Does my daughter's name actually mean something in Scottish Gaelic?
February 15, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone tell me if my daughter's name means something in Scottish Gaelic?

We named our daughter Mia, but as we both have Scottish origins, we added a 'gh' on the end to sort of gaelicize the name. Hence, Miagh. I tried to find out whether miagh might turn out to be a Gaelic word or not, and I did find a something via google suggesting that it might mean 'honour'. I believe it was used in a poem. Sorry, I cannot find that info again. I have relatives whose native language was Gaelic, but they don't know the word (their vocabulary is limited to the very practical, however). I've tried a number of online dictionaries, but the word does not turn up.

So, can anyone tell me if there is such a word in Scottish Gaelic, modern or otherwise? And if so, how would it be pronounced?

Also, it's an Irish surname. Can anyone tell me how it would be pronounced by the Irish?
posted by kitcat to Writing & Language (21 answers total)
"Mia" is Scandanavian in origin and is apparently diminutive of "Maria," though it is often given as a name itself.

Thomas Miagh was an Irishman who became a victim of a type of torture device known as Scavenger's Daughter. It apparently compressed the body rather than stretching it, as the rack did. You can read more about that here.

So, in that regard, there is an Irish connection to the name you have given your daughter.
posted by zizzle at 9:16 AM on February 15, 2011

It seems to be an Irish surname, but I wasn't able to find much else. Hope that's of some help.

"By torture straynge my truth was tried, yet of my libertie denied. 1581. Thomas Miagh."
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:21 AM on February 15, 2011

There's also a poem here that features "miaghar" as a word, and a few that feature "miagh."
posted by zizzle at 9:22 AM on February 15, 2011

Ok, I have just determined that 'miagh' appears in Robert Archibald Armstrong's A gaëlic dictionary in two parts: gaëlic and english - english and gaëlic (found via Google books), but not in the supposedly more comprehensive Dictionarium Scoto-Celticum.

Please help; I'm not much of a language researcher.
posted by kitcat at 9:27 AM on February 15, 2011

Try MeMailing languagehat.

Language is languaghat's thing.
posted by zizzle at 9:31 AM on February 15, 2011

The Irish surname Miagh means someone from (County) Meath, a "Meathman": Google books snippet. More from A genealogyish possible content-farm.

County Meath's name seems to come from it being in the Middle of the island.
posted by xueexueg at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2011

To pronounce it in Irish you would say 'Mi-a' (splitting it into two syllables), but lengthening the 'a' a little ( perhaps 'Mi-aa'). (I don't know how to write phonetically!)

Incidentally, I didn't find Miagh here;
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:04 AM on February 15, 2011

To pronounce it in Irish you would say 'Mi-a' (splitting it into two syllables), but lengthening the 'a' a little ( perhaps 'Mi-aa').

Careful with that, mi-ádh in Irish (which sounds exactly like that) is bad luck/misfortune.
posted by carbide at 10:06 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't get how adding -gh to a name Gaelicizes it, but then again, when I first came to America and had no sense of African-American naming conventions, I met a girl who had a daughter name Da'Shawndra. When I asked her what it meant, she said it was African for "Mary" - so what do I know?

The ending sound is a fricative similar to the Scottish "ch" sound from what I could find, but I'm not sure how to replicate this phonetically on this iPad.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Scots Gaelic pronunciation:

ch - (as in Scottish loch or German nacht; also as ch in church)

dh - gh and y (gh as the ch when in contact with a, o or u and y when in contact with i or e)

gh - like the Gaelic dh, above
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:13 AM on February 15, 2011

> So, can anyone tell me if there is such a word in Scottish Gaelic, modern or otherwise?

No. The closest thing is miag 'a mew of a cat; caterwauling.' It's not in Irish, either. As zizzle says, Mia is of Danish and Swedish origin; it became popular in English largely because of Mia Farrow. I wouldn't try to dig up an artificial "meaning" of your daughter's name; just tell her you created your own variant on the name Mia, unique to her.
posted by languagehat at 10:34 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Languagehat - how do you account for the word's appearance in Armstrong's dictionary?

The name need not have a meaning, but it would be neat if it did.

Dee - It's simply because Gaelic has lots of words ending in gh and I thought the gh tended to be silent. But yeah, I do seem to recall that a g at the end of a word turns into a kind of 'k' sound.

So, might the pronunciation if treated like a real word be 'mee-ach or mee 'ach? my phonetic spelling isn't right, but you know what I mean, yes?
posted by kitcat at 10:48 AM on February 15, 2011

Maybe I need to clarify. I am wondering if the spelling matches a gaelic word, not the pronunciation...
posted by kitcat at 10:59 AM on February 15, 2011

Armstrong's dictionary is from 1825. He was not a native speaker, or indeed even a speaker, of Gaelic. He was not a lexicographer--he was a local schoolteacher.

The dictionary is a monument to his tenacity and may have been the best available resource in 1825. However, it's full of errors, because of the reasons itemized above.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:47 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you already changed the legal spelling? Because a kid named "Miagh" may very well be taunted by other kids for having a name that sounds like vomiting.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:49 AM on February 15, 2011

:) The pronunciation will remain Mia.
posted by kitcat at 11:53 AM on February 15, 2011

Don't fret too much about what some kid could make of her name. Most names can be turned into a taunt with some schoolyard creativity. Even an otherwise mundane phrase can hurts someone's feelings if it is said with significant disdain.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:54 AM on February 15, 2011

And look, Sheilagh is a common enough (Gaelic) spelling of Sheila, and it's not pronounced 'Shee-luch'.
posted by kitcat at 12:04 PM on February 15, 2011

Next time you need a Gaidhlig name, here's a short list.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:08 PM on February 15, 2011

My name works out to "Seonaid" in Gaidhlig and believe me, in the vocative case, it sounds like cat vomit. hee-YOHN-ahj.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:09 PM on February 15, 2011

I consulted Dwelly's, my favorite Scottish Gaelic dictionary. Under "miagh," it said, "see miadh," a word a wasn't familiar with. When I searched "miadh," I found this definition:

sm ind Honour, esteem, respect. 2** Demand, call. 3(DMC) Love, desire for. Chan eil miadh sam bith air crodh, there is no demand for cattle; meas agus miadh, respect and approbation; gun mhiadh gun bhàigh, without honour or affection; Fionn a chuir miadh oirnn, Fionn who honoured us.

Here's a link to an online version of Dwelly's: miadh

(I am not a native speaker and am not fluent in Gaidhlig. I spent some time studying at a Gaelic College, but I merely dabble. Take this with a big ol' grain of salt.)
posted by pecanpies at 5:34 PM on February 15, 2011

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