Irish Language Blog

You Just Call Out My Name (sa Tuiseal Gairmeach, of course, in Irish) (Pt. 3: Ainmneacha Buachaillí) Posted by on Jun 14, 2013 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

In several previous blogs (links below), we looked at Irish names used in direct address, focusing on names for girls and women in the most recent one.   Today we’ll look at saying names for buachaillí (boys) and fir (men) when you’re speaking directly to them.

In English, there is no official change when we use names in direct address, although the intonation might be a little different, and there’s a slight pause or a comma before or after the name, depending on the word order.  Somehow, thinking of that, I can just hear Professor Gilderoy Lockhart’s voice as he says, in direct address, “Harry, Harry, Harry.  Can you possibly imagine a better way to serve detention, than by helping me to answer my fan mail?” (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, movie, 2002).  And I can only imagine the intonation of the mother’s voice in the unforgettable line from Frank O’Connor’s An Only Child, “Tommy, come in to your tea, toast and two eggs!”  Tommy’s “loud mother” represented the ultimate snobbery from young Frank’s perspective by announcing up and down the street that Tommy would have “two eggs.”  My Irish translation for those two quotes can be found below, if you’re interested. Except for possible issues of intonation and timing, though, using direct address in English requires no special changes.

Not so with Irish!

In direct address in Irish, women’s and men’s names will change form if they start with the following consonants: b, c, d, f, g, m, p, s, t.  In each case, the spelling is changed by adding an “h” after the initial consonant (bh, ch, dh, fh, gh, mh, ph, sh, th) and the pronunciation is adjusted accordingly.

You might recognize the change from the song “Connla,” where each time the woman tells Connla not to come any nearer to her, she addresses him as “a Chonnla,” often followed by “a chroí” (dear, darling).  With the word “Connla” itself, the “c” has a “k” sound, but with “Chonnla,” the initial sound is typically represented by “kh.”  It’s the same sound as in German “Achtung,” Welsh “bach” and “fach,” and Yiddish “Chutzpah“.  In the International Phonetic Alphabet, this sound is represented by /x/, in slanted brackets, but in general in this blog, I’ve used a somewhat more transparent system.   In my experience, using /x/ for this voiceless velar fricative sound brings up as many questions as it answers.  If you’ve never heard the song “Connla,” here’s one version:, with the late great Joe Heaney.  The video is as sionc, but it’s well worth listening to.

Both women’s and men’s names are equally affected by this initial sound change (a Phóilín, a Phóil; a Sheosaimhín, a Sheosaimh; a Ghearóidín, a Ghearóid, srl.).  But men’s names also undergo an additional change, at the end of the word, if they end with a broad consonant (a consonant preceded by one of the three “broad” vowels: a, o, u).  Examples we’ve seen before are “a Shéamais” for “Séamas,” and “a Thomáis” for “Tomás.”  The letter “i” is inserted before the final consonant, causing a change in the sound, sometimes a little subtle (Cathal / a Chathail!) and other times quite pronounced (Tomás / a Thomáis!).

Here are some more examples, as close to “A” to “Z” as I can get, given the relative absence of eight (j, k. q, v, w, x, y, z) of the 21 consonants typically used in English.  As with the women’s names in the last blog, the direct address form is first, then pronunciation, then the basic form of the name, and finally, the English equivalent or anglicization.

a Alsandair! [uh AL-SAHN-dirzh]; Alsandar: Alexander

a Bhriain! [uh VRzhEE-in]; Brian; Brian

a Chathail! [uh KHAH-hil]; Cathal: no real English equivalent but sometimes slightly anglicized as “Cahal,” since the “t” is silent anyway

a Dhéagláin! [uh YAYG-law-in]; Déaglán: Declan

a Éamainn! [uh AY-min]; Éamann; Eamon, Edmond

a Fhiontáin! [uh IN-taw-in]; Fiontán; Fintan

a Ghearailt! [uh YAR-iltch]; Gearalt: Gerald

a Hoireabaird! [uh HIRzh-yuh-birdj]; Hoireabard: Herbert (not to be mixed up with “a Hoireabhard!,” which would be used for a man named “Hereweard,” and which is exceptional in not changing at the end, as with Liam, Proinsias, and Uileag/Uileog)

a Íomhair! [uh EE-virzh]; Íomhar: Ivor

a Jeaic! [uh jak]; Jeaic: Jack; no traditional examples for “j” but “Jeaic” is sometimes seen now

K: no known examples, “k”-names typically beginning with “c” in Irish (Ciarán, Cillian, Caoimhín, srl.)

a Labhráis! [uh LOW-rawsh]; Labhrás: Lawrence

a Mharcais! [uh WAR-kish]; Marcas: Mark, Marcus

a Niocláis! [uh NIK-lawsh]; Nioclás: Nicholas

a Oscair! [uh OS-kirzh]; Oscar: Oscar

a Pheadair! [uh FA-dirzh]; Peadar: Peter

Q: no known examples.  In general, very few words in Irish begin with the letter “q.”  For most pairs of cognates beginning with “q” in English, the first letter is “c” in Irish: (ceist, cuóta, srl. and the surnames Ó Coinn and Ó Coigligh).  There aren’t very many men’s names beginning with “q” in English; of those, “Quentin” (Quintin) is one but the Irish “equivalent,” is “Cúmhaí” in Irish, also starting with “c” (and not very widespread, i mo thaithí féin, ar a laghad).  “Cúmhaí” is not even really all that equivalent to “Quentin,” since “Cúmhaí” means “hound of the plain” and “Quentin” means “fifth.”  Curious!

