Friday, January 20, 2017

Surname Saturday: Irish Surnames: Did you know?

In the 14th century, two hundred years after the Anglo-Normans invaded Ireland, many of their descendants could no longer read English. It was thought by the English Government that they were becoming 'too Irish'; therefore, any Englishman living on the island of Ireland was compelled by law to use only surnames which were deemed to be of English origin.

A 1366 Statute in English law reads as follows:

"Every Englishman do use the English language, and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish."

In the 15th century a law was enacted compelling Irishmen, who resided in particular districts of Ireland in which they might find themselves living near to English persons, to use only English surnames.

The law of 1465 reads as follows:

"Every Irishman that dwells betwixt or amongst Englishmen in the County of Dublin, Myeth [County Meath], Vriell [County Louth], and Kildare shall take to him an English Surname of one town, as Sutton, Chester, Trym, Skryne, Corke, Kinsale; or colour, as white, blacke, browne; or art or science, as smith or carpenter; or office, as cooke, butler."


If ever you are wondering about the origins of an Irish family surname such as Cook or Butler, or why the surnames of your Irish ancestors appear to inexplicably change, this may have something to do with it.


Source: Sir Robert E. Matheson: Special Report on Surnames in Ireland with Notes as to Numerical Strength, Derivation, Ethnology, and Distribution; Based on Information Extracted from the Indexes of the General Register Office, Alex. Thom & Co. (Ltd.), Dublin, 1909.

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