proper nouns

Proper nouns are nouns which are also names, identifying and referring to particular, definite entities – a specific person, object, place, group &c. Examples of proper nouns are –

Proper nouns contrast with –


simple proper nouns [+/-]

The vast majority of proper nouns are simple, not being (at least obviously) formed from other words –

  • Raonaid fem. ‘Rachel’
  • Glaschu masc. ‘Glasgow’
  • Laideann fem. ‘Latin’

acronyms [+/-]

Acronyms are a class of proper noun, derived by concatenating the initial letters in a name-description –

  • CNAG – from the name-description Comunn na Gàidhlig ‘The Gaelic Society’

improper nouns [+/-]

‘Improper’ nouns are proper nouns which have been derived transparently from common nouns –

  • Gairm ‘[name of literary periodical]’ – from gairm fem. ‘calling, crowing’

forms [+/-]

gender and case [+/-]

Like all nouns, proper nouns have -

  • gender – every proper noun is either feminine or masculine –
    • Mairead ‘Margaret’, Laideann ‘Latin’ and Sasainn ‘England’ are feminine proper nouns.
    • Seumas ‘James’ and Bòd ‘Bute’ are masculine proper nouns.
  • case – every proper noun form is either nominative or dative or genitive or vocative –
    • The genitive and vocative forms of the masculine proper noun Seòras ‘George’ are Sheòrais; the nominative and dative forms are just Seòras.
    • The (traditional) dative form of the feminine proper noun Alba ‘Scotland’ is Albainn, and the genitive is (na h-)Albann.

declension [+/-]

The rules for declining proper nouns are –

  • The traditional dative form of a feminine proper noun is created by slenderising the corresponding nominative form (if possible) – MaireadMaireid, LaideannLaidinn. In contemporary Gaelic usage, the dative form is identical to the nominative.
  • The genitive form of a feminine proper noun is generally created by slenderising the corresponding nominative form (if possible) – MaireadMaireid, LaideannLaidinn.
  • The dative form of a masculine proper noun is identical to the corresponding nominative.
  • The genitive form of a masculine proper noun is generally created by both slenderising and leniting the corresponding nominative form (if possible) – SeumasSheumais, BòdBhòid.

Since they refer to single, specific entities, all proper nouns have singular number. There are no plural (forms of) proper nouns.


modifiers [+/-]

Like all nouns, a proper noun can have one or more (post-)modifiers –

  • adjectives – Seumas Beag ‘James Junior’, Mairead bhàn bhòidheach ‘pretty fair Margaret’, Sasainn Nuadh ‘New England’
  • preposition (phrases) – Dòmhnall à Lunnainn ‘Donald from London’
  • relative clauses – Iain a bha anns an sgoil còmhla rium ‘John who was at school with me’, Lunnainn, nach eil ann an Alba ‘London, which is not in Scotland’
Note that capitalisation of an adjective modifying a proper noun depends on whether it is assumed to be an intrinsic part of the name.

specifier [+/-]

Like all nouns, a proper noun can have a (post-)specifier –

  • genitive proper noun – Màiri Sheumais ‘James’ Mary’
  • pre-specified common noun – Dòmhnall a’ Mhinisteir ‘The Minister’s (son) Donald; Donald, the son of the Minister’, Seumas a’ Ghlinne ‘James of the Glen’

In addition, a few toponymic proper nouns usually switch to being a kind of name-description (‘uncommon nouns’) in the genitive and hence take the article – AlbaEaglais na h-Alba(nn) ‘The Church of Scotland’, Èirinn ‘Ireland’Gàidhlig na h-Èireann ‘Irish Gaelic’.

uses [+/-]

Like other names, proper nouns belong to different semantic classes, depending on the kind of entity they identify –

  • Anthroponymic proper nouns name individual persons (including personified entities) – Mairead fem. ‘Margaret’, Seumas masc. ‘James’.
  • Toponymic proper nouns name places (geographical and cosmological entities) – Leòdhas masc. ‘Lewis’, Sasainn fem. ‘England’, Bheunas masc. ‘Venus’.
  • Ergonymic proper nouns name groups, teams, organisations, companies &c (social entities) – Misneachd ‘[name of pressure group]’, CNAG ‘[acronymic name of government agency]’.
  • Chrematonymic proper nouns name songs, poems, stories and other creative works – Gairm ‘[name of literary periodical]’, Bannan ‘[name of television drama serial]’.
  • Glottonymic proper nouns name languages and dialects – Laideann fem. ‘Latin’, Albais fem. ‘Scots’.

lenition [+/-]

Proper nouns which are the (genitive) (post-)specifier of another noun are systematically lenited, or not, depending on the nature of the entity referred to –

  • usually lenited –
    • masculine anthroponymic proper nouns – taigh Sheumais ‘James’ house’, cf. *taigh Seuma(i)s
    • toponymic proper nouns – sgoiltean Ghlaschu ‘Glasgow’s schools’, cf. *sgoiltean Glaschu
  • usually not lenited –
    • feminine anthroponymic proper nouns – taigh Màiri ‘Mary’s house’
    • ergonymic proper nouns – buill Misneachd ‘the members of Misneachd’, cf. *buill Mhisneachd
    • chrematonymic proper nouns – deasaiche Gairm ‘the editor of Gairm’, cf. *deasaiche Ghairm
Note that genitive feminine anthroponymic proper nouns are lenited in certain dialects.