Following the earlier instalment describing the appearance
of the element cú, hound, hero or champion in Gaelic surnames,
here is a description of some other animals as they appear in surnames.
We can only guess at why they appear, but it seems that our ancestors
admired the strength or prowess of animals, and named each other accordingly.
Most of the surnames, therefore, are based on personal names. Art, for
example, the personal name, means bear, and Ó hAirt, Anglicised
Harte, means descendant of the bear. Tadhg, some scholars say, originally
meant wolf, and Mac Thaidhg, anglicised McCague, takes its origin from
Also meaning bear is the name Mathghamhain, which after Mac goes into
the genitive as a third declension noun, and becomes Mac Mathghamhna,
anglicised McMahon. The McMahons were a powerful family with connections
with the Monaghan area, where they flourished right down until the confiscation
of their lands in the Plantation. Their last chief, Hugh MacMahon was
beheaded in 1644 for his part in a plot to seize Dublin Castle.
Mac an tSionnaigh, son of the fox is a common name of this type, and has
been translated into Fox, and has been anglicised, or imitated into English,
as Tinney. Mac Coiligh has become Cox in translation and has also been
imitated as McQuilly.
Mac Bhloscaidh is a very common name in the area north and west of Lough
Neagh, where the family were historically a sub-group of the powerful
chiefs the Ó Catháin, discussed earlier. The name comes
from the personal name Bloscadh, who was a member of the Ó Catháin
family in the 14th century and gave his name to this branch of the family.
The aspirated initial BL is almost completely silent in pronunciation.
to surnames index
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