Academy of Saint Gabriel Members' Guide: Tools
Academy of Saint Gabriel Members' Guide
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Is it just my imagination or is every third client
No, it isn't your imagination. Out of our first 1937 clients, 648 had
questions about Irish or Scottish names.
We're not quite sure why this is true. Irish and Scottish personas are
certainly popular, but they don't account for a full third of the
Society. My theory is that many people think that they know what medieval
names look like in most of the other popular period cultures -- English,
French, German, Norse, and so on -- but Gaelic names are more obviously
mysterious. Since our clients are only those people who know that they
need help, the proportion of Gaelic personas is higher than in the general
On the other hand, it may just be something in the water.
Since they are so common, we have some special
advice on writing about Irish and Scottish names.
English, which is not a heavily inflected language, relies primarily on
word order to convey relationships between words in a sentence. A heavily
inflected language, like Latin or Greek, uses different forms of words to
indicate the same relationships. For nouns, these various forms are called
cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, ablative, and
vocative. In the following examples, the bracketed noun is the one in the
indicated case. In an inflected language, the various helping words (verbs
or prepositions) would probably be omitted and the relationships indicated
by the word endings.
||The [woman] fears poets.|
||The [woman] is a [poet].|
||The [woman's] story is fearful.|
||The story of the [woman] is fearful.|
||The poet gives a flower to the [woman].|
||The poet frightens the [woman].|
||The poet was frightened by the [woman].|
||The woman was in his [tent].|
||The poet was killed by a [quill].|
||[Poet], bring me that quill!|
||O [Lord], I've killed a poet.|
Many medieval Romance languages collapsed this collection of cases into a
simpler system. For example, Old French has only two cases:
nominative, which combined the nominative and vocative, and
oblique, for all other cases.
Advice to letter writers
This category is a catch-all for recommendations that don't fit anywhere else.
- You are the client's advocate.
- The letter writer makes sure that the client receives an answer. Usually, this involves understanding and explaining the Academy's research, and prompting the Academy to find out more when necessary. Letter writers organize, draft, and clarify. Other Academy members may make suggestions about letter form, style, order, and content; they may write entire sections or paragraphs. But only the letter writer can ensure that a final report is sent.
- Don't hesitate for ask for help
- The letter-writer's primary job is to organize the research and comments into a clear, logical explanation that a novice can understand. Though of course it is always appropriate for the letter writer to contribute their own knowledge, this is not the primary contribution of the letter writer. If you think something's missing or unclear, ask for help and keep asking until you are convinced that you can explain the issue clearly. You don't need to wait until you post a draft of your letter; just send out your questions. On the flip side, it is perfectly okay to include questions in your drafts: preparing a draft is a good way to determine what the open questions are. If you do include your questions in your letter, put them at the top of the letter so that everyone will see them immediately. A question buried inside the text may be obvious to someone who reads the letter, but the person who can answer your question may not have time to read the letter.
Don't be afraid to keep asking the same questions. Sometimes questions go unanswered because the person who can answer them was too busy to do so when the question came. If you keep asking, eventually the question will arrive when the person who can answer them has time to do so.
You can post incomplete drafts. Often, posting a draft with gaps or holes will show the rest of the Academy where further research is needed.
Arms vs. Devices
In the Society, device is used to describe someone's
arms before he receives his Award of Arms. There is no functional
difference between arms and devices; it's just terminology.
This distinction is a Society invention. There is some evidence of a
similar distinction in renaissance Italy, but there is little evidence in
history for differentiating arms on the basis of personal rank and a great
deal for treating them the same regardless of rank. In Academy letters, we
prefer to avoid the word device and use arms instead.
Device is a less precise word, describing all manner of personal
insignia. In most of our period, device meant badge or
motto rather than arms.
Give the facts, don't cite documentation
Our clients are not normally interested in where we found information,
just in the information itself. Don't discuss the references unless they
are themselves very relevent to the client's question. Don't tell the
client that we have documented a name; just do it. It reads better that
way, and it shifts the focus from documenting a name to understanding the
historical usage of the name.
