Irish names and gender neutrality

Dia daoibh!

So I know this topic has been mentioned a few times on the board but I couldn't find anything on names specifically.

I've lived in Ireland my whole life, so native speaker but not even slightly fluent. I'm non-binary, use gender neutral pronouns in English and have changed my name but when I decided to take up learning Irish again I remembered having to use a gender prefix when translating my name into Irish. (e.g. Boyle becomes "Ó'Baoighill/Ní Baoighill" - if my memory is right - to be "son of Boyle"/"daughter of Boyle" respectively.) I doubt there's a gender neutral version but if anyone has any suggestions or thoughts on what I could use instead, I'd love to hear them!

Go raibh maith agat!

June 21, 2018


To continue with your Boyle example, Boyle would become Ó Baoighill (ó is “grandson”; the apostrophe in English, a poor substitute for a síneadh fada, isn’t used) or Ní Bhaoighill ( is a shortened form of iníon uí, “daughter of the grandson”, and causes lenition).

One option for a gender-neutral version would be to change the surname into its adjectival -(e)ach form: just as e.g. Ó Briain and Ní Bhriain have the alternative form Brianach (which changes the genitive Briain back to the nominative Brian-), Ó Baoighill and Ní Bhaoighill could be changed into their adjectival form Baoigheallach. Note that Baoigheallach would be lenited in the nominative (and declined and lenited in the vocative) when it directly follows a grammatically feminine first name, like any other attributive adjective of a non-genitive singular feminine noun. Similarly, it would be declined and lenited in the genitive and vocative when it directly follows a grammatically masculine first name, like any other attributive adjective of a non-nominative singular masculine noun.

Another (non-traditional) approach would be to replace ó or with sliochtach (“descendant”). Since sliochtach is a masculine noun that refers to a descendant of any type, the surname Sliochtach Baoighill would be a gender-neutral way of expressing descent from Baoigheall.

In any case, the surname itself is declined and mutated whenever needed, e.g. “Boyle’s house” using the adjectival -(e)ach form of the surname would be teach an Bhaoigheallaigh.

June 21, 2018

This is really helpful, thank you! I suppose the "Baoigheallach" more literally translates as a "_ who is Boyle-like/Boyl-ish" I'd like to be able to share this idea with others so I'd like to know what would be inferred or suggested by using it.

I've also had Ua suggested as an alternative to Ó because it also means descendant but without the connotation of masculine - I've not been able to confirm that outside of one website though.

June 25, 2018

Yes, Baoigheallach is “Boylesque”. ;*) Some Irish surnames default to the adjectival -(e)ach form due to their origins as adjectives, e.g. Breathnach (“Walsh” [a variant spelling of “Welsh”]), but the majority of surnames default to one of the Ó /  or Mac / Nic forms. Since I’m not from Ireland, I don’t know what (if anything) would be inferred or suggested by someone preferring to call himself Seán Baoigheallach instead of Seán Ó Baoighill or Máire Bhaoigheallach instead of Máire Ní Bhaoighill. I’d imagine that a fluent Irish speaker would best be able to discuss such inferences or suggestions, if such inferences or suggestions exist.

Ua is just an older alternative spelling of Ó (see here for an example). To my knowledge, ua has exactly the same connotations as ó, in that in Middle Irish, if not Old Irish also, it could be used for either “grandson” or “granddaughter” (and ua was still offered as a translation of “grand-daughter” in the EID, in 1959); but as far as I know, its derived “descendant” meaning only refers to males, unlike sliochtach.

June 25, 2018

Ua is just an older spelling of Ó, which is the reason the genitive of 'Ó' is 'Uí'

July 5, 2018

One of the early episodes of the Motherfoclóir podcast dealt with the issue of gendered surnames, and how some people deal with the issues that this brings up. It's been a while, so I can't recall if your particular situation was addressed (though I think it probably was, given the presenters' occasional comments on social issues generally).

(The podcast is in English - it's a podcast about the Irish language, not in the Irish language).

June 21, 2018

I'll give it a listen! Thanks for your help!

June 21, 2018

In case anyone else is curious about this, the podcast doesn't go into a gender neutral alternative or even the gender aspects of the language. Though does touch upon simply dropping "o" or "ni" entirely.

June 21, 2018

This is a great question, thanks for asking this!

Also as a technical point, I think you mean "heritage speaker" not "native speaker"? I think the latter implies that you are fluent in the language, while the former implies that you grew up around it, but did not fully acquire it

June 22, 2018

First up, maybe you should start your own thread about this instead of de-railing an unrelated discussion.

Next, technically no, I wouldn't consider myself a heritage speaker based on that wikipedia entry and it's... interesting definitions.

Gaelige, while it most definitely is a minority language (by dint that it is less-widely spoken than English) is Ireland's first official language, it's second is Hiberno-English (our dialect of English) and it's third is English. It's social status is therefore, not socially below English and the social aspects of the term "heritage speaker" don't apply. The term "heritage language" definitely would have applied when we were under British rule and would apply to those Irish speakers in communities in other countries but I don't think it does in my case. Even though I am not fluent in Irish, I am still an Irish person, speaking Irish, in Ireland.

In short, me using the term "heritage speaker" implies that because English is the language I use more frequently, a language which was historically forced upon Irish people I might add, that I am an Irish person living in an English space, speaking Irish. Which I'm not and you really shouldn't want to imply to an Irish person.

You might feel that saying "native speaker" implies a certain fluency (which Irish people who have been raised in Ireland arguably have given that the vast majority learn the language in school just not to fluency) and you're not wrong... if your from the UK or USA or elsewhere in the world. In Ireland, if I were to say "native speaker" it would be to indicate that someone learned Irish through being raised in a Gaeltacht or having Gaelgeoir parent(s) rather than the majority of people who learn Irish through the standard education system but wouldn't normally speak it in their day-to-day life. Neither of these imply or mean fluency and EVEN THEN using the term "native speaker" would make people uncomfortable, which is why we use the word "Gaelgeoir"

Like, dude, read you'r own linked article "Outside the United States, heritage language definitions and use vary."

It's a controversial term and given Ireland's history and slightly unusual status, even in relation to other former colonies and how much the Irish language reflects that I would avoid telling people how to define their relationship with a part of their heritage. Most importantly, I would rather take the two minutes to clarify my competence in a language than use a controversial term with a less then accurate definition that recognizes the most painful parts of Ireland's history before it recognises Irish-ness itself.

So no, actually, I mean a native speaker.

Slán leat agus ná bí ag fearmínú, a chara.

June 25, 2018

I think it's simple enough, if you learned it in your childhood from your parents or similar and obtained full fluency early on, you are a native speaker. Virtually all native speakers are from the Gaeltacht.

July 5, 2018

Sure and while I'm not fluent. I certainly fit that definition.

July 13, 2018
Learn Irish in just 5 minutes a day. For free.