Women’s Names among the Scots and Irish

Genealogists tend to make a hash of women’s names because they don’t know, or don’t acknowledge, the cultural rules that would have applied at a particular time and place. The names of pre-Modern women in Scotland and Ireland is a particularly difficult area.

So often people tell me they just want a rule of thumb. My response is that it would be much better to use the names they’re found in primary sources.

Admittedly, that begs the question of how to understand and interpret the names we find. I’m watching for a good, introductory level discussion. In the meantime, I’ve come across this short piece by Barry McCain.

A married woman would take her husband’s surname, but the prefix form was different than the male form. Ó became Uí and Mac became Mhic. This name change did not always hide the surname of the woman’s father however. In traditional Gaelic society some women retained their father’s surname due to the strong sense of family and clan affiliation. This was done when the woman was the daughter of a land holding family and had high status within society.

Two examples from the mid to late 1500s that I located in my own research are: Fionnuala Nic Eáin married Dónaill Mac Ailín. Her “married name” becomes Fionnuala Mhic Ailín. In actuality, she retained her maiden name in the community and is listed by that name in the records. Her name appears crudely anglicised as Finvall Nikean.

If that sounds like the kind of thing you need to know, I encourage you to read the entire article.

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