Irish Endearments

Dude. Sweetie Pie. Buddy. Honey. Mack. Soulmate. Darling. Love. Sweetheart.

English is full of friendly, sometimes casual, often endearing, terms that people use for one another — some used for acquaintances; others reserved for those nearest and dearest.

Irish is the same way. What seems to surprise people, though, is that Irish endearments typically are NOT direct translations of English endearments. In fact, often what seems like  sweet phrase in English makes no sense in Irish at all (and vice versa).

A Common Request

On Irish translation forums, we are often asked to translate endearments and friendly expressions. In fact, after tattoo requests, endearments (usually for personalized gifts) are the most common.

Sometimes these requests are oddly specific, and it can be a bit amazing sometimes what people think can be translated (sorry, folks, but there just isn’t an Irish translation for “My sweet baboo.”)

When you’re willing to accept that exact translations aren’t always possible, however, the realm of Irish endearments is a very rich and satisfying one.

First, just a little grammar

The first thing we ask someone with such a request is “do you want it to sound as if you were talking TO the person or ABOUT the person?” It doesn’t matter in English, but it matters hugely in Irish.

In Irish, if you’re speaking directly to someone (or want it to sound as if you are), you use  a special construction called “the vocative case.”

For the purposes of this article, however, we’re going to assume the vocative case is what’s wanted.

Casual/friendly endearments

In English, there are often occasions when we want to use a friendly, or at least non-threatening, term for someone else:

“Hey dude!”

“How’s it going, buddy?”

“Watch it, Mack!”

“It’s OK, sweetie.”

In Irish, one of the most basic terms used in these situations would be “a chara” (uh KHAR-uh): “friend.”

In fact, you’ll find a chara used in everything from formal letter salutations to greeting cards. It’s used for both men and women.

A slightly more informal form of address in these situations (one reserved pretty much for males) would be a mhac (uh wak), which literally means “son,” but is used where an English speaker might say “dude” or “mate” or “buddy.”

An interesting side note

As an interesting side note, it’s likely that the English term “mack” came from the Irish a mhac!

More endearing endearments

As you get beyond the basic “buddy/dude/mate” endearments, the options increase. There are quite a few endearments that will be used for affectionate friendships as well as for closer relationships.

I tend to think of these as “midrange endearments.” They’re expressions that can be used between friends or between lovers. Often they’re also used as endearments for children.

Some of the more common include:

A stór (uh stohr): Literally “my treasure.”

A thaisce (uh HASH-keh): Also “my treasure.”

A leanbh (uh LAN-uv): Literally “my child.” (special note: this one often gets transcribed as “alanna” in Irish songs.)

More romantic endearments

Moving on, endearments become more romantic, intense, or passionate:

A mhuirnín (uh WUR-neen): Darling

A ghrá (uh GHRAH): Love

A chroí (uh KHREE): Heart

A chuisle (uh KHUSH-leh): Pulse

A rún (uh ROON): Secret

A chuid (uh KHWIJ): Portion/share

These will often be combined, to intensify the feeling. For example:

A rún mo chroí (uh ROON muh KHREE): Literally “Secret of my heart.”

A chuid den tsaol (uh KWHIJ den TEEL): Literally “My share of life”)

You’ll also find them intensified by adding adjectives, for example:

A ghrá geal (uh GHRAH gyal): Literally “bright love.”

Even more passionate

As we move along, we find terms that are even more passionate…terms that are reserved for lovers. Many of these are based on another word for “love”: searc (shark).

A chéadsearc (uh KHAYD-shark): First love (not “first” as in a series, but “first” as in “primary”).

A rúnsearc (uh ROON-shark): Literally “secret love” — a very passionate way of saying “beloved.”

A special case: soulmate

“Soulmate” is an especially popular request, and one that causes a lot of confusion, primarily because no one can seem to agree on what it means.

When Americans say “soulmate” they usually mean a romantic partner…someone with whom they are fated to be.

When Europeans say “soulmate” they usually mean someone with whom they have a lot in common — a very close friend, for example — but not necessarily someone with whom they have a romantic bond.

To make things even more confusing, misunderstandings of Irish grammar have resulted in constructions that are assumed to mean “soulmate,” even though they’re actually nonsensical.

Summing up the “soulmate” issue

A common assertion is that the phrase anam cara means “soulmate.” This is, frankly, pure nonsense, based on jamming two Irish words together using English syntax.

At best, anam cara could be taken to mean “a soul of a friend.”

There is an existing compound word — anamchara – that literally means “soul friend.” But this really doesn’t work as “soulmate” in either definition.

Anamchara is traditionally used to refer to one’s confessor or spiritual advisor.  Originally, it was used to refer to the spiritual advisor a young monk would be assigned when he joined the monastery.