a Rónáin! [uh ROH-naw-in]; Rónán: Ronan

a Shailbheastair! [uh hal-VAS-tirzh]; Sailbheastar: Sylvester

a Thiarnáin! [uh HEER-naw-in]; Tiarnán: Tiernan

a Ultáin! [uh UL-taw-in]; Ultán: Ultan

a Vailintín! [uh VAL-in-tcheen]; Vailintín: Valentine.  Note that this name already has the “i” before the final consonant, so there’s no change at the end.  I can’t find any examples that start with “v” and end in a broad consonant.  As for other names starting with “V,” if you’re wondering about “Victor,” it’s “Buach,” and “Vincent” (Uinseann) starts with a vowel so wouldn’t undergo the lenition change.

W, X, Y: no known examples.  The relatively small number of names that start with these letters in English start with different letters in Irish, again reminding us that these letters are not traditional in the Irish alphabet.  For example, “Walter” is “Ualtar” or “Uaitear” and Xavier may retain its “X” and remain “Xavier” or it may be gaelicized as “Saebhaer.”

a Zacháias [uh ZAKH-aw-ee-us] Zacháias: Zacchaeus.  Like “Proinsias,” this is one of the exceptions, with no change at the end, even though the final consonant is “broad.”  A name from An Tiomna Nua.  And, lo and behold, unlike a lot of Biblical names, which aren’t attested in the vocative in Irish, this one actually does show up in direct address in Lúcas 19:7 (“Nuair a tháinig Íosa go dtí an áit, bhreathnaigh sé suas [an crann seiceamair] agus dúirt leis: “A Zacháias, déan deifir agus tar anuas, óir is i do theachsa nach foláir dom fanacht inniu.”).  If you don’t recall that exact scene, you might want to check out the children’s song “Zacchaeus,” or sometimes “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man” (nasc:

As with the feminine names, we have 20 examples, including one each for initial “v” and initial “z,” although these would be fairly unusual in Irish.  Also, as we discussed with the feminine names, lenition may be heard but not written for initial “l” and initial “n,” but this is limited among native speakers, and, in my experience, quite rare among second-language speakers.

When to apply all of this?  Anytime you’re speaking directly to someone or in salutation in a letter, if you’re on a first-name basis with the recipient:

Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú, a Sheáin?

A Sheáin, a chara (salutation for a letter to Seán)

Slán go fóill, a Sheáin!

Dún do bhéal, a Sheáin!  That means “Shut up, Seán!”  This use of “shut up,” as a direct command, is quite literal and shouldn’t be confused with the newer, trendier “Shaddup!,” said with ironic intonation and indicating disbelief.   “An ndeir tú liom?” (Do you tell me so?)  or “An ea?” (Is it so?) would serve the ironic or disbelief function in Irish.  In my limited experience with the English disbelief-marking “shaddup,” it’s not followed by someone’s name, anyway, so I doubt there would be any confusion.

But we could consider the Irish for a comic and ironic use of “shut up” dating back to 1924, and more recently found on Fairly Oddparents:

“Shut up, and kiss me!”  Let’s say we’re going to add “Uileog” (Ulysses) to the phrase.  Why “Uileog“?  Because it’ll rhyme!  That would be “Dún do bhéal agus tabhair dhom póg, a Uileog!”

Hmmm, I guess that must have been Penelope speaking!  After all, she did wait fiche bliain for Ulysses to return!

Bhuel, there’s a lot more we could say about ainmneacha Gaeilge, but this and the previous two blogs should give you some solid stepping-stones for using people’s names in Irish.  Some day, some blog, we’ll get into genitive cases, surnames, name origins, and other aspects of ainmeolaíocht (onomastics).  SGF, Róislín

Na hAthfhriotail Thuas Aistrithe go Gaeilge

1) “A Harry, a Harry, a Harry.  An féidir leat smaoineamh ar chaoi ar bith a bheadh ní b’fhearr le do “choinneáil istigh” a chur isteach ná cuidiú a thabhairt dom le freagraí do mo litreacha móidíneacha a scríobh?”

“Harry, Harry, Harry.  Can you possibly imagine a better way to serve detention, than by helping me to answer my fan mail?”  (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, movie, 2002).

I leave that “Harry” as “Harry” since the Irish version of Rowling’s book does.  Often “Anraí” (Henry) is used for “Harry” in Irish.

2) “A Thomaisín, tar isteach do do chuid tae, do chuid tósta, agus an ubh a bheas agat!

“Tommy, come in to your tea, toast and two eggs!”  (Frank O’Connor, An Only Child)

NB: in “do do chuid tae,” the first “do” is “for” and the second “do” is “your.”

Links to previous blogs in this series: and

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  1. Rosaí:

    Tá sé seo an áisiúil, grma.

    • róislín:

      @Rosaí Tá áthas orm gur bhain tú sult as, a Rosaí!

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