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Irish Origins of James and William

This selection from the Irish First Names concerns the names 'James' and 'William': both monarchs fought a decisive battle on the banks of the Boyne in 1690. The anglicised versions of the names are included, along with information on the Irish name and the historical origins of both.

Liam (m)
The Irish form of William, now widespread. It is, of course, the second part of William, which was once translated as Uilliam, a name also used for the fox, corresponding to ‘Reynard’ in English. The form Bhullaidh (pronounced ‘Wully’) was sometimes used for King William III (1650-1702). Liam was originally a pet form, but it is now established as the Irish translation. Liam na Lasoige is an Irish name for the Will o’ the Wisp or ignis fatuus.

William [Liam] (m) Germanic, ‘will helmet’
A name frequently used by the Normans in medieval Ireland. It became very popular and remains so today. In Irish it became first Uilliam, then it was contracted to Liam. In modern times William is more frequently bestowed than the Irish Liam. William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was an influential playwright and poet.

Seamus (m)
The Irish form of James, itself derived from Jacob.Seamus is used by the Gaels of both Ireland and Scotland. The latter tend to favour the spelling Seumus, which is also found in Ireland.The vocative, Sheamais, is phonetically rendered by the Scots as Hamish. Both James and Seamus are popular names in Ireland today, though, as can happen to extremely popular names, James is no longer nearly so frequently bestowed as it once was. James Joyce (1882-1941) was a leading Irish writer. James Connolly was an Irish rebel executed in 1916. In English the pet forms are Jim, Jimmy (Jem and Jemser are occasionally found in the Dublin area). Simi is an Irish form of Jimmy. Jimmy Kennedy was an Irish song-writer whose songs include ‘Red Sails in the Sunset’ and ‘The Isle of Capri’. Seamus has been phonetically rendered ‘Shamus’ and, less successfully, ‘Shemus’. Shay is a frequent modern pet form. Seamus rua (‘Red Shamus’) is a name applied in Irish to the fox.

James [Séamus] (m)
This name is widely used in Ireland, though recently its use has declined considerably. It is found in both its Irish and English forms, and in its pet form, Jamie. Ultimately it is a form of Jacob, in Hebrew Aqob, of uncertain meaning, perhaps ‘supplanter’. In medieval Latin it became Jacomus, in Spanish Jaime, and in English James. For further information on its use in Ireland, see Seamus. Iamus is an Irish form used in the Annals of Connacht.

From the Appletree Press title: Irish First Names. To buy it from click here. For more information on the book, click here.

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