In 1518 a City Council decreed “neither O' nor Mac shall strut and swagger through the streets of Galway”. The names of the native Irish male population all began with O’ or Mac meaning “grandson of” or “son of” followed by the personal name of the ancestor. In the late 16th century the Irish nation under duress began the process of changing their surnames to be more English sounding.
The English Poet Edmund
Spencer who spent 20 years in Ireland called upon the English to commit
genocide against the Irish as Earl Arthur Grey had done in 1582 using
brutal scorched earth tactics resulting in a serious famine which killed
as many as 30,000 people in just six months.
While the surname change
process was initiated by oppression it was not simply due to it alone
but was driven by a complex interplay of many different circumstances.
For example one could gain significant social advantages by appearing to
be English or to appear to be in support of the English. Families might
even be able to avoid land confiscations. However written records do
not allow us to count the many families went by their original name but
used an official name for paper records and interactions with
government. (perhaps this is the primary reason for the survival of
Irish surnames). A similar practice continues to this day most notably
in the forename Liam, almost no holder of this name is called Liam on
their birth certificate. They are all called William.
officials unfamiliar with the Irish language recorded surnames as the
heard them and thus wrote the names down a phonetically. For example Mag
Oireachtaig (Ma-gur-ach-ti) becomes Ma’Geraghty or Mac Geraghty.
Another scribe might hear it different like Mc Garrity or recorded it
carelessly. Thus one surname takes on the appearance of many and we get
all these variations Gerrity, Gerty, Gerighty, Gerighaty, Gerety,
Gerahty, Garraty, Geraty, Jerety, McGerity, MacGeraghty, MacGartie,
MacGarty and many more.
Misspellings were also common because
the uniformity of spelling we enjoy today was not present in the English
language until very recently. An interesting example is William
Shakespeare (1564-1616) who spelled his name in a variety of ways.
Despite his great learning and literary accomplishments 83 variants of
his name have been attested in English source material
translations of Irish names also occurs for example Ó Marcaigh to Ryder,
Ó Bradáin to Salmon and Fisher, Mac an tSaoir to Carpenter or Freeman ,
Mac Conraoi to King, Ó Draighneáin (meaning from a place abounding in
briars) is translated to Thornton. Ó Gaoithín (meaning from a windy
place) is translated to Wyndham.
Assimilation is the name
given to the process of substitution with foreign names of similar sound
or meaning like these French examples. Ó Lapáin became De Lapp, Ó
Maoláin became De Moleyns, Ó Duibhdhíorma became D'Ermott. Molloy (O’
Maol an Mhuaidh) and Mulligan (O’Maoláin) became Molyneux.
substitution occurs where the connection between the original surname
and the substitute is remote for example, Clifford for Ó Clúmháin,
Fenton for Ó Fiannachta, Loftus for Ó Lachtnáin, Neville for Ó Niadh,
Newcombe for Ó Niadhóg.
Sometimes rare names are often subsumed by more common names in a process called attraction.
Ó Bláthmhaic is anglicised as Blawick or Blowick and becomes Blake
Ó Braoin is anglicised as O'Breen, Breen becomes O'Brien,
Ó Duibhdhíorma is anglicised as O'Dughierma or Dooyearma, becomes MacDermott,
Ó hEochagáin is anglicised as O'Hoghegan becomes Mageoghegan,
Ó Maoil Sheachlainn is anglicised as O'Melaghlin becomes MacLoughlin.
Image taken from “Mapping the Emerald Isle: a geo-genealogy of Irish
surnames”. Tip: type in a name of interest or zoom to a place to see the
names associated with that place in 1890.