Calling those who know their Irish Gaelic

I have a little writing project in mind. A short story or two perhaps. And I need some help in naming the character. I already know that I want him to be Irish, of Anglo-Ascendancy background. I also want him to be originally from the Gaelic aristocracy (possibly the “Old English”, the Hiberno Normans, but even then I would be insisting that his line really came from the Celts first). And that forefathers changed religion and names and political sides as necessary over the centuries to keep ahold of their estates. Which were then lost in the 1920s of course.

Which is where someone with a good knowledge of Irish Gaelic could be very useful. I want to have as a repeating joke the difficulty of saying aloud/spelling between the two languages, Gaelic and English. Along the lines of “Siobhan” is pronounced “Shevaughn”. But I’d like it to be as extreme as possible.

It should be a place name and a small village out west would be just fine. But preferably not something that actually had a noble title attached to it.

“Ballybedknockerfillintheresthere” isn’t the point. The idea is to have a place name that looks near impossible to pronounce when written down but is very simple once you know the trick. I’m pretty certain that you can’t get from “somethinginirishgaelicthatlookscomplicated” to the English pronunciation of “Smith” but that’s the sort of thing I’m looking for.

So, anyone with any ideas?

It’s possible to do much the same in English itself of course, Cadogan and Caduggan, Cholmondleigh and Chumly, but looking for one in Gaelic to English.

16 thoughts on “Calling those who know their Irish Gaelic”

  1. Have you heard of the village and noble seat of Ancodlatasasanachd’aois? No? Well let me introduce you:

    It is just the Irish words”An codlata Sasanach d’aois” without spaces.

    It literally means: An old sleeping Englishman (Someone at a party that is not paying attention like the now infamous tale of Englishman that a whole village tricked into paying for a wake when no-one had really died)

    In joke referring to mixed “hibernian” heritage – yes
    Aristocratic sounding “d’aois” – yes
    Lack of an o’ anything – Yes (as this would indicate they had taken the soup but still wanting to hold on to that part of their name, they inserted it at the end)

  2. An old boy scout camp fire joke was to initiate the new ‘cruits into the ways of the Owotanasiam tribe. Involved dancing round the fire (or whatever elfinsafety let them have these days), chanting “Owotanasiam” until someone got it and fell about laughing.

    A lot of Irish personal names without a particular meaning got given something random in English, those with meaning generally got translated, which is more boring. For a place name you could do worse than start with the capital, which is Baile Átha Cliath (the town of the hurdled ford) in Irish.

  3. Bloke in Birmingham

    Plenty of weird and wonderful Irish names, Tim.
    Not sure how many would be suitable for what you’re looking for though;

    Dún Laoghaire is on the east coast and used to be called Kingstown although the name derives from a high king of ireland.

    Graiguenamanagh is quite tricky to pronounce but I don’t think it fits the bill.

    Then you have names like;
    Ó Muimhneacháin – Moynihan
    Ó Maolmmhuaidh/Ó Maolaoidh – Molloy
    Ó hEachtighearna/Ó hEachthairn – Aherne
    Ó Dorchaidhe – Darcy
    Ó Raithbheartaigh – Rafferty
    Ó Tighearnaigh – Tierney

    I used to know a lass with the delightful name Caoilfhionn which she pronounced kway-leen. (sortof)

    then you have Eibhlin (Eileen), Aoibhe (Eva)…….

  4. How about Doyle FitzDhomhaille of Cathairslievemona?

    That covers the Scandinavians, the Normans and the Celts in the personal name. The Doyle is Norse. The Fitz is Norman. And the Dhomhaille is one of the many spelling of the Celtic name Donald. Which is pronounced Doe.nell. So Doyle FitzDoenell spelled FitzDhomhaille.

    The place names means ring fort of the boggy mountain. Pronounced

    In real life you have the county of Laoighois, pronounced Leash. And someone mentioned Dun Laoighaire, pronounced, Done Leary.

    Remember this is after the major spelling reforms of the 1930’s when there were lots more letters in names. They got rid of up to half of the letters in some of them. My forename can be spelled either Seosamh or Iosaf and I know of at least six valid spellings of my surname. Some of which are pronounced very differently.

    And we wont even go near the utter insanity of Middle and Old Irish orthography..

  5. Seconding jmc’s comment about the spelling reform. If your story is set before the 1950’s there are likely to be more redundant letters in your character’s name. Copied from Wikipedia, here are some examples of how different the old and new spellings can be:

    beirbhiughadh / beiriú
    imthighthe / imithe
    faghbháil / fáil
    urradhas / urrús
    filidheacht / filíocht

    There’s a joke in there somewhere about someone having an epic faghbh´il in trying to spell the third one down.

  6. There is a type of rogue in Ireland we call a “cute hoor” – see “A shrewd scoundrel, especially in business or politics.”
    One Gaelic word for this is slíbhín – pronounced “sleeve – een”.
    This sounds like the Gaelic for little mountain. So have your characters call themselves Ó Slíbhín in Irish and Hill in English.

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