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An tuiseal gairmeach

The vocative case

We’ve learnt names but now we are going to learn how to address people or call them by their name. The fancy, official name for this is the vocative case. 

If you want to summon someone, use ‘a before any name – the official title is the vocative particle and tells someone that we are summoning them. But wait, what is this? This doesn’t exist in English? Oh yes, it does. Think of the O in “O Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou, Romeo” or the O used in religious texts and services. 

We’ll look at the other factors that affect the vocative case. 

Is the name in Scottish Gaelic? 

If not, it remains unchanged.

Mohammed -> Mohammed 

Sunita -> Sunita 

Nikki -> Nikki 

Zac -> Zac 

Is it a female name? 

Calling on people with feminine names in Gaelic depends on a number of factors. We’ll look at these and start with the simplest first. 

Does the Scottish Gaelic name begin with a vowel? 

It remains unchanged. 

Anna -> Anna 

Eilidh -> Eilidh

The vocative particle a is commonly swallowed up by the vowel in modern spoken Gaelic, so remains unchanged.

Does the Scottish Gaelic feminine name begin with any of these consonants L, N, R, or the combinations Sg, Sm, Sp, or St? 

If so, just add the a before the name. 

Raonaid –>a Raonaid 

Does the feminine name start with a consonant which does take lenition (such as B, C, D, F, G, H, M, P, S, T)?  

Add an a before the name and lenite (add an h after the first letter) of the name. 

Màiri – >a Mhàiri 

Does the feminine name start with an F + vowel? 

Just lenite (add an h after the first letter) the name. 

Fionnghal -> Fhionnghal 

Note:    Fhionnghal!  As Fh is totally silent, it’s as if the name started with a vowel, so no initial A needed. 

Male names:

Exactly the same rules, but also, if the name ends in a broad consonant (one written with an a or u before it), its sound is changed to a slender consonant (written with an i before it). So:

Aonghas → Aonghais

Fionnlagh → Fhionnlaigh!  

As Fh is totally silent, it’s as if the name started with a vowel, so no initial A needed.