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16 October 2014
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BEGINNERS' BLAS
SLOINNTE/ SURNAMES

Animal surnames

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 that.
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
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.

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