The personal name Aodh, which has been anglicised Hugh or
Hugo, is the origin of many Irish surnames and especially many which are
common in Ulster.
The main reason for the differences in the English forms is the fact that
the name Aodh can be put into the genitive in one of two different ways
after mac – it can be treated as a third declension noun and have
an –a added to the end, or it can be slenderised like a first declension
noun. This, happening after mac to denote son of, affects significantly
the pronunciation of the word, and gives us either mac aodha, or mac aoidh.
In its various forms and pronunciations, therefore, this simple combination
of mac and the name aodh is responsible for mc hugh, mc kay, mc key, mc
kee, mc coy; it has also been translated as hughes, eason and hewson.
It is most common in Ulster, and it is in Ulster that another
dialect change has affected the pronunciation and the English form of
the name. Sometimes, before vowels and some consonants, mac changes to
mag in Irish, the ‘c’ sound at the end changing to a ‘g’
and this change has led to the anglicised surname magee. It can be said,
therefore, that mckee and magee are both the same name, both son of Hugh,
but with a slight pronunciation difference.
There are three other interesting surnames which have their
origin also in the personal name Aodh. Firstly, the adjective ‘buí’,
meaning yellow or sallow was added to the name, giving the surname mac
aodha bhuí, anglicised McEvoy. The next is the addition of the
diminutive –án to the name, to form Aodhán, which
is anglicised Aidan or Ian, meaning ‘little hugh’ and is the
origin of the surnames Keane and McKeane, although these are more common
in Munster and Connacht than in Ulster. Thirdly, the addition of another
diminutive form, to make aodhagán, leads to the surname mac aodhagáin,
anglicised Egan, Keegan and Mc Keegan.
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