16th & 17th Century Anglicized Irish Surnames from Woulfe

by Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada (Kathleen M. O'Brien)

© 2005-2009 by Kathleen M. O'Brien. All rights reserved.
Version 1.6, updated 15 October 2009


Notation Used in this Article

The headers in Woulfe are Gaelic. Many include a character with a punctum delens (which looks like a dot over the letter). Throughout this article, I have translated these characters as the letter, followed by a period. Since these characters are routinely transliterated as the letter with an h after it, I have also included the "h" transliteration in parentheses after each header listing.

For example, Woulfe lists the header Albanac.. By the notation c., I'm indicating that a punctum delens appears over the c. When listing this header, I've listed it as:

Albanac. (Albanach)
with the standard transliteration form Albanach shown in parenthesis.

Source and Dates

The Anglicized Irish surname forms listed in this article are found in Woulfe as italicized forms listed in each surname entry. The edition of Woulfe that I used for this article was:

Woulfe, Rev. Patrick. Sloinnte Gaed.eal ir Gall / Irish Names and Surnames. Special Revised Edition. (Kansas City, MO: Irish Genealogical Foundation, 1992). ISBN: 940 134 40 3.

All of the Anglicized Irish surname forms listed in this article date from the time of Elizabeth I or James I. As Woulfe does not specify which form comes from which document, it is not possible to tell for a particular name whether that specific form dates to Elizabeth I or James I - just that it dates to one of those two reigns.

The Term Anglicized Irish

The term Anglicized Irish is generally used to refer to Irish Gaelic words (in this case, names) rendered in a phonetic or pseudo-phonetic form in historical documents written by an English speaker. The English-speaking scribe applied the spelling rules he was familiar with to the pronunciation of the Gaelic words (in many cases, names of people and locations) he needed to record as part of the document he was creating. Since Gaelic and English have different pronunciation rules, the spellings of Anglicized Irish names normally differ fairly dramatically from their Gaelic counterparts.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Anglicized Irish forms of a particular name would often vary quite a bit. Today, Anglicized Irish forms survive in English forms of Irish names that are familar to English speakers today, such as O'Brien, McClean, Keaveney, Kennedy, etc. Modernly, there are often fewer variant spellings in English for an Irish name than there were in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The modern reader should be aware that the patterns of spellings seen in English spellings of Irish names today do not necessarily match those seen in the 16th and 17th centuries. The pronunciation rules of English today differ in a number of ways from those seen in English in the Tudor, Elizabethan, and Stuart eras.

Additionally, "fanciful" spellings are the fashion today. While 16th and 17th century Anglicized Irish spellings may appear fanciful to the modern reader, they in fact often follow normal English pronunciation of that era. As a result, we need to leave most of our modern spelling preconceptions at the door when we examine the forms seen in this data and simply let the data illustrate what patterns do and do not exist within these examples.

Woulfe's Sources

The surnames listed in this article appear on pages 219 - 682 of Woulfe. Regarding these Anglicized Irish forms, Woulfe (p. 164, paragraph 2) states:

The older English or angl. forms, now obsolete, are printed in italics. These, which are nearly all taken from the Fiants of Elizabeth and the Patent Rolls of James I, show the different steps in the process of anglicising our surnames and generally supply the links between the Irish forms and its present-day angl. equivalents. These have not always been derived from the Irish surname either phonetically or by translation (see pp. 35-7), but substituted by attraction or assimilation (see pp. 37-9).

As a result, these surname forms date to the time of Elizabeth I - James I.

For comparison, Ewen (pp. 210-211) lists some entries from Patent Rolls of James I dating to 1603-4. It appears that Woulfe did not include a number (if any) of the Anglicized Irish surnames found in this list in Ewen.

Possible Normalization

The vast majority of Anglicized Irish forms of "O" and "Mac" style surnames listed in Woulfe that date to temp. Elizabeth I - James I are listed as O [Root] and M'[Root].

It is likely that Woulfe (or one of his sources) has normalized at least some of these names to this format since other examples from the Patent Rolls of James I found in Ewen show the formats Mc[Root] and O'[Root].

Further, among the surnames listed by Woulfe are:

Anglicized Irish SurnamePageHeader
MacAnthony317Mac Antoine
MacGillafyndean374Mac Giolla F.earga (Mac Giolla Fhearga)
MacMajoke388Mac Máig.eóc, Mac Máig.eóg (Mac Máigheóc, Mac Máigheóg)
McCada304Mac Áda, Mac Ádaid. (Mac Áda, Mac Ádaidh)
McGilliworyne317Mac Giolla Luait.rinn (Mac Giolla Luaithrinn)
McGlyn376Mag F.loinn (Mag Fhloinn)
Obuge439Ó Bogaig. (Ó Bogaigh)
O'Derrie498Ó Doireid., Ó Doirid. (Ó Doireidh, Ó Doiridh)
O'Diamain496Ó Diamáin
O'Doveanna514Ó Duib.eam.na (Ó Duibheamhna)
O'Glassnie541Ó Glaisne
O'Largan587Ó Loirgneáin

Given these examples, it is likely that at least some of the forms that Woulfe lists as M'[Root] appeared in the original text as Mac[Root] or Mc[Root]. Similarly, it's likely that at least some of the forms that Woulfe lists as O [Root] appeared in the original text as O[root] or O'[Root].

The Surnames

I've sorted the surnames in several different ways:


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