Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Name Of Brigid, by Hugh de Blacam

The following is an interesting contemplation of the use of the name Brigit in Irish communities, from the 1942 book The Saints of Ireland: The Life-Stories of SS. Brigid and Columcille by Hugh de Blacam.

Digression: a reader made the following remark, which prompted a reply from me, a point I think is important, about what is correct and not correct when pronouncing Brigit's name.

Thank you for posting this! I've always been pronouncing her name "bridjid"...oops.


Mael Brigde I don't think it's a mistake to pronounce it Bridget--that is what almost every Irish person says when speaking English. Language changes, and where Hugh would like to turn the clock back, it isn't going to happen. We also have to be careful, those of us who are non-Irish nationals, not to come off holier than thou (Irisher than thou?), which is how it can sound if we insist on older Irish pronunciations and usage, and of course there are many other regional forms of the name, such as Ffraid in Wales. I use the Brigg-it pronunciation because I read this piece a long long time ago, and I wasn't expecting to have anyone hear me say it so there would be no worries about it. But I have to admit it is a bit of an obstacle for me now. I don't want to change it, because I have been saying it for so long, but it irks my Irish friends, and I am not happy about that. So by all means carry on with whatever usage you like. There is no right way, and they all have their up and down sides.

ReplyJust now
To which I received this response, also useful info:

Erin Nighean Brìghde Agreed. I would also note a couple other things. One, among the Irish, pronunciation might differ depending on location and dialect anyway, so is not standard, and two, the Scottish and Ulster Irish (to loop back to #1) often write the name, Brìde, which they pronounce, BREEDJ-uh (and is how I spell and say her name, and I say it this way also when spelling it Brighid, or maybe just say BREEDJ.).


1. The Name Of Brigid

Until the past half-century, every Irish family had a Patrick and a Brigid. These were the most common names in Ireland throughout the Penal days, when the race bound itself to its persecuted tradition by constantly invoking Patrick, Brigid, and Columcille. Nowadays, Patrick is the second most common man's name in Ireland. The late Rev. John Woulfe, author of the standard work on Irish names and surnames,[1] analysed a baptismal list of 1000 children in County Limerick. In this list, there were 94 Johns and 65 Patricks, with Michael as the third commonest name (51), and William as the fourth (43); Colum did not appear at all, since the name of the third Irish Patron long since has fallen into neglect, save in Columcille's native Donegal. The list, in respect of girls' names, showed Mary 150 times, for our Lady's sacred name is borne by the eldest girl in virtually every family. Margaret came next (75), then Catherine (45), Nora (40), Johanna or Siobhan (35), and Brigid only sixth, with 30 baptisms, the same number as Julia, and only five more than Elizabeth and Ellen, which numbered 25 each.

The decline in the popularity of the long-beloved name of Brigid is due to the corruption of the name into the undignified Biddy in the anglicised nineteenth century. In times when what we call the stage—Irish tradition was in vogue, "Irish Paddy" and "Irish Biddy" were figures of fun, symbols used in anti-Irish caricatures by the ill-bred, and it needed the Gaelic revival of the present century to restore the associations of the name which once stood in such high honour.

Another circumstance told against the Irish name. In the Penal age and far into the past century, the English-speaking world knew virtually nothing of the saint, whose written records were locked up in the unprinted, forgotten old Gaelic books, and whose traditional memory was cherished only in the secret world of Gaelic speech, by a race that lacked schools, printing press, political freedom, and worldly respect. Accordingly, when there was any mention of St. Brigid in the English-speaking world, it was common to confuse her with St. Bridget of Sweden, who died in 1373; it often happened, for example, that people seeking holy pictures of St. Brigid were supplied from Germany with images of the Scandinavian saint through the ignorance, in continental centres of ecclesiastical art, of the existence of any other saint of such a name. The Scandinavian spelling came into vogue; and Irish children were called Bridget, when the intention was to name them after Brigid. Apparently, the pronunciation of Bridget with a sound came in with the Swedish spelling. It is not agreeable, and the beauty of the Irish name suffered.

The Irish name ought to be pronounced with a hard ; that is, as "Brigg-id," not as "Bridjit." In its most ancient form, the name was spelt with a final t, Brigit, and was Latinised Brigitta. From an early time, however, and down the ages, it was spelt Brigid; Latin form, Brigida. However, the complicated matter of orthography is not ended at this point; for in Modern Gaelic—the language as spoken for the past seven centuries—the becomes silent, and the name usually is spelt in Gaelic Brighid ( Brighde), with a pronunciation "Bree-id." From this it will be seen how Kilbride and St. Bride's are derived.

Accordingly, in writing English we adhere to Brigid as the correct historic and literary form. Let us pronounce it "Briggid," although we often hear people nowadays, under the influence of the revived Irish language, saying "Breeid," which is, as we have shown, fully permissible. In Munster, the pronunciation "Bride" has come into use, and often the name is written Bride, instead of Brigid. Since this development is native and natural, we can make no objection to it, and would be glad to find children christened Bride as well as Brigid, whenever a due respect for our saint is recovered. The colloquial pet form is not the ugly Biddy, but Bridie...

1 Rev. P. Woulfe, Irish Names and Surnames (1906).

Image: 'Pilgrim's prayer, from St. Brigid's well, Near Buttevant, County Cork, Ireland.' by Alison CassidyThis file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Well, I can't agree that the form "Biddy" is ugly, but I can understand why the writer thought sohow often we reject words that have come to symbolize our own or another's oppression. Now that I am aging up a bit, I think I shall adopt the word "biddy" to refer to myself. I am an old biddy, daughter of Brigit, and proud of it!

Image: Great Expectations: 'Pip and Biddy sitting on a bank in the Marshes', by John McLenan.  License: John McLenan   [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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