I know that names change language to language but I think this is the first tree I learned the translations.

John - lain as an example my question is the name not Lain ?

I guess they would call me Seumas

November 28, 2019


John is Iain (that is a capital I, no lowercase l).

It makes me a bit mad to get flagged for wrongly translating a name, because in Germany we don't localise names. New York is still New York and not "Neu" York. Same goes for names, meaning that James is James and not Seaumas, and the other way around. I am also not entirely sure about names that are just from a completely different part of the world. My name is Jerome, which I read once as Iarom in some reference for Irish...

Thanks for pointing the "I" thing out. I agree localizing names is not a good idea.

With names, it's common to go between cognates in Gaelic and English if they're well established (on television programmes for example, people's names often appear on-screen twice, once for each language). Learning these cognates is arguably part of learning the language. If the person in question's preference is known (ie that they wished to stick with one form) that would normally be respected. Anything without an obvious cognate would normally be left as-is.

Still if I was in Scotland and somebody want to tell me my name is not James, I would be offended and annoyed. It would be like me going to Quebec calling Jacques "James" or going to Mexico and insist on calling Pedro "Peter". Our names are our identities somebody says to me his name is Iain, I would not call him John.

That's your prerogative, people would typically respect that. But in any case, translating names between cognates is common enough in Gaelic that you need to be familiar with it as a speaker.

Bear in mind, the idea that given names should be immutable like that is just as conventional as the idea that they're not.

This ^

Totally agree with JimThibaul. This is also discussed in another post.

You're missing the point. Your name would not be automatically changed. It's the other way round where it's important. All native speakers of Gaelic speak English. I don't think there are exceptions but happy to proven wrong. If they are applying for a job or filling out a government form in English, they would use the English translation of their names.

It's a cultural thing. Can you imagine somebody called Màiri NicIllEathain turning up for a job interview in English? Her name might be Màiri NicIllEathain for an Entry to the Mod where Gaelic is the official language, but in English, she might translate it to Mary MacLean. Otherwise the interviewer will have a hard job pronouncing her name. Her (fictitious) brother Kenneth MacLean even has a different surname to her in Gaelic.

Open up Google Translate and translate Kenneth MacLean from English to Scottish Gaelic. Now do you understand the point?

Thank you for shining some light onto the actual usage of names, that makes it easier for me to understand the importance. So probably you just remember the way somebody introduces himself and then see whether he uses the Gaelic or English version. Maybe this is something that can be included in the course, as in if the question asks you for James you can use James in your answer too.

Tapadh leibh everybody for explaining. I understand Jerome quite well - for me it's a very strange idea to translate names. If the name is Seumas - so be it. I would not try to translate it to Jakob (I think this would be the equivalent). However, we do translate geographical names. Nobody speaks of Praha here, it's always Prag (or Prague for those not speaking German ...). Seems to be limited to big towns or those that used to be German in the past (Especially Google maps stupidly translates everything into German names I've never heard before which is not much help if you try find your way in Czechia). A question to all the natives: Are there Gàidhlig names that cannot be translated? They must have had names in Scotland before the English came ... I wonder if any survived. Eilidh from the top of the tree seems to be special.

These names were usually Gaelicised many centuries ago. For example, Seamas has been the Gaelic form of James for so long that the name Hamish comes from the vocative form of the name, a Sheumais. Because the equivalents are so common in Gaelic (for example, Ian is a very common Scottish name), and because the two languages have lived side by side for so long, you will sometimes find the English equivalents being translated into Gaelic more often than you would with other languages.

It gets worse. In real life many Gaelic speakers half translate names. When George Osborne was UK Chancellor of the Exchequer I had to endure many years of hearing the name Seoras Osborne on the BBC.

If you are going to translate his name at least translate the whole thing.

Osborne has no cognate I'm aware of.

Hi all, I think this has all been covered in helpful comments below but for clarity:

  1. Nobody is going to force you translate your own name. This is a modern Gaelic cultural practice. People will respect what you want to be called.

  2. You need to work with Gaelic names to use it’s distinctive vocative case. It is an important and distinctive feature of the language.

  3. Gaelic’s cultural context is different from say French / German. If we were teaching folk that names like “Oighrig” would actually be used in English, we’d be doing them a disservice. We are following what happens in Gaelic communities. Better to try and understanding cultural practices like this, than let them get to you. It’s part of the language. To not translate names would be a false representation.

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