Surnames: If documents have a person as both/either McX or MacX, to which do I defer?

+8 votes
Hi Folks,

I've been adding a branch of my Mc/MacDowell family. For some branches, the current descendants have styled what I have already, higher-up in the tree as Mc, as Mac. Does this matter, or does one try for some sort of consistency. Or perhaps just list MacDowell as an alternate when it's fuzzy? Some sources seem to consider it all interchangable...

in Policy and Style by anonymous G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
retagged by Erin Breen
Hi JN,

I added the Scottish Clans and Irish Roots tags to your question, and hopefully some of those project members will weigh in on this issue.

4 Answers

+5 votes
Best answer
As you likely know Mac means "son of" in Scottish Gaelic. Mc is just an abbreviated form of that. There are definately trends depending on the source. One has to be careful with records especially cenus because the census taker was looking for any way to reduce his writing load so census records usually show as Mc. Documents with signatures are the best source for each person but even that can change over one's lifetime.

I prefer Mac but I have relatives who when they moved to the United States (from Canada) used Mc.  I think to answer your question there is no need to remain consistant but it can help when matching in WikiTree.

I have also seen such names spelt as Macdowell so that is another consideration. Good luck in your decision.
by Eugene Quigley G2G6 Mach 7 (75.7k points)
selected by Maggie N.
Thanks for the feedback! So far I've tended to go with the way that my ancestor, Samuel McDowell, wrote his name, since he and his daughter both wrote it out that way.
Love the Nova Scotia connection - I'm an hour from Springhill in Truro!
+3 votes
Hi JN.  I'm no authority on this subject, but I know that it's not unusual for the spelling of a surname to change over time, or across different branches of a family.  I do think there's some merit in trying to get it right (i.e., as the subject of the profile would have spelled it) as opposed to considering the spellings interchangeable.  I make it a practice to include a note in the Bio section stating that there are records available with both spellings, or there are relatives who used a different spelling, when that is the case.  For the spelling in the profile (often the determiner of the person's ID), I use the spelling on the person's tombstone, if that is known.  Or if it's fairly recent U.S. ancestor, and a WWI or WWII draft registration card is available, they make good sources because the subject himself completed the form, and presumably he knows how to spell his own name.  But if you don't have anything authoritative, sometimes you might just have to make a judgment call based on the prevailing data.
by Dennis Barton G2G6 Pilot (395k points)
Thanks for the feedback. For two who are my ancestors, I have signed documents where they write out "McDowell", but the others (other branches of the tree) are more often census entries at this point. I prefer to enter individuals into WikiTree as I go (and obtain sources), since it makes for a good collaborative draft. That's why I was trying to figure out which surname to input.
I would just note that a person's WikiTree ID is based on his birth surname, so if you misspell that and need to correct it later, it can be a bit of a hassle.  The system then needs to create a new ID and set up a link from the old ID to the new.  It keeps things a lot cleaner if you take a moment to make sure the birth surname is spelled correctly.
+1 vote
First a disclaimer - I'm supremely unqualified to voice opinions on anything to do with genealogy, as a total newbie of about a month's membership here and never having done anything of this sort ever before.

I don't remember the person (or their qualifications) who told me, but I do remember having been told many, many years ago that you can tell the origin of these names by the spelling - Mc is Irish and Mac is Scottish.  As I recall, it seems to me that was common knowledge ... but from the discussion here, it looks like that is not so.

I'll be watching, with interest, to see how it ends up!
by Gaile Connolly G2G6 Pilot (839k points)
Unfortunately Gail, that isn't always the case. Many people of Scottish ancestry spell their name "Mc".
Never seen a Guinness, a shot of Jamisons, or a dart board at a McDonald's have you?  Well...
0 votes
Old question, but thought I would throw in my two cents.

I was told early on that one should always record the name as written in the original record.

My maternal surname is McElrea - recorded variously as McElray, McIlray,McIlrea, McElrae and all in the same family. Recently we learned that the family on the Isle of Man dropped the "c" completely and became Mylrea. Older Irish records recorded the name as M'Elrea, etc.

I guess one could record an alternate name with the "settled" spelling, but I don't change the name *unless* it is an obvious error by the transcriber.
by Kathleen Cooper G2G2 (2.4k points)

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