Wednesday, July 1, 2020

A Rose by any Other Name . . .

...would still be translated into Latin for church records.

As if I and my husband's DNA matches weren't having enough trouble determining who their Falvey ancestors were, back in County Kerry, we need to consider yet another research stumbling block: how Catholic church clerics handled record entries for Irish names of children growing up in their anglicized homeland.

In my search to discover more about the possible family constellation for my husband's second great-grandmother Johanna Falvey, I've been reading the pages of two Catholic parishes' baptismal and marriage records. The goal of this search—did I say exhaustive?—is to spot any mention of the Falvey surname in either the mother's maiden name or that of the child's sponsors, no matter what the child's own surname.

Within the right time frame, I ran across this entry for the baptism of one Mary, daughter of Daniel Cullinane and his wife, who was listed as Debora Falvey. The family was noted—if I can read the handwriting correctly—as living in Knockauncore, encouragingly agreeing with some other Falvey records I had spotted. Best part, though, was the sole sponsor listed for baby Mary: Johanna Falvey.

We've already discussed the likelihood of that sponsor being either a sibling or in-law of one of the parents, so this is a promising sign. Even more exciting to realize is that the Cullinane surname has shown up in one of the DNA matches I and my research partner have spotted.

The difficulty with this baptismal entry is not readily apparent, though—until the researcher tries to piece together any other records for this family group. Mother "Debora" apparently found herself a victim of the tendency of priests to record Irish names as Latin ones—even if there was no corresponding form for that name in Latin. Either that, or her husband Daniel had several different wives over the course of a few years of his life.

Delving into this possibility, we can already guess the source of some of the confusion. Have you ever noticed place names in Ireland which cause you to wonder about just how to pronounce that letter combination? Take, for example, the seaport of Cobh, site of the last stop of that fateful Titanic voyage. Or names of Irish notables, such as the legendary Queen Maedhbh (okay, so they reduced a few letters to result in Medb). There is a reason for those awkward combinations: the Irish alphabet does not include all the letters that come with the English alphabet. Thus, inventive combinations to represent specific sounds.

In addition to that problem, though, is the interface that gets added on when Catholic priests needed to translate names into Latin. Some Irish names simply do not have corresponding Latin equivalents. So priests got inventive—but, unfortunately, not standardized in their approach. Even within the same parish, if records were kept by more than one priest, the same name could be creatively morphed into two or more Latin "equivalents."

That, apparently, was the case with the woman entered as Daniel Cullinane's wife Debora. Through the years, she was identified with a number of different names, including, at one point, the name Gobinette, which baptismal record I shared in a post last week. True, even her maiden name Falvey had been mangled, but would you have guessed her first name, just by reading that record?

Thankfully, we now have several aids to help us navigate those Latin records while we search for those elusive Irish ancestors—everything from quick lists of common Latin terms in church records to more extensive lists by categories, to even a searchable index of Irish boys' names (or this more complete list which includes both male and female names).

As for the name Gobinette, it turns out the priest wasn't entirely off track when substituting the more recognizable Debora for us English-speaking researchers. Gobinette is apparently itself an anglicized form of the Irish Gobnait, a name common in the region around County Kerry, which in turn can be further anglicized into the more recognizable names Abigail or Deborah.

Thus, depending on the priest recording the various baptisms of the Cullinane family from Knockauncore in County Kerry, Daniel's wife Gobinette might reasonably have been listed as any one of those versions of her name. But whoever she really was, she was sister to someone named Johanna Falvey—of whom I'm keenly interested to learn more.

Above document from the Catholic parish records from Kilcummin, County Kerry, dated August 1856; image courtesy


  1. Oh my. And I thought my names were confusing.

    1. I suspect we all have a collection of confusing names to contend with, Miss Merry!


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