I guess my faux pas some years ago about the Mc versus Mac lives on! Let me
explain the story as my research tells me.
Mc, Mac, O' and variants (Ma, Mag, M', Map) are Gaelic patronymics.
Patronymics are "surnames" taken from a father's first name. Just as the
Nordic languages use -sen or -son at the end to indicate Johnson, son of
John, so are the MacDonalds, son of Donald.
The oldest origin in Gaelic of these patronymics was the Irish O' and it
could be any older male ancestor - not specifically the father. For example,
the O'Loghlin research I am doing reveals that the name O'Loghlin is a
derivative of the O'Connor clan, which has been somewhat documented back to
late BC - early AD in the Annals of the Masters. The O'Connors were the
"kings" or "chiefs" of Burren (an early chiefdom in County Clare). Around
400 A.D. there was a great leader named Lachlan (various spellings) of the
O'Connor clan who was the ruling chief. His great grandson Melachlan assumed
the throne upon his own father's death. Melachlan, I guess not being
satisfied with his given name being after that of his great grandfather, he
changed his clan name to also honour his great grandfather and thus became
Melachlan O'Lachlan (O'Loghlin, O'Loghlen, O'Laughlan and other permutations
are found throughout the history). This is the root of all O'Loghlin names
(the McLaughlins formed somewhat later and elsewhere in Ireland).
In fact the Mc/Mac combinations seemed to derive later than the O'
combinations. Initially the Mc/Mac was used to distinguish the father more
specifically than the elder lineage. Spelling was never important in those
days as there was no standardization. Few people were literate anyway and
pronunciation was the only guide. Thus the spelling usually evolved from the
accents of the particular area.
The Irish appear to have used all these combinations long before they were
used in what is now Scotland. In fact modern Scottish people descend mainly
from very early Irish Scoti tribesmen who were a seafaring lot. They
migrated to Scotland and named the country after their tribe. The Scottish
people intermarried with the Picts who lived there and thus evolved
separately from the Irish but brought their naming practices with them -
though the O' practice seems to have died out there.
Now the Mc and Mac spellings are not Gaelic but are the Anglicized froms and
evolved from pronunciation differences among the Irish and the Scottish and
the Welsh. The early Anglicized spellings that evolved were Mc in Ireland,
Mac in Scotland and Map in Wales.
However, in early medieval times (800-900 A.D.) the movement of people
became more common especially among the adventurers and warriors who moved
beyond the confines of their islands and communities. The Irish brought the
Scottish their pronunciations and spellings and the Scottish brought the
Irish their versions and eventually the Welsh pronunciations and spellings
transformed as well. Thus from the period in which we are most likely able
to trace back to our ancestors' names the Anglicized spelling variations now
show up in any part of the British Isles/Ireland. The variants include
M', Mag, Maq, Ma as well as the Mc, Mac and Map forms.
I should not have glossed over the explanation but you see it is somewhat
I never meant to imply that all the Mc names now are Irish or that all the
Mac names now are Scottish. The origins are the same - i.e. from Gaelic. The
pronunciations originally varied as did the spelling by regions but as soon
as there was more interchange through commerce, war and other intermingling
the differences became no longer region specific.
à bientôt or perhaps I should say "Slán agus beannacht leat" (goodbye and
blessings on you),
Xenia Stanford (president@...)
A.G.E. Ancestree Genealogical Enterprises
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