Inheriting grandparents’ names

November 11, 2014

There’s an interesting passage about child-naming customs in Éamon Kelly’s autobiography The Apprentice (Marino Books, 1995). Kelly is recounting his childhood near Killarney in southwest Ireland, and the time he spent in his father’s workshop playing with pieces of wood:

I sat in the shavings and listened to the men who came with jobs for my father. They all spoke to me and those who knew my grandfather were surprised that I wasn’t called after him. The custom then was to call the first son after his father’s father and the second son after his mother’s father. The same rule applied to the first two girls. They were called after their grandmothers. If you walked into a house at that time and there were two boys and two girls in the family and you knew their grandparents, you could name the children. Both my male grandparents, who were inseparable friends, objected to my father’s and mother’s marriage. They claimed there was a blood relationship, though fairly far out, and the slightest trace of consanguinity had to be avoided. My mother was very upset by this attitude and called me after my father to annoy the old man. My father’s Christian name was Edmund, Ned to everybody, and so was I.

The name Éamon came later, when Kelly was a carpenter’s apprentice (hence the book title) working with his father. Since both were called Edmund/Ned, confusion arose when either was hailed, so someone took to calling the son Éamon. He remained Ned to his family and neighbours, but Éamon was the name by which I first knew of him.

I’ve written before about Éamon Kelly in his seanchaí (storyteller) guise, after coming across a couple of clips of him on YouTube. That post has additional resources on Kelly’s life, for anyone interested.

The custom he describes lives on but seems much less prevalent than it was a century ago – though my sister was named after our maternal grandfather, in a nice inversion of the tradition. I was named after my uncle, who was (I think) named after my granduncle. I’d be interested to hear who you were named after, if anyone, or what other naming traditions are in your family or area.

Stories and sounds of a seanchaí

August 13, 2010

Eamon Kelly (1914–2001) was an actor and seanchaí* from the south-west of Ireland. Below are two video clips that showcase not only his skill at spinning yarns, but also some memorable Hiberno-English idioms and idiosyncrasies, delivered in Kelly’s colourful Kerry accent.

You’ll hear examples of how differently vowels can be pronounced in colloquial Irish English: either as /’eːd̪ ər/ (‘ay-dhr’), one as /wɑn/ (‘wan’), boy as /baɪ/ (‘by’).**

Note too the frequent, characteristically Irish insertion of h: train as ‘thrain’, sleep ‘shleep’, just ‘jusht’, tracks ‘thracks’, sleeper ‘shleeper’, dry ‘dhry’, first ‘firsht’, pony and trap ‘pony an’ thrap’, nostrils ‘nosthrils’ (or even ‘noshthrils’). Incidentally, in Ireland the consonant h is widely pronounced ‘haitch’, not ‘aitch’.

Some syllables are split. In English As We Speak It In Ireland (1910), P. W. Joyce wrote:

There are some consonants of the Irish language which when they come together do not coalesce in sound, as they would in an English word, so that when they are uttered a very short obscure vowel sound is heard between them: and a native Irish speaker cannot avoid this. By a sort of hereditary custom this peculiarity finds its way into our pronunciation of English.

This phenomenon is known in linguistic jargon as anaptyxis, a form of epenthesis whereby a sound intrudes between two consonants. I hear it regularly all around me (e.g. film as /’fɪləm/ ‘fillem’ or ‘fillum’). In the videos, Kelly pronounces storm and farm with two distinct syllables – the latter in ‘faarum o’ land’. (Dropping the f from of is also common; the remaining vowel is sounded as a schwa /ə/.)

Some long vowels are lengthened further: goat almost rhymes with poet; bone and even too are similarly elongated. Elsewhere, certain syllables are merged: th’other, th’oven. There are modest instances of rhetorical redundancy and repetition, both of which have a grand tradition in Ireland. Which reminds me: lots of rolling r’s, too.

In the front garden, Peig she had ridges of flowers
I’ll have you up before the judge the man in the white wig
I have he said I have a donkey chained there

And some striking idioms and turns of phrase:

She was a dinger on the box (very good on the concertina)
Peig complained the goat to the farmer (complained about…)
His teeth were swimming inside in his mouth for a bite of it. (A vivid suggestion of salivation!)
Is it any woman as a small child before she was able to talk could go up to the high note in Danny Boy? (Is there any woman who, as a small child…)
Shedding the tear for Parnell (a remarkable euphemism for urination, or to be interpreted literally?)




Here is a lovely short essay about Eamon’s life and career, written by Mattie Lennon, who tells us that “Eamon didn’t lick his storytelling ability off the ground”. The Princess Grace Irish Library has further biographical details.

Update: More discussion at Clusterflock.


* Traditional Irish storyteller. Pronounced /’ʃænəxiː/ or /’ʃænəkiː/, i.e. “shan-uh-kee” but with a soft k like the ‘ch’ in loch.

** My knowledge of IPA is limited, and these renditions are not meant to be definitive. Suggestions, corrections and observations are welcome.