Names in Mc or Mac – do you put a space?
April 10, 2022 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I have a surname that begins with Mc. The second part is capitalized, but I have always regarded the Mc and the rest as one word. I've just proofread an item in which a key person has a name, not McDermott but similar, only it was spelled Mc Dermott throughout, and I was told that was correct (as were several other names in Mc and Mac in lists in the document). Is this new? Is this correct where you live?
posted by zadcat to Writing & Language (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
As a fellow Mc, I've always felt that it's one word. Bill Mc Dermott looks to me like it's someone named Bill Dermott, and his middle name is Mc.

As to whether or not it's "correct", I don't know.

I live in Minnesota, so YMMV.
posted by Sphinx at 2:29 PM on April 10, 2022

I’m Scottish. Never seen a Mc or Mac with a space, I don’t think.
posted by ElasticParrot at 2:30 PM on April 10, 2022 [10 favorites]

Is it possible that either way can be correct, depending on the particular name?
Here in the Netherlands, we have a similar thing with 'van de' and 'van der'. Van der Meulen is a real name, but so is Vandermeulen; they are just different names.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:30 PM on April 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

I am British (but not Scottish) and I have never seen "Mc Dermott" and would consider it very, very, odd and wrong. It's "McDermott." (Or "MacDermott" as appropriate.)
posted by buxtonbluecat at 2:32 PM on April 10, 2022

The only time I've seen Mac with a space is the Argentine footballer Alexis Mac Allister
posted by Chenko at 2:36 PM on April 10, 2022

Best answer: Poking around online:

Modern usage in written English in Scotland: no space, apparently, as per's style guide.

The Norse-Gaelic Clan Donald traces its descent from Dòmhnall Mac Raghnuill (d. circa 1250),[citation needed] whose father Reginald or Ranald was styled "King of the Isles" and "Lord of Argyll and Kintyre".[4] Ranald's father, Somerled was styled "King of the Hebrides", and was killed campaigning against Malcolm IV of Scotland at the Battle of Renfrew in 1164. Clan Donald shares a descent from Somerled with Clan MacDougall, who traces their lineage from his elder son, Dugall mac Somhairle.[citation needed]
There's the historical usage/discussion of historical figures where mac, meaning son-of has a space.
3 In Irish orthography, there is a space between Mac and the rest of the surname, e.g. Seán Mac Eoin, Seán Mac Stíofáin etc. In Wikipedia, therefore, a space should be included after Mac if the surname is in the Irish language. In English orthography, there is no space between the Mc or Mac and the rest of the surname.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:39 PM on April 10, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I’ve worked as a copy editor for internationally known journals for 25 years, so I’ve seen lots and lots of author names from all over the world, and I’ve never seen it with a space. If I did see a space in this kind of author name, I’d figure it should be closed up, but I’d search for the author online just to make sure.
posted by FencingGal at 2:51 PM on April 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I live in Scotland, worked as a journalist here for 4+ years and will have written many, many Mc/Mac surnames for Scottish newspapers, and I've never once seen it with a space in, as journalist or civilian.
posted by penguin pie at 2:54 PM on April 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I’ve never seen it with a space

I immediately thought of Oisín Mac Diarmada, but sebastienbailard's comment explains the spelling (the name is Irish).
posted by trig at 4:03 PM on April 10, 2022

It's complicated. The right way to write someone's name is the way they write it. The Scotsman newspaper, quoted above, has no official standing: it's as much of a convention as phone directories used to write "Mc" (to save space; in older texts written Mc to indicate a contraction) but sort as "Mac".

Using a space is rare, but not unknown. Growing up in Glasgow, I knew a family of Mac Neills, but I also knew some McNeals. A space is more common in Scottish Gaelic: Dòmhnall mac Leòid (= Donald MacLeod).
posted by scruss at 8:07 PM on April 10, 2022 [7 favorites]

I have such a name and have never encountered ‘Mc’ with a space, although I have often seen ‘Mac’ that way. But names are famously resistant to standardization.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:09 PM on April 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

And I too have such a name and distinctly remember it having a space in most written communication when I was growing up in the 80s in the US. But it wasn’t exclusive, and I haven’t seen hardly anyone suggest a space since then; definitely not in the past 20 years.
posted by hijinx at 9:30 PM on April 10, 2022

Echoing everyone else. I've seen a handful of Mac names with a space, but never ever ever Mc with a space.

Bona fides: I worked as a typist and in other clerical positions where I saw a lot of client names and it was important to get them right, then I worked for a large professional organization where I saw even more people's names from org members all over the world.
posted by desuetude at 9:53 PM on April 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

My last name used to have an apostrophe in it, years ago. Now it doesn’t - at least, not how I spell it.

You get to spell your own name exactly how you like. There’s no other standard to say whether it’s “correct”. If the Mc Dermott in question spells it that way, that’s how it’s spelt.
posted by rd45 at 12:24 AM on April 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

You get to spell your own name exactly how you like.

Until not long ago software could seriously disagree with that. Especially US-written software. Especially especially software written by white male US engineers.
- People have a (one) middle name. Not zero. Nor two or more. Five is right out.
- Surnames are a single word, without any punctuation.
- Countries have states.
- Cities have streets with houses having street numbers.
People I know have changed their names to DaSilva or DeBoer because software could not deal with the correct spelling.
posted by Stoneshop at 3:11 AM on April 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Lets put it this way. In certain databases where last names are filed first, the first four letters or characters determine placement. If your last name is McDermott and the next door neighbors were McDeere, McDermis and Mc Dezz the spacing would trump the alphabet even though the next letters after Mc are the same. The space is usually only done on names that signify the region or family of origin, such as Vander, Des, De La and so on. I've not seen the space in between a Mc last name ever but it isn't to say its incorrect. you personally could just start putting the space in there and no one could say you were wrong. However, I think maybe the spacing in such a context as the proofread work would have been to lengthen the word count.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 3:44 AM on April 11, 2022

Lets put it this way. In certain databases where last names are filed first, the first four letters or characters determine placement.

This is far from universal.
posted by Stoneshop at 6:32 AM on April 11, 2022

As far as I can tell by being part Scottish, going to Scottish Games, and seeing Scottish names written out, nobody is using Mc Something on a regular basis.

However, with regards to my job, which involves a lot of name issues, I see some people written out as Mc Something by...whoever the hell does name intake that knows nothing about Scottish names. I also see names that are traditionally spelled McSomething spelled as Mcsomething, very frequently. Then the Scots start sending in their complaints about how someone else spelled it. I can say from my job that it's a horrible pain every time I have to look someone up from the 80's and can't find them because someone put it in as Mc Spaced.

I guess someone can spell it Mc Space if they so desire, but I don't think Mc Spacing is a standard/universal way of spelling McScottish names, usually.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:39 PM on April 11, 2022

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