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Use of Scots, Gaelic & English elements in Names

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  • Use of Scots, Gaelic & English elements in Names

    I'm doing some research and have what may be a fairly technical question about the naming practices of the MacLeods during the medieval period.

    I'm told that names must be internally consistent in terms of the language used. For example, all of the following could be the same person:

    Tormod MacLeod (Scots)
    Tormodus filius Leod (Latin)
    XXX mac Le/oid (Gaelic - where XXX represents the Gaelic form of <Tormod> which I don't know, and / indicates an accent over the 'o')
    {TH}ormo/{dh}r Ljotsson (Norse - where {TH} represents the letter "thorn" and {dh} represents the letter "edh")

    However, I found a copy of a charter from King David II to Malcolm MacLeod that reads in part:

    "dilecto et fideli nostro Malcolmo, filio Tormodi Macleod, pro homagio et servitio suo, duas partes tenementi de Glenelg"

    It appears to me that although the document is written in Latin, the ostensibly Scots "Macleod" name is used.

    (Source: Sir Robert Douglas of Glenbervie, Baronet, THE BARONAGE OF SCOTLAND, Edinburgh, 1798, pp. 375, 376)
    This is dated to roughly 1359 - I didn't think Scots was being spoken yet then.

    So my question: did the form "MacLeod" (or Macleod) solidify, at least in the Hebridies early on? Or is this just one scribe writing it this way, against standard practice?

    Further, is it concievable that, at least among the MacLeods, that one could have a Gaelic or Norse given name and use MacLeod as a surname, rather than using a patronymic during the 14th Century? Example, could there have been a person named Eoin MacLeod? Or would he have had to have been called Eoin mac Leoid?

    Many thanks in advance to anyone who can help we with this issue.

    Elise Kingston
    (nee Cormode)
    Cambridge, Ontario, Canada

  • #2
    You know the Gaidhlig form of Tormod because it is Tormod. It is usually translated by the unconnected name of Norman.

    (Two can play at George Orwell quotes)
    "In this country I don’t think it is enough realized—I myself had no idea of it until a few years ago—that Scotland has a case against England."


    • #3


      I think that you may find it easier to deal with all of this if you recognise that literacy, particularly in the Middle Ages, was a relatively rare skill. Furthermore, even up until the 18th and 19th century, spelling of commonplace words was pretty much up to the preferences of the writer (Jane Austen uses "clew" instead of clue).

      So the spelling of names, or the formats used - Latin in a Latin document, etc - is rather a hot-and-miss affair.

      For that reason, even though the standards that you have suggested (for internal consistency of names) make sense, they are sort of like saying that one mustn't split an infinitive.

      Also, I don't know at what point any agreed orthography or spelling of Scottish Gaelic was settled upon, much less any agreed spelling of names ever formalised.

      There is also ample evidence that people may have been regularly called slightly different things by different people. Let me give an example: in the Orkneyinga Saga - the stories of the Norse Earls of Orkney - an Irish king called Konofogr is referred to. A couple of commentaries on the the Sagas are pretty convinced that this is actually Conchobhar.. or possibly Connor... Maybe the Norsemen just couldn't get their tongues round the Gaelic syllables.

      And even if the person concerned could write his/her own name, there's no guarantee that they would be consistent. Shaxpear as far as we know, never signed his name the same way twice. Remember that it's only very recently that the written form of one's name has become more significant than how it sounded.

      As for Scots not being spoken in 1359 - Barbour's "The Bruce" appeared around 1376, as a poetical epic in a fully-fledged flourishing language. Although, certainly it was primarily in the Lowlands that Scots would have been the primary language, and the Gaeltacht shrank only slowly up until the 18th and 19th centuries, when the retreat accelerated.

      So Scots was certainly current at that time.




      • #4
        "The Gaeltacht" is in Ireland! We have a Gaidhealteachd.

        Regarding Gaidhlig spelling. The traditional spelling was used, and adapted up to the present day, normally using an unusual form of Roman script... however, an anglicised form, as the Manx still use was about too. "The Book of the Dean of Lismore", for example, is written in an English/Lowland Scots phonetic type rendering of the language.

        "The manuscript is written in what may be called phonetic Gaelic, the words being spelled on the same principle as the Welsh and Manx, although the application of the principle is very different. "Athair," fatehr, is "Ayr"; "Saor", free is "Seyr"; "Fhuair", found, is "Hoar"; "leodhas", Lewis, is "Looyss"; "iuchair", a key, is "ewthir"; "gràdh", love, is "Zrau". This principle of phonetic spelling, with a partial admission of the Irish eclipsis and the Irish dot in aspiration, distinguishes the whole manuscript, and has made it very difficult to interpret."


        Gleannsith an gleann so ri'm thaobh,
        'S am binn feidh agus loin,
        Is minig a rachas an Fheinn
        Air an t-srath so an deigh an con.
        An gleann so fa Bheinn Ghulbainn ghuirm,
        Is ailllidh tulcha fo'n ghréin,
        Na sruthana a ruith gu dearg,
        An deigh shealg o Fhionn na Feinn.

        Comes out as

        Glennschee in glenn so rame heive
        A binn feig agus lon
        Menik redeis in nane
        Ar on trath so in dey agon
        A glen so fa wenn Zwlbin zwrm
        Is haald tulchi fa zran
        Ner wanew a roythi gi dark
        In dey helga o inn na vane

        (Two can play at George Orwell quotes)
        "In this country I don’t think it is enough realized—I myself had no idea of it until a few years ago—that Scotland has a case against England."


        • #5
          Scottish_Republican said:"The Gaeltacht" is in Ireland! We have a Gaidhealteachd.

          Which was sort of the point I was making.