[From Ballaugh Nick Names, 1933]


THE following list of "nicknames" constitutes a record unique in Manx literature and a great debt of gratitude is due to the late Mr Keig for the exhaustive manner in which he has recorded the names in use in his native Parish of Ballaugh. Though he states in his introduction that it is "far from complete" investigations among his surviving contemporaries show the list to be a very comprehensive record of those in use from about 1860 onwards

The derivation and use of the majority of the names recorded is most interesting and certainly of considerable antiquity. Here, in fact, we have the very method by which most of our surnames originated surviving amongst us until the twentieth century.

The origin of surnames is fully dealt with in the late Mr J. J. Kneen's "Manx Personal Names," which devotes a section to "nicknames," and to which any one interested in this fascinating subject is referred.

It is not proposed to go into the matter in detail here. Suffice it to say that our surnames have, practically without exception, originated in a manner and form similar to the appellations given in the text i.e. (1) patronymics; (2) places of abode; (3) personal characteristics or peculiarities; (4) trades or crafts. All four varieties, with a fifth miscellaneous group, will be found in the following pages, with patronymics predominating as they do in our present surnames.

Little comment would appear to be necessary in respect of the patronymics and place name groups, except that it will be noted that in the former the Manx form of various names was preserved e.g. Steaon or Steen-Stephen; Curleod-Corlett; Wuddagh (Buddagh)-Boyde; P(h)erick-Patrick; Juan-John, etc.

While the number of names in group 3 may appear' to be small, closer examination of the patronymic section will reveal that names qualified by the adjectives "bane" (white) "beg" (little) "mooar" (big) could equally well have been included in this section.

John Beg can easily be translated as Little John or John Junior, but perhaps the possible derivation of the other names is not so obvious. John-y-For may be a phonetic rendering of John-y-Foawr-John the Giant, for although John's physical attributes far from justified the use of such an epithet, such nicknames were often ironically applied.

Tom Lane Vie ('lane vie' denoting the very best of health) is reputed never to have admitted being better than "middlin' ", and is thus another example of antiphrasim.

Tom Yernagh was definitely an oddity, and, as our Irish cousins could scarcely be called popular amongst our ancestors, he was called Tom the Irishman.

With regard to group 4, it may be stated that the popularity of the patronymic type of name tended to reduce the number coming into this category. The list, though small, is not without interest, for it includes a nailmaker, who is still well remembered among the older parishioners of Ballaugh. The description of Mr Robert Keig, a farmer, and Mr Robert Quayle, a butcher, as a Merchant and a Hatter respectively may at first appear to be strange, but these were actually the trades of their fathers. Robby-yn-Varchan's father travelled the North buying up farm produce which he shipped to Whitehaven in his own schooner.

It is difficult to comment upon the names in group 5. After a considerable lapse of time it is impossible to trace the origin of this type of name. All that can be said with certainty is that at the time of its "coining" the name would be in some way appropriate, as in the case of Tommy the Lark, who was notorious for the enthusiasm with which he welcomed the morning with song.

For the benefit of those who have not perhaps come largely into contact with Manx speakers it may be helpful to note that "in compound words the principal accent rests on the qualifying part, i.e. as a rule the second part, the first part then having a secondary accent." (J. J. Kneen "A. Grammar of the Manx Language), e.g. Jem Beg Tom Jem. John Billy John.

It is hoped that the foregoing notes may to some extent add to the reader's pleasure in sharing the compiler's interest in all things pertaining to Ellan Vannin.


Douglas, 1st May, 1940


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