Irish Language Blog

Five More Irish Names for Boys – Seán, Séamas, Seosamh, Liam, Mícheál, Pt. 3: Liam, Mícheál Posted by on Apr 14, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Liam - A Liam - leabhar LiamContinuing our coverage of Irish personal names, this blogpost will look at “Liam” and “Mícheál.”  Bhí na hainmneacha “Seán” agus “Séamas” agus “Seosamh” sna blagmhíreanna roimhe seo.

The good news for the name “Liam” is that there are no spelling changes with this word (i.e. no inserted “h’s” or “i’s”).  So the forms are, quite straightforwardly:

Liam [LyEE-um], equivalent to “William,” also used when the name or nickname (leasainm) is “Bill” or “Will.”

direct address form / vocative case: “A Liam!” [uh LyEE-um].  “Luigh ar an leaba, a Liam!” (giving a nice workout of the broad “l” and the slender “l”).  There’s no spelling change to the name “Liam,” but there are some speakers who pronounce a lenited slender “l,” even though they don’t write it (no one writes it in Irish).  It’s basically extra slender and it’s not readily transcribable in my rough pronunciation guide.  This phenomenon has been described as largely among “older speakers” since I first read of it in the 1980s, so you may not hear the slight difference in everyday speech.

Hmm, I’m tempted to add “liom” to my example above.  “Luigh ar an leaba liom, a Liam!”  Gives it a slightly different slant, doesn’t it?

Of course, we could nip any implications in the bud and vary it further, “Luigh ar an leaba liom agus léigh leabhar liom, a Liam!” (Lie on the bed with me and read a book with me, Liam!).

possessive form / genitive case: Liam [no change in spelling].  Samplaí: “leaba Liam,” “leabhar Liam,” and for a little more broad/slender workout, “luchóg Liam” and “long Liam.”

And now for a name which not only goes through changes for the direct address and possessive forms, but also has at least one widely-used variation and one other variation that is, i mo thaithí féin, not particularly common.

Mícheál [MEE-hyawl], Michael.

direct address form / vocative case: “A Mhíchíl!” [uh VEE-hyeel].  “Dia dhuit, a Mhíchíl!”  Notice that the “-eá-” vowel cluster has completely disappeared and is replaced by a long “i” (Í).

variation: “A Mhícheáil!” [uh VEE-hyaw-il].  Still slenderizing the final “n” but keeping the “eá” vowels.

possessive form / genitive case: Mhíchíl [VEE-hyeel].  Sampla: veidhlín Mhíchíl.

variation: Mhícheáil [VEE-hyaw-il].  Sampla: víosa Mhícheáil.  Or just to get fancy: vis-à-vis víosa Mhícheáil.  And yes, Irish, just like English, and no doubt many other languages, incorporates phrases from other languages, especially French and Latin.

And there’s actually yet another variation but I can’t say I’ve seen it written very much:


A Mhaidhceal!

Mhaidhcil: a possessive form, doesn’t show up real often, i mo thaithí féin, but there are some references, like the name “Máirtín Mhaidhcil Ó Cadhain” ( or Cóilín Mhaidhcil Úna, which was the community name of the late Cóilín Ó Domhnail [sic per], of Tír an Fhia, who had been “fear an phoist” for 40 years prior to his death in 2005 (

I get a slight indication from online examples that the name is sometimes just “Maidhcil” throughout (not with the “-eá-” form), and in that case the only changes would be for the lenition (“A Mhaidhcil!” and “Mhaidhcil“).

If anyone else has some more examples, or knows more about the usage of “Maidhceal / Mhaidhcil,” please do write in and let us know.

And then there’s the nickname:

Maidhc (sounds like “Mike”)

A Mhaidhc!” (the “mh” is a “w” sound, the rest of the word is the same as above)

madra Mhaidhc (pronunciation as noted directly above) or as in the name of the late author Johnny Chóil Mhaidhc Ó Coisdealbha (1929-2006)

Bhuel … and btw, I use the word “bhuel,” like, a lot, you know, ‘cuz at least it sounds a little more “bhuelifluous” than loading up the text with “likes” and “you knows,” in my attempt to keep the blog sounding a bit “chatty” and not overly grammar-driven.  And you’ve been pronouncing that “bhuel”  like the English word “well,” haven’t you?  The “bh” is a “w” sound — remember, the letter “w” itself is very very rarely used in Irish, as we recently discussed and as we saw in today’s blogpost, where the “mh” has a “w” sound.  And the “ue” is almost unique in Irish, and not pronounced like English “gruel” or “fuel.”  The “u” keeps the “bh” broad and the vowel sound is essentially the short “e,” as in “well” or “bell” or the Irish “eile.” So, bhuel, á, sin é don bhlagmhír seo.  Céard a dhéanfaidh mé ina dhiaidh seo?  Níos mó ainmneacha?  Ábhar eile ar fad?  Moltaí?  Pé scéal é — SGF — Róislín

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  1. Bryan:

    Firstly, I really love your blog. I am currently trying to learn Irish (again) and find it really useful to go back through your posts.

    Pronunciation is one of the biggest issues I have, so I was interested in reading your last paragraph about the ‘w’ sound in ‘bhuel’. Am I right in thinking that ‘bh’ in Irish can be pronounced as either ‘w’ or ‘v’? And that the reason that it is one or the other is because of the letters that follow? Is this the same for ‘mh’?

    • róislín:

      @Bryan A Bhriain, a chara,

      Glad to hear that you enjoy the blog. Pronunciation is a big issue for a lot of people. You’re right about the “mh” and “bh” sounds. The pronunciation depends primarily on what vowels are adjacent to the “mh” or “bh.” So:
      a bhord [uh word, but not like the English “word,” the vowel sound is more like the English “board” or “floored,” with the “r” flapped, i.e. slightly trilled). In Munster Irish, however, this would have a “v” sound even though the next vowel is “broad” (“o” is a “guta leathan). Similarly with “A Mháire!” [uh WAWRzh-uh] but in Munster Irish [uh VAWRzh-uh].
      a bhean [uh van], the “bhe” would always be pronouned “v,” in all dialects. Similarly, “a mhic” [uh vik], in all dialects.

      These rules may change when the “bh” or “mh” in question is in the middle of a word or at the end of a word:
      léamh – I’ve heard a final “v” sound (mostly) and sometimes a final “oo” sound
      Siobhán – I’ve heard this “bh” as a “v” a lot, even though the spelling is “broad.” When the “bh” is pronounced broad, the vowel sound also seems to change, and in fact, the “bh” may be dropped from the spelling, as in “Siún Ní Dhuibhir” (the song). HTH – R

      PS: So we could sum it up as having 3 factors: broad/slender vowels, position in the word (beginning, middle, end), and dialect.

  2. Bryan:

    That’s brilliant, Róislín, go raibh maith agat! I think I’m going to have to go back over ‘caol agus leathan’, but what you’re saying makes sense when I think of some of the ‘bh’ and ‘mh’ words whose pronunciation I know (‘guta leathan’ is a new one for me, though). Dialect is another issue that I didn’t even consider, as I have no idea what dialect I’m learning, but, y’know, baby steps.

    • róislín:

      @Bryan ‘Sea, mionchéim tar éis mionchéime!

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