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23 July 2014
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Education

BEGINNERS' BLAS
SLOINNTE/ SURNAMES

Charlie DillonSloinnte Normannacha

Surnames that have their origin in the families that came to Ireland with the Norman invasion of the twelfth century represent quite a large and distinct grouping. Many of these families were of noble stock and were granted lands and titles in Ireland, status which led to their name gaining a strong foothold in this country. Many also assimilated and merged into Gaelic society over the course of the years, adopting the Gaelic tongue as their own and adopting also Gaelic Irish customs, dress and manners. This trend became so alarming to the authorities that laws, known today as the statutes of Kilkenny, were introduced in the fourteenth century to try to reduce the contact between settler and native.
It may be also interesting to note at this point that Norman surnames are much more prevalent in Leinster and Munster than they are in Ulster and Connacht, as it was in Munster and Leinster that Norman settlers made the greatest impact on Gaelic society. Therefore, surnames such as Prendergast, Mortimer, Power, Stapleton and Sarsfield are less commonly found in Tyrone than they are in Tipperary.
The surnames follow two main types; the first is the patronymic, or son named after the father, much the same as ‘mac’ in the Gaelic tradition. Fils, the French for son was simply placed before a name to become a surname – Fitzsimon, Fitzwallace, Fitzgerald. These are translated to Irish my replacing fitz with mac, to make mac gearailt, mac siomóin etc.
The second type of Norman surname contains de, meaning from, and can be followed by the name of a place (usually in England or France) or by an adjective describing the place, or perhaps the person, from which the carrier of the surname originated. Examples of this are de Bláca (Blake) meaning from the dark/black one, de Faoite (White) meaning the opposite, de Brún, meaning from the Brown. Examples of surnames with their origin in a placename are de Barra, (Barry) after the Barri region in Normandy, de Brus (Bruce), again from the Brus region in France – this later became ‘the’ Bruce in speech, referring to the branch of this family granted lands and title in Northern England and Scotland. De Paor, anglicised Power, is an interesting example. Paor has its origins in the adjective pauvre, meaning poor, and seems in the surname to represent someone who has made a vow of poverty , the de Paor family being the descendants of this poor one. A final word for those of you who share my own surname, Dillon, which also has origins in France – it means descendant of Dill, which is a French personal name. The Dillons came to Ireland in the early days of the Norman invasion and were granted land in present day Westmeath and Roscommon. A branch later settled in Mayo.
Norman names remain unchanged in the genitive – bean de Búrca, muintir de Brún, teach de Paor etc. Also they can take the form An Búrcach, an Brúnach, an Paorach, meaning Burke, Brown, Power, in the same way as Gaelic surnames with Ó. Hence the saying Beidh lá eile ag an bPaorach, meaning that another chance will come along.

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