Celtic Naming Patterns

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This discussion is about Irish and Scottish surname and child 'naming patterns'.


Name-changing Situations

Shipping records for Assisted Migrants to Australia and New Zealand record whether passengers could read or write as these skills may have been of use to future employers. Also, some early marriage records were marked with a 'cross' in the signature box, showing that poor or no writing ability was a reality of the migrant period.

It would be fair to say that when a clerk recorded a name on a passenger list there was a chance that its spelling might change without the owner being aware of the fact. For instance, an English clerk may not correctly record a name given by a passenger having a strong Irish or Scottish accent, or might alter the name spelling slightly. Example changes for the Brien name might be O'Brien, Bryan or O'Bryan.


With or without an 'O'?

Mac in Gaelic means "son of". 'O' means "grandson of" or "descendant of".

'One further point to bear in mind is that while you may believe your family name underwent change ONLY after migration – this may be incorrect. Many “O”s and “Macs” were already removed from Irish surnames BEFORE migration – and were in general use in Ireland in this “O-less” and “Mac-less” form.' [Your Irish Heritage]


Child Naming Patterns:

'The “Irish Naming Pattern” is a real system of child-naming that was used in Ireland over hundreds of years – and often continued to be used in the Irish immigrant’s new country for further generations. I have found it to be in strong use in rural parts of Ireland right up to the 1960s.' [Your Irish Heritage]

The Irish naming pattern is as follows:

  • 1st son is named after the father’s father.
  • 2nd son is named after the mother’s father.
  • 3rd son is named after the father.
  • 4th son is named after the father’s eldest brother.
  • ---
  • 1st daughter is named after the mother’s mother.
  • 2nd daughter is named after the father’s mother.
  • 3rd daughter is named after the mother.
  • 4th daughter is named after the mother’s eldest sister.

Scottish child naming commonly followed this same pattern, but the Scots also had an extended system for naming out to their fourteenth child! [Find My Past]