Great Grandmother?


 Meet Mary. Mary McElligott, as per the spelling provided by Kim, who was inquiring from out of state in order to assemble her genealogy. Kim was quite appreciative of the library’s collection and willingness, saying, “thank you so so much for your assistance with this.  It’s a new found treasure for me!”

Dear reader, with historic interest, do you know why Mary’s family name may have been spelled  with an apostrophe: M’Elligott in her senior yearbook?


3 thoughts on “Great Grandmother?

  1. Dear Kim,

    Any use of the apostrophe in English indicates that one or more phonemes (sound units, usually vowels) have dropped out in pronunciation or orthographic representation. This is obvious in contractions, such as I’m for I am, or don’t for do not. It is less obvious in the possessive case, because we don’t remember the older form that has lost a vowel before the final s (that apostrophe is doing more than just distinguishing possessives from plurals).

    Writing one of the Celtic Mac/Mc/Mhic/Meic names using M’ alone is analogous to the way we write the Celtic O’ names, such as O’Neil or O’Connell; O’ is an anglicized and contracted orthographic representation of Irish Ui, meaning descendant of, just as Mac, etc. means son of.

    So, one thought comes to mind. Given that M’ is among the many acceptable conventions for writing the Mac names, perhaps the yearbook editor thought it made no difference. It’s worth remembering that our notion that Mac and Mc are not equivalent and exchangeable is a relatively new idea borne of standardized spelling. Every time someone spells my name Christa, I have to remind myself that this in not really wrong, just a different acceptable convention.

    Any other thoughts out there? Does anyone pronounce this name in a way that elides or slides over the c sound between the M and the E?


    Krista Ovist


    • Krista, we greatly appreciate your comment! I passed it along to Kim.

      I haven’t seen the M’ convention before, but, from what you say, it seems to avoid the potential tension that can occur from using an incorrect spelling. I like your anecdote that Christa is an acceptable spelling of the name, even if it is not the way your friends and kin know to spell your name. My mom’s name is Maryalice and it’s incredible how many times people will write back to her addressing her as Mary Alice. It’s a conventional spelling of the name, but I think most people appreciate when extra care is in spelling someone’s name specifically.

      And I’m curious as to whether anyone will respond to your question or engage the topic further; this is great!



  2. I have seen the name Macintosh spelled M’Intosh, if that’s any help.  I believe James M’Intosh was the name of a writer of short  stories back in the 1950s.  Could be a Scottish way of spelling an Irish surname, or vice versa. Keep up the good work!  Jim Maneval, NHS ’52


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