Index of Names in Irish Annals: Masculine Descriptive Bynames

by Mari Elspeth nic Bryan (Kathleen M. O'Brien)

© 2000-2006 by Kathleen M. O'Brien. All rights reserved.
Version 2.6, updated 23 August 2006


This article lists descriptive bynames used to describe a man in Irish annals. Descriptive bynames used to describe a woman have already been compiled.

This is an ongoing project. Over time, more pages will be added and the current pages will be updated with more examples.

At this time, the main concentration of names listed here are from the years 1200-1600. Eventually the years 500-1200 will be represented more fully than they are now.

Descriptive Bynames in Irish Gaelic Names

The vast majority of Irish names do not include a descriptive byname. My non-scientific guess at the moment is that less than 1 in 10 names included a descriptive byname. (When I can get farther into data analysis of the names in the annals, I can compile data to refine this guess.)

So, using a descriptive byname at all was an uncommon practice. Those descriptive bynames that do appear in Irish Gaelic names fall into a few basic categories. The vast majority of the descriptive bynames found in the annals indicate what a person looks like. All other types of bynames are comparatively rare.

So, while the practice of having a byname from a location was unremarkable in medieval England (names like John of Newcastle, John Welsh, etc.), it was a rare practice (referring to a location) of an overall uncommon practice (using descriptive bynames at all) in Irish Gaelic.

Using the Correct Form of a Descriptive Byname

NOTE: At this time, this construction summary only covers descriptive bynames used with a person's given name. Properly conjugating a descriptive byname to be used to modify an ancestor's given name in a patronymic phrase is a bit more complicated. A genitive form of the descriptive byname is used and it is lenited (or not) based upon the last letter of the preceeding word.

For a summary of common name constructions, see Quick and Easy Gaelic Names by Effric neyn Kenyeoch vc Ralte.

Basic Construction

Descriptive bynames appear after the given name they apply to. The simplest example is a descriptive byname that is an adjective. For example, a man named Domhnall who has black hair might be called

meaning 'Black Donald'. If Domhnall's father was named Cormac, then Domhnall's name would be

meaning 'Black Donald, son of Cormac'.

Domhnall is in the nominative case. Cormaic is the genitive case form of Cormac. In this example, Dubh is an adjective and the name it follows is in the nominative case. So the nominative case Dubh is used.

Some descriptive bynames are nouns rather than adjectives. When following a given name that's in the nominative case, sometimes the descriptive byname is a nominative form and sometimes it is a genitive form.

In this article, I only listed genitive forms for descriptive bynames that use a genitive form when used with a name in the nominative case. Since a nominative form of the descriptive byname is not used in names, I omitted it to reduce confusion.

Here is an example of a byname of this type. If Domhnall is known for something unusual about his nose (perhaps it was broken in a fight), then he would be known as:

meaning "Donald [of] the Nose, son of Cormac". The genitive case (na Sróna) is used here because Domhnall has an unusual nose, not Domhnall is an unusual nose. In the example above using Dubh, something about Domhnall is black.

WARNING: Names listed in entries for the years 500 - 700 A.D. are Old Irish forms of the name. During these years, a person's name would have been written in an earlier form of the language, Oghamic Irish. By the time these annals were written, centuries after the events record for these dates, the Irish language had changed significantly and the writers of the annals used their own language, including contemporary forms of names. The original form of the name would have been quite different. For example, the Old Irish masculine given name Conall evolved from an Oghamic precusor Conovalos.

Common Descriptive Bynames

[These were each used in reference to at least 10 different people]

All Descriptive Bynames

Go to the main page of the complete Index of Names in Irish Annals article.

Medieval Scotland | Medieval Names Archive | Index of Names in Irish Annals
Feminine Given Names | Feminine Descriptive Bynames | Masculine Given Names | Masculine Descriptive Bynames