Irish Language Blog

You Just Call Out My Name (sa Tuiseal Gairmeach, of course, in Irish) (Pt. 2: Ainmneacha Cailíní) Posted by on Jun 11, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

Remember how “Séamas” changes to “a Shéamais” and “Sinéad” changes to “a Shinéad” for direct address in Irish?  (Nasc:  The first blog in this mini-series discussed Irish given names in general, and gave some specific examples for use with phrases like “Dia duit!” (Hello) and “Slán agat!” (Good-bye!).  We looked at a variety of names from “Aoife” to “Uileag” to see if they changed, and if so, how.

Here’s  a little quiz to jog your memory, based on the names discussed in Part 1.  Choose “athrú” to mean there will be a change when these names are used in direct address and “gan athrú” to mean there will be no change.  The actual direct address (vocative) forms are in the freagraí (thíos).

1. Aoife                        a) athrú                  b) gan athrú

2. Taidhgín                  a) athrú                b) gan athrú

3. Nabúcadnazar       a) athrú                 b) gan athrú

4. Beití                         a) athrú               b) gan athrú

5. Diarmaid                 a) athrú                b) gan athrú

That list, of course, was a mixture of men’s and women’s names.  The rest of this blog will focus on women’s names for one straightforward reason.  No, it’s not because of the principle “tosach do na mná,” but simply because women’s names will only change at the beginning for direct address, not at the end.  Men’s names may also change at the end, as do “Seán” and “Tomás” (becoming “a Sheáin” and “a Thomáis“), so we’ll save them for a future blog.

If the name begins with a vowel (Aoife, Eibhlín, Iarlaith, Oisín, Úna, srl.), there’s never a change to the beginning of the name — for men’s and women’s names.

Now let’s look at a batch of names for cailíní and mná, almost from A to Z. I say “almost” because there’s not much to choose from for the letters not traditionally part of the Irish alphabet (j, k, q, v, w, x, y, or z).  There’s no native version, afaik, of “Zelda” or “Zuleika,” but thanks to An Sean-Tiomna we do have “Zipiorá,” not that I’ve ever met a woman with that name, let alone spoken Irish with her!  In the list below, the direct address form is given first, then its pronunciation, then the root form (unchanged), and where possible, English equivalents or anglicized versions.   Out of these 20, only 9 actually show the change (séimhiú, lenition) at the beginning.*  With lenition, an “h” is added to the spelling and the pronunciation changes.  Can you spot which names undergo “séimhiú” before going through the list in detail?

a Aisling! [ uh ASH-ling]; Aisling: no real English equivalent but sometimes anglicized as “Ashleen.”

a Bhríd! [ uh VRzhEEDj]; Bríd: Bridget

a Cháit! [uh khawtch]; Cáit: Kate

a Dhearbháil! [uh YAR-uv-aw-il]; Dearbháil: Derval, Dervilla, Dervla

a Eilionóir! [uh EL-yun-oh-irzh]; Eilionóir: Eleanor, Elinor

a Fhionnuala! [uh IN-OO-uh-luh, note the silent “fh”]; Fionnuala; Finola, Fenella, sometimes “Penelope” or “Philomena,” although there’s no real connection.  “Philomena” actually has its own Irish version: Filimín.

a Ghearóidín! [uh YAR-ohdj-een]; Gearóidín: Geraldine

a Hilde! [uh HIL-djuh]; Hilde: Hilda, Hildy (Initial “h” isn’t very common in Irish)

a Íde! [uh EE-djuh]; Íde: Ida, Ita

J: No examples that I can find since “J” is not a traditional letter in the Irish alphabet.  The sound “j” is usually covered in Irish by “s” followed by “e” or “i” (Seosaimhín, Josephine) or by “i” (Imíomá, Jemima).  Very few words in Irish actually begin with a “j.”  Among those that do exist are “jab” (job), “jíp” (jeep), and “júdó” (all borrowings).