Avoid criticizing the client's persona
Many of our clients have persona stories that are historically
impossible, but criticizing the client's persona is a good way to annoy him
and disincline him from taking our advice. We should avoid discussing
persona except to the extent that it effects the construction of the name
or arms. There's no clear-cut rule for where to draw the line; you have to
use your best judgement and get input from the Academy. For example, if a
client wants a Hungarian given name and an Irish patronymic, we have to
explain that the combination is impossible partly because there was very
limited contact, if any, between Hungarian and Irish culture; but we don't
need to say explicitly that the persona itself is absurd.
Irish and Scottish names are tricky
As a non-exhaustive guide, here are the basic issues that letter writers
need to keep in mind when writing about Irish and Scottish names:
- The language is Gaelic; it was spoken in both Ireland and parts of
- Early is before 900.
- Middle is between 900 - 1200, and (oversimplified) both
Early and Common Classical spellings are found here.
Think of it as a transitional period.
- Common Classical (in our relative setup, late period) is
- While the language was the same, the naming practices did have some
- If a given name was used in Gaelic Ireland, it may
have been used in Gaelic Scotland, but unless we have Scottish
evidence for it, it is speculation. The same goes for Scottish Gaelic
names in Ireland.
- Starting in the 10th century, Irish Gaels commonly used ancestral
bynames (ó X, inghean uí X) as well as true simple
(mac X, inghean X). Scottish Gaels only very rarely used ancestral
bynames (apparently only in cases with strong, known Irish links).
- In general, evidence for something in Ireland is not necessarily
evidence for it in Scotland, and vice versa.
- In both Ireland and Scotland, Gaelic was not the only language used.
- Records were often (but not always, especially in Ireland) kept
in Latin or later English (in Ireland) and Scots (in Scotland). Keep
the distinctions between spellings clear.
- Always in Scotland (and to a certain extent in later period
Ireland) you must address the issue of language and culture.
Not all Scots were Gaels! At the very least you must deal with it due
to 3.a. above, considering that so much of our information about
Scottish Gaelic naming comes from Scots or Latin documents, often
created by non-Gaelic speaking clerics. There are
explanations available that ought to be used.
- Always in Scotland (and sometimes in later period Ireland), at
least two forms of a Gaelic-culture name must be discussed: Gaelic
(for what the Gael would use when speaking Gaelic) and the likely
written form[s] (which was for most of period Latin and in the 15th
-16th century could also be Scots). Again, this is just as much
because of the sources we have for Scottish Gaelic names as anything.
- There are some special considerations regarding language and period for
- Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Scots-speaking Lowlands are only
useful concepts from the 14th century. Avoid them for clients with
starting dates before 1300.
- In the 12th and 13th century, in addition to Gaelic culture and
Scots-speaking culture, there is also Scoto-Norman culture. Especially
since we are often dealing with nobles, and many nobles were
Scoto-Normans, this will come up a lot. Do not simply divide Scotland
into Gaelic speakers and Scots speakers if the client has a starting
and/or ending date between 1100 and 1300. If the commentary has not
dealt with this, letter writers should specifically ask about it. It
may be that for a particular client Scoto-Normans don't need to be
addressed, but the letter must still avoid implying that Scotland
was simply divided into Gaelic-speakers and Scots-speakers.
Highland and Lowland should not be used.
- Before 1100, just dividing Scotland into Gaelic speakers and Scots
speakers is even worse. In the 11th century Gaelic was the dominant
language (it starts to slide after 1100, though keep in mind sliding out of
major dominance doesn't happen overnight), but a number of other langauges
were spoken. Scots was not spoken at all as it didn't exist, although Old
English (Anglo-Saxon) was spoken in the southeast. Unless the client has
asked for a specifically Gaelic name (without using non-Gaelic
spellings/names to do it), if commentary hasn't dealt with the issue of
language/culture, letter writers should specifically ask.
- All of the above are simplifications -- in all periods there were
other languages going on (such as Norse and later Norn in Shetland and
Orkney), with more complexity and languages the earlier you go.
- If a client indicates a time period that takes in more than one of
the above general period divisions, letter writers must be especially
carefull about how they present the cultural/linguistic situation. Don't
write a letter based on only the second half of the time span requested.
- Always define what is meant by Scots when it is used to refer to
the language. See the boilerplate on this issue.
