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Celtic father-names: Donaldson, McDonald, O’Donnell

Updated: Mar 7

We talked about patronymics (the father’s name) in Germanic languages earlier, how about in Celtic languages?

“Donald” is a Celtic name of long standing, and if you want to state that someone is the son of a Donald, you can call them Donaldson- in the English tradition. But since it’s a Celtic name, you usually see it as McDonald in the Scottish tradition, or O’Donnell in the Irish tradition.

The main Celtic traditions for genealogy are the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh.

Complicating matters, Irish settlers brought Gaelic from Ireland to Scotland in the early Middle Ages, so Irish Gaelic and Scots Gaelic are closely related; Welsh leads a different branch of the Celtic languages. To complicate things more, many Scots moved to Ireland, bringing their Scots names, while the Lowlands of Scotland adopted their variety of English called Scots Leid, in the Dark and Middle Ages. Scots Leid is not a Celtic language, but Celtic influences permeated into the Lowlands as well. All the languages of the British Isles intermingle one way or another.


Irish Gaelic (sounds like “gay-lik”) and Scots Gaelic (sounds like “gal-lik”) are closely related, and once the names have been anglicized, it can be hard to tell which language the name came from. The easiest way is to see which is which is when they form a patronymic, usually Mac- or O’-.