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Opening Page (Origin of "Finnerty" name)


Annals of the Four Masters

(a) "Where did the name Finnerty come from,
and what does it mean?"

Our understanding is this:

  • The Celtic version of the name "Finnerty" is "” Fionnachta";

  • "” Fionnachta" in Celtic means: grandchild (or later descendant) of "Fionnachta";

  • "Fionnachta" is a composite of two Celtic words: "Fionn" and "Sneachta";

  • "Fionn" in Celtic means "fair" - as in shade of white, and "Sneachta" means snow;

  • As a consequence of the above, it seems the original Celtic person known as "Fionn-Sneachta" (i.e. "fair snow" literally - but meaning "snow-white"), was a man or a woman with snow white hair, or snow white skin: or possibly both. Incidentally, and for reasons unknown to us, it seems people of such appearance were greatly revered by the ancient Celts. Similarly for people with snow-white skin and red hair; and Queen Meave of Connacht - who the ancient Celts believed was a goddess (and not a human being), is thought to be one such person.

  • It may be relevant to include here that the late W.T. Finnerty had a nephew (also called William, and middle son of his brother Patrick) born during the 1940's in the New Inn area of County Galway, who actually did have snow white hair; and who (as a child and in his early teens) had a nickname which strongly reflected its unusual colour: tangible genetic evidence perhaps of a direct link between himself and the original "fionn sneachta" ancestor from many dozens of generations earlier?

  • There is a very similar Celtic word to "Fionnachta" (which can be seen in modern Irish Language dictionaries) spelled: "FionnachtaŪ"; and the English meanings given are "discoverer" or "inventor". Whether or not there is any substantial relationship between the origins of these two words, we do not know at present.

    Translation distortions (from Celtic language to English):

  • When Ireland came fully under the grip of English control (in the 1600's) all, or almost all, Celtic family names (and place names) were forced through a very "rough and ready, any old way will do" translation process which was highly distorting: often (and perhaps deliberately) to an extent which meant the end result was completely meaningless in all languages.

  • In this hit-and-miss way, busy English scribes - who would have had no knowledge of Celtic languages (or very little) - quickly wrote down place names on maps, and drew up lists of tenants' names etc., based on what they heard and what was easiest for them to pronounce. Under these circumstances, ” Fionnachta was transformed into Finnerty by one scribe, to O'Finaghty or Finaghty by another, and so on.  Some of the other variations we know of include: O'Fenaghty, Fenaughty, Finaughity, Feenaghty, Fennaghty, Fennaughty, Finerty, Finnearty, O'Finnearty, Finnarty, Fennerty, Fenerty, Fenety, Fenarty, and Finnesty.  However, and as is believed to have happened with several other Celtic names, some of these variations (such as Fenerty and Fenety for example), may have originated after members of the family had emigrated from Ireland and established themselves in places such as England, Canada, the United States, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand.  Also, there is reason to believe that some (at least) of the people with the surnames Fenton, and Snow, are also Fionn-Sneachta descendants.

  • Had the English scribes been less busy, more knowledgeable, and more caring perhaps, "” Fionnachta" would probably have been translated to "Fairsnow", or "Snowfair" possibly.


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First placed on Internet: March 16th 2001
Most recent update: March 16th 2001
Original version of April 22nd 2000 (Easter Sunday)
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