Please keep in mind when writing letters that Scots has two meanings: 1)
[adjective and noun] Anyone (or thing) Scottish, whatever langauge they
speak or culture they come from and 2) [adjective and noun] a particular
language. Unless it is very clear from context that the language is meant,
the real world default meaning of Scots is Scottish, not the Scots
language. So, if you're clearly talking about the language, and you have
defined that language, you can use Scots on its own. If you're talking
about people or culture, etc., you need to make it clear if you mean Scots
who speak Scots and not any other Scots, and so Scots-speaking. Of
course, if you do mean all Scots, even those who don't speak Scots, in
order to make that clear (and avoid confusion with Scots-the-language) you
should avoid using Scots and use Scottish instead. It is unfortunate
that Scots-speaking culture was ... and Medieval Scottish people didn't
... aren't as elegant as Scots culture was ... and Medieval Scots
didn't ..., but better slightly less elegance than client confusion.
- Do not use Scots on its own to refer to Scots-speakers or
Scots-speaking culture. It is confusing. Clients quite rightly expect
Scots to include all Scottish people (including Gaelic-speakers, etc.).
- Also, although it is perfectly correct usage, do not use Scots
Gaelic -- use Scottish Gaelic instead, as it is less confusing in a
context where we have defined Scots as a language unrelated to Gaelic.
- In general, be very careful using Scots and Scottish to avoid
unnecesary confusion. It is unfortunate that the the available terms are so
messy, but we have to do our best to be clear.
- Gaelic spelling underwent a substantial change c.1200.
- Many words (and names) should be spelled differently depending on
whether the client wants to re-create the earlier or later period.
For example: Derb-Forgaill ingen Domnaill before c.1200,
Dearbhorgaill inghean Dhomnaill after c.1200.
- Of course, the change in spelling conventions didn't happen
overnight. Indeed, the Annals of Connacht exhibits many of the
earlier spellings into the 15th century. However, one can generally
speak of the typical spelling before and after c.1200.
- These spelling changes were a systemization of the representation
of Gaelic sounds that had existed for quite some time. For example,
consider the word ingen/inghean. The g that became
gh had been pronounced \GH\ since the
early Middle Ages (that is, from around the time the Roman alphabet
was adopted), but the convention of showing lenition by adding an
h had not been expanded to g until c.1200. Similarly,
the final n had been broad all along,
but the convention of marking broad consonants by surrounding them
with broad vowels was established only around 1200.
In other words, the spelling changes were designed to reflect Gaelic
pronunication more explicitly and systematically in a system
originally based on Latin orthographic notions.
This is not to say that pronunciation didn't change from early to
medieval Gaelic, just that pronunciation change was apparently
not a major motivation for these spelling changes.
Looking over this, I realize it is a lot to keep in mind, but if we don't,
we really aren't serving our clients with the degree of historical fidelity
we advertise. Keep in mind that the above is what the Academy and
specifically letter writers of Irish/Scottish letters need to keep in mind,
not what we have to tell every client.
What are perl or grep regular expressions?
On the final report archive page,
the search form uses perl and grep regular expressions.
Grep is a UNIX utility for searching text files for lines that match
a given pattern. It is a fairly powerful language for specifying text
patterns. Perl, a scripting language common in WWW programming,
uses the same syntax. If you're not familiar with grep syntax, you
can read the GNU Grep Minitutorial, or the Grep MAN page.
You can see
a list of pages linked to the Academy home page, other than our own
pages and excluding a couple prolific web indices. Last time I checked,
this search returned 126 hits, more than half of them the websites of
Societyfolk or Society branches.
A herald from another re-creation group wrote to ask permission to link to
us. We have a
standard response to requests like that, included suggested text
for the link.
Emblazons for Reports
Whenever possible, we include emblazons of the arms that we recommend
to our clients. Those emblazons are
displayed with the archive
copy of the report, and the copy mailed to the client includes a
note pointing him to those drawings.
If you'd like to draw for the Academy, just speak up. The best way to
do that is to reply in the thread for a particular client, so that the
letter writer knows you're ready to do the work. When the report is
nearly ready and the writer is confident that the list of
recommendations is finalized, she'll let you know that it's time to
do the emblazons.
Emblazons should be prepared in the form of a JPEG image, 196 pixels
wide and as tall as you need to fit the images in a column with the
blazon printed beneath each set of arms, as in
When you have the image ready, you can
it. You will need an Academy userid and password with the
appropriate access; contact Aryanhwy to set that up.
Maintained by Aryanhwy; last
updated 24 February 2008.