March 3, 1999
THE MYSTERY OF THE CLAN NAME SOLVED!!!
Mac Meanman and Mac Meanmain are Irish-Gaelic for Â“Son of Morale.Â” The clan that bears this name is descended from Meanmach (pronounced Â“Menamax,Â” the adjective form of the noun meanma) of the Irish royal line of Heremon. Mac Meanman and Mac Meanmain are merely two versions of the same words with slightly different pronunciations. The version a person uses would depend only on which regional dialect he or she is speaking.
In Irish-Gaelic there are two nÂ’s as there are in Spanish and Italian. The first one is a Â“broad n,Â” and is like the English n. The second is called a Â“slender n,Â” which is a nasal n much like the Spanish Ã± (seÃ±or) or the Italian Â“gn.Â” Words ending in Â“~anÂ” are pronounced Â“inÂ” with the broad n. Words ending in Â“~ainÂ” are pronounced with the last Â“aiÂ” vowel asperated -- Â“ee,Â” and the last n slender.
Mac Meanman would is thus pronounced with the broad n, like Â“McMenamin.Â” Mac Meanmain is pronounced with asperation and the last n slender -- Â“McMenameeÃ±.Â” This slender n is very soft and nasal, sounding somewhere between an English Â“yÂ” and Â“n.Â” Because there is no English equivalent for this Â“slender n,Â” it would have often been written as a Â“yÂ” when anglicized (written with English spellings).
IT APPEARS THAT IN EASTERN DONEGAL, WHERE THE MCMENAMINÂ’S ARE FROM, THEY USED A DIALECT THAT FAVORED THE Â“~AINÂ” VERSION.
Evidence for the use of such a dialect exists in the name of the town Letterkenny, which is in Eastern Donegal near the area the McMenaminÂ’s originate from. The Irish-Gaelic name of the town is Leitir Ceanainn (leitir means Â“hillsideÂ” and ceanainn means Â“white crested,Â” the adjective comes after the noun in Irish-Gaelic). However, the other version of the word ceanainn is ceannann. In Eastern Donegal they must have spoken the dialect that favored the Â“~ainÂ” version and pronounciation. This is why the town took the anglicized ~y ending. Also, the Gaelic phrase for Â“good morning,Â” which is normally pronounced Â“Jee-ah-gwitch-ah-morgan,Â” (American phonetics) is alternatively pronounced Â“Jee-ah-gwitch-ah-morgeeÃ±Â” around Balleybofey (Eastern Donegal).
In the ninteenth century most of county Donegal was Irish-Gaelic speaking. However, Irish-Gaelic was outlawed as a written language. Nearly all schools were run by the British government and most excluded Catholics. Most of the Irish were hence illiterate in both languages, and when their names were written down it was usually by someone else in an anglicized form according to the way they heard it pronounced. This would result in the name Mac Meanmain being spelt in anglicized form sometimes with a ~my ending and other times with the ~min. In reality, however, it is somewhere between the two.
- Ted Mac Meanmain
Special thanks to Padraig Mac Con Uladh of the An Crannog Irish language institute in Donegal, Cathal Doherty of University College Cork, and Frank of Gaeltacht Minnesota for their help in deriving and confirming this theory.