K: Like “j,” the letter “k” is not traditional in the Irish alphabet.  I don’t know of any names starting with “K” in Irish (remember, most “k”-names start with “c” in Irish: Cáit, Caitlín, Caoimhe, Ciara, srl.).  In fact, hardly any words in Irish start with “k,” since “c” serves the purpose.  Among  the few are Kafkach (Kafkaesque) and the abbreviation, “km/u,” which is loosely based on “kph” but actually translating “ciliméadar san uair.”  If “ciliméadar” were abbreviated as “cm,” it would be mistaken for “ceintiméadar.”  Counting “centimeters per hour ” (“cm/u,” if the term were ever needed) sounds like a pretty bleak prospect, unless we’re talking about very very very slow snails, or some other such creature, or else very very very miniature creatures, to whom an inch might seem like a mile.

a Lasairíona [uh LAS-irzh-EEN-uh]; Lasairíona: Lasarina.  This is a name I’ve encountered more often in Irish than in English!

a Mháirín! [uh WAW-irzh-een OR uh VAW-irzh-een, depending on dialect]; Máirín: Maureen

a Nuala! [uh NOO-uh-luh]; Nuala, no English equivalent; short for “Fionnuala

a Orlaith!, also spelled “a Orla!” [uh OR-luh!}; Orlaith, Orla: no English equivalent.  I prefer the longer spelling, since it actually shows the origin of the name from “Órfhlaith” [OR-luh, the “fh” is silent], lit. “golden lady.”

a Phádraigín! [uh FAW-drig-een]; Pádraigín: Patricia.

Q: again, almost non-existent in Irish and no names that I know of.   Of the handful of general words with “q” in Irish, there are “quasi-chíos” (quasi-rent), “quasi-theoiric” (quasi-theory), “quinín” (quinine),and “quipu” (quipu).  In these, the “q” element is clearly a borrowing or an adaptation.

a Ríte! [uh REE-tchuh]; Ríte: Rita

a Shibéal! [uh HIB-ayl]; Sibéal: Sybil, Sibby

a Threasa! [uh HRzhA-suh]; Treasa: Therese, Teresa, Theresa, Tessie

a Úna! [uh OO-nuh]; Úna: Una, Unity, Oona, Oonagh.  Also used for “Agnes,” a name which means “lamb” (“uan,” a near-anagram of “Úna,” in Irish) and for “Winifred,” which means “blessed reconciliation” and which has no real connection to “Úna” except the chance similarity in sound.

V: not used much in Irish, and very rarely in names.  I’ve occasionally seen “Victeoiria,” but the official spelling, at least, for the former English Queen and for the sponge cake remains “Victoria.”  In men’s names, there is, of course, Vailintín.  Scottish Gaelic sports “Bhioctoiria” for “Victoria” (remember: “bhi” sounds like “vi”)  and in Welsh, the name is equivalent to “Buddug” (victorious one).  But, in general, for “v-names” in Irish, it’s pretty slim pickins’!

W, X, Y: no names that I know of, and very few words of any sort.  The generic words that do exist are all borrowings or adaptations, such as “wigwam” (yes, just like that), “xileafón,” and “yóyó.”

a Zipiorá! [uh ZIP-yor-aw OR uh zip-YOR-aw].  Zipiorá: Zipporah.   If you find some practical application for that one, please let me know!  Or if you have a chance to talk to Maois, you might ask how she’s keepin’?  Cén fáth?  Bean Mhaois (Moses’s wife) a bhí inti.   

Bhuel, sin é ó “a” go “z,” ach amháin an dornán litreacha nach bhfuil coitianta i nGaeilge.  So that’s at least part of the picture for when you’re calling out someone’s name in Irish.  In other words, it’s all about the vocative (or “calling”) case, aka “an tuiseal gairmeach.”  More to come.  SGF, Róislín

* Some speakers also make an oral distinction between a regular “l” and “n” and a lenited “l” and “n.”  But this is never shown in writing and is not all that prevalent these days, mostly being a dialect feature.


1. a Aoife (Aoife), b) gan athrú

2. a Thaidhgín (Taidhgín), a) athrú

3. a Nabúcadnazar (Nabúcadnazar), b) gan athrú

4. a Bheití (Beití), a) athrú

5. a Dhiarmaid (Diarmaid), a) athrú

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  1. Chris Nash:

    I am looking to have my 3 children’s names translated to Irish Gaelic. Is there any way someone can help? Their names are: Allyson, Thomas, and Abigail. I am also looking for a way to write them once translated into Gaelic script – can someone point me in the right direction?

    I appreciate any help.

    Thank you

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