimate angles. Personally, I tend towards conservative spellings in place names and personal names, hence my personal preference is MacGilleEathain because it indicates stress shift, shows the blocked lenition and all historical elements. But then I'm a linguist at heart :P

Hope that helps!

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Sun Sep 12, 2010 11:35 pm
by Brad

Thank you for your very thorough response. As a complete novice regarding Gaelic that was very informative. I think I understand why you prefer the spelling that you do. I've got a lot to learn and I like the fact that there aren't such hard and fast rules in Gaelic like there are in English (perhaps I'm wrong about that). Thanks again, much appreciated.

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Mon Sep 13, 2010 12:38 am
by akerbeltz
You're very welcome :D

Actually Gaelic spelling is .. well, was until recently, fairly predictable. It looks like there's more variation and I guess in once sense there is but on the other hand, it still is way more predictable than English.

Re: Spelling my name in Gaelic

Posted: Tue Sep 14, 2010 3:33 pm
by Seonaidh
"m' ainm". But seriously, one small point. A-B touched on it with the "Mac/Nic" but (I think) left it there. If it's your nanna you're writing about and you want to give her (or any other women in the family) a proper Gaelic family name, you would never use "Mac" - always "Nic" (technically, short for "Nighean 'ic"). The family name changes from (e.g.) MacIlleathain, not to Nighean MhicIlleathain but to a reduced form of it, NicIlleathain.