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Archiver > GENIRE > 2003-03 > 1047135045

From: "Sean MacLochlainn" <>
Subject: Re: "SURNAMES" - When did this practice start????
Date: Sat, 8 Mar 2003 14:50:45 -0000
References: <> <b46cl1$65d$> <pC%9a.85792$> <b4afcq$2sq$> <7emaa.86109$>

Alan O'Neill wrote:
> I ask because Domhnall Ardmacha Ua Niall, 173rd King of Ireland (956
> - 980 AD) and first to be titled Ard Ri nEirann is recorded as the
> first Irishman to use the prefix "Ua" ("O") as part of a surname.
> You will note the period of his reign begins 20 years earlier than
> your date.

I have a couple of points to make:

1). How can Domhnall be "173rd King of Ireland" and at the same time be
"first to be titled Ard Ri nEirann" (= 'high king of Ireland')?

The answer is that the first hundred and twenty five kings of Ireland
recorded by the gullible from the likes of Keating and O Hart are
mythological while the next fifty or so are kings of Tara misdescribed as
kings of Ireland. The kings of Tara were the most prominent kings *in*
Ireland but they were not kings *of* Ireland until quite late.

2). The formation of Gaelic Irish surnames is dealt with in `Aspects of
Irish Personal Names' by Brian O Cuiv, Celtica, volume XVIII, page 181-183.
To summarise O Cuiv, a patronymic becomes a surname in the following way:

Mac surnames

Y mac X (a patronymic nickname meaning 'son of X')
Z Mac X (this is no longer literally true and therefore transforms into the
surname Mac X)

Ua surnames

Y ua W (a patronymic nickname meaning 'grandson of W')
Z Ua W (this is no longer literally true and therefore transforms into the
surname Ua W)

(Note: It is a modern convention to use a lowercase mac or ua for a
patronymic and a capitalised Mac or Ua for a surname, just so everyone
knows what is meant)

The Domhnall you speak of in the period 956-980 AD was a grandson of Niall
glundubh according to the genealogies (eg: Laud 610, Rawlinson B502) so
because he *is * the grandson of someone called Niall, ua Niall in this
case is a patronymic rather than a surname. To find the first Ua Niall you
have to look at Niall's sons, and their first recorded usage of the surname
Ua Niall is sometime after 976 AD.


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