How do I pronounce Saint Coemgen?
February 26, 2004 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Can someone tell me how the name of Saint Coemgen (patron saint of blackbirds, and Dublin) is supposed to be pronounced? Somehow it's anglicized as Kevin. Even after consulting several Gaelic pronunciation sites, I still don't get it.
posted by vraxoin to Writing & Language (6 answers total)
My kinfolks have a marvellous way with the language, foreign as it is to them in it's origin. Cousin Siobhan sounds like 'shi/vawn'; Niabh sounds like 'neev'; and Grainne sounds like 'grahn/ya'. I'd guess that Coemgen really is the origin of ke/vin. The latin alphabet really doesnt make sense with non-Latin languages, seems to me.
posted by dash_slot- at 4:05 PM on February 26, 2004

Niabh sounds like 'neev'

I always thought it was spelled Niamh. I have cousins Siobhan, Niamh and Oonagh. I guess this rules out my being related to you, dash_slot.

This sounds like a job for languagehat. [-sends up the languagesignal-]
posted by contessa at 5:58 PM on February 26, 2004

Caoimhin is a Gaelic spelling of the name (see here) and in my brief experience attempting to learn Scottish Gaelic, I learned that "mh" in certain circumstances is pronounced "v". (Hence Niamh is Neev, and Caoimhin is Kevin.)

See (heh, gaelpr0n!) for more on Gaelic pronunciation. I don't know where the Coemgen spelling came from, but maybe the Hat can help us there. :)
posted by litlnemo at 6:28 PM on February 26, 2004

well seeing that i'm a native irish speaker, and my name is kevin, i'll pitch in here. It goes like this - kwee veen. Some people in different areas might pronounce it without the W, ie keeveen. I've never seen it spelled as coengen though. And i should add that the final i has whats called a fada (í) which is what makes the vowel into a longer more drawn out sound.
posted by kev23f at 3:15 AM on February 27, 2004

LH here, and believe me, you're going to be sorry you asked. If I had to suffer through a semester of Old Irish, you're going to suffer too. First point: Irish started out as a reasonable sort of language, pretty much like Latin, which it kind of resembled in the oldest (ogham) inscriptions. 'Of the grandson,' for example, was avi, with a nice Latin-like genitive in -i. Then, some time around the fifth century, it got squished. All the words got a heavy initial stress, and interior syllables contracted or vanished entirely—but not before consonants between vowels got changed to fricatives: d became dh (like th in the), g became gh (like g in Spanish hago, or like Homer Simpson's gargle when he's thinking of doughnuts), b became bh (instead of holding your lips tight together when you say b, let the air go through, like v except that it's made with both lips rather than lip and teeth), and m became mh (like bh but nasal). I'm spelling them with h as in later Irish, but in Old Irish they were spelled with the plain consonant—you just knew how to pronounce it in each case. (We who use English spelling are in a poor position to mock.) So a name like (what might originally have been) Comigenos ('fair-born') first got fricativized to (what I'll spell as) Comhighen (the -os got dropped somewhere in there), then squished into Coemhghen (spelled Coemgen and pronounced something like KOIV-ghen). That's the Old Irish stage. (The OIr. word coem means 'lovely.') Later on, mh lost its nasality and became pronounced v, and gh before a palatal vowel (e or i) became pronounced y. So now it's something like KWIV-yen, which could get anglicized as Kevin.

However (but wait, there's more!), my Dictionary of First Names gives the same form as litlnemo, Caoimhin, and says it's "a diminutive of Gaelic caomh comely, beloved." This implies there wasn't a -gen element there originally; it was just the word coem/caomh plus the diminutive ending -in. So what I think is that two names have fallen together: older Coemgen 'fair-born' and later Caoimhin 'little fair one.'

*looks around*
Hey, where'd everybody go?
posted by languagehat at 6:33 PM on February 27, 2004

I bow before the 'hat.
posted by vraxoin at 11:25 AM on February 28, 2004

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