A Letter from Ireland:
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Is this an Irish or an English Surname?

SURNAMES IN GAELIC SCRIPT 7

I often get asked “Is xxxx an English or an Irish name” – for example – here’s a question from Sandra Lee:

“I wonder if you can tell me if the names Bagley and Begley were sometimes interchanged.  I read someplace where that sometimes happened.  My father’s name was Bagley and my mother’s maiden name was Turner.  I always thought of Turner as an English name, but I see you have t-shirts with the name Turner on them, so is Turner also Irish?”

My answer? These names are BOTH English and Irish. But let’s dig a little deeper. Remember that Ireland is a country which at one time had its own native language – all surnames were spoken in that language for hundreds of years.

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We also had a number of “visitors” over the centuries who heard these Irish names spoken – and the only way they could relate to them was with reference to familiar English names and sounds.

Let’s go back to “Bagley” – in fact, let’s start with the Irish name Ó Beaglaoich – which comes from a nickname “little hero”. When this was translated phonetically into English, it became the name “Begley” we know today. However, in some parts of the country – Ó Beaglaoich was heard and it equated with a near-sounding English name: “Bagley”.

So, over the centuries – some Bagleys in Ireland derive from the Irish Ó Beaglaoich and some are the original English/Scottish planters who brought the English version of the name with them.

The story behind Turner is somewhat similar to Bagley – except it is mostly an English and a Scots Gaelic name. The Scots Gaelic version is “Mac an tuirnéir” which gets anglicised as Turner. So, you will probably find both kinds of Turners in Ireland through plantations over the centuries.

In summary – is this name English or Irish? Well, it’s both – that’s the simple answer. A more specific answer for Sandra is that it depends on your specific family history.

What do you think? Comments and questions welcome below!

  • Cathal Mac Cárthaigh says:

    Great initiative, website and FB page.
    It’s a pity you didn’t consistently apply the old Irish script in the Irish version of the surnames on the T-shirts. While you correctly do not have a dot over the”i’s” in the Irish version, I would prefer if you had a dot (séimhiú) over the consonants rather than a following “h”. *e.g. “D buailte” rather than “Dh”

    • Mike says:

      Hi Cathal – thanks for the feedback. I’m with you on the séimhiú – but we decided that for now that would be a step too far visually and phonetically for the majority of readers. Maybe in the future. Mike.

  • Diane Sands says:

    I never see anything about my maternal grandfather’s name, Nee. Can you give me any history on the name? My grandfather was born in Spiddal, County Galway. I still have relatives living on the land where my grandfather was born. I visited them in 1977, but I haven’t been back since.

    • Mike says:

      H Diane – I have featured this name before in my Facebook feed. I had pictures of the island of Inishnee just near Roundstone in Connemara (you might visit it someday!). Nee comes from the Irish name Ó Niadh and is found mostly in county Galway. Mike.

  • deanna says:

    My name was gibbs which we thought was english but we traced back to ireland instead it was spelled differently

  • Riobárd DeMóinbhiol says:

    I would say all the ” Irish names” we are familiar with,i.e.Murphy, Kelly, O’Donovan, aren’t Irish names at all. They are anglicised versions of Irish names. I know this might sound strange to most, but O’Murchadha was the name used by that sect until Gaeilge was extinguished by the Anglos. This maybe over simplifying things, but this is how I see it.
    Riobárd deMóinbhíol( Robert Mansfield ).

  • Morgen Turner says:

    Are all turners related in some way? I read that all turners lead back to one original.

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