In more modern terms, it’s used to refer to the priest to whom one offers confession before mass. Definitely nothing romantic there!

So what do I call my soulmate?

If you mean “soulmate” in the romantic sense, the more passionate Irish endearments should suit, including:

A ghrá geal

A chuid den tsaol

A chéadsearc

A rúnsearc

There are also a few words of more recent coinage (formed, really, from English terms), including:

Mo shíorghrá (muh HEER-ggrah) My eternal love

M’fhíorghrá (MEER-ggrah) My true love

Though, to be perfectly honest, these terms wouldn’t come naturally to native speakers, and are condemned by some as “Béarlachas” (Anglicisms).

If you’re using “soulmate” to refer to a very close friend, you also have several options:

A chara mo chléibh (uh KHAR-uh muh khlayv) My bosom friend

A bhuanchara (uh WOON-khar-uh) My eternal/enduring friend

 A dhlúthchara (uh GGLOO-khar-uh) My best/closest friend

Was this helpful to you?

Did this post help you sort out Irish endearments? Let us know your thoughts below.

Irish for Beginners free one-month course

Learn to introduce yourself in Ireland’s native language. Sent directly to your email inbox.

What you get for signing up:

  • Immediate download of our ebook “Learn Irish Gaelic Online – All you need to know” worth $19.
  • Exclusive weekly updates on all things Irish with the Bitesize Irish Gaelic newsletter.
  • One-month Irish Gaelic course sent to your inbox.

“We don’t sell or spam your details.” – Eoin Ó Conchùir, Founder, Bitesize Irish Gaelic.

Comments

  1. Steve says:

    I came here just for the translation of my sweet baboo. Only joking ;)

  2. Nan Schlumbrecht says:

    My Irish grandmother used to call me her “little heathen” in Irish; I’ve forgotten the actual words. She would often say it was a term of endearment, but I’m not really sure of that!

  3. Amy says:

    I am looking to get my Celtic tattoo to honor my family background as I am 2nd gen Irish on my mothers side and 4th gen Irish on my fathers side. It is a design that is made of the Trinity knot but I have 3 words that I want to place in it. Beauty, Love, Passion. I know the proper translation of Beauty and Love but I am having a difficult time pinning the proper translation for Passion. I am looking for the correct one that would translate into meaning “strong emotion, desire”. If I could please get the correct translation for it I would be very grateful. Thank you.

    • Audrey Nickel says:

      Amy, as this is for a tattoo, I strongly recommend you post your question on the Irish Language Forum (www.irishlanguageforum.com). As you’ve already found, there can be different ways to say a thing in Irish, and for tattoos we always recommend getting at least three Irish speakers in agreement before proceeding. There are several very good Irish speakers there who will be more than willing to help you. You do have to register, but it’s free.

  4. Dan says:

    Audrey,

    I went to purchase a copy of your e-book “Top 50 Irish Gaelic Tattoo Ideas” but kept getting an error message that the product was unavailable. Is your book no longer for sale? I’m very interested in purchasing – please let me know if there is some other way I can buy this!

    Thanks!

    Dan

    • Audrey Nickel says:

      Hi Dan,

      That e-book was written under contract to IGTF when Eoin still owned the forum, and was acquired by the new owners when they bought the forum. I’m afraid I have no control over it. I have no idea what they’re doing with the book…if they’re still marketing it, or even if they’re doing much in terms of maintaining the forum (sadly, the forum pretty much fell apart a little less than a year ago, and I’m no longer involved with it). Your best bet would probably be to go to http://www.irishgaelictranslator.com and see if there’s some kind of contact information there.

      Sorry…I wish I could be of more help!

      Audrey

  5. michelle smith says:

    Some of my ancestors are Irish, and I’ve always felt a strong connection there. I would like to know for a tattoo, my true love.

    • Audrey Nickel says:

      Hi Michelle,

      We don’t do translations here, but if you go to http://www.irishlanguageforum.com, folks there will be happy to help you. Just remember…ALWAYS get at least three people in agreement on any tattoo translation, and NEVER use machine/automatic translators.

  6. That’s interesting. I work for a company that sells Irish products and gifts via catalog and Internet. We have several jewelry items engraved with “Mo Anam Cara” which we thought was translated as “my soulmate.” Many of our items are sourced from Ireland, so I’m surprised to learn the phrase is considered “pure nonsense.”

    • Audrey Nickel says:

      Hi Angela. Yep, sad, but true. Sadly, not everyone in Ireland speaks Irish at all well, and these things happen a lot. I’ve seen those rings and pendants (a lot of people sell them) and they always make my blood boil.

      At best, “anam cara” could be translated as “soul of a friend.” The “mo” is wrong in any case, as when two vowels come together like that, they elide (so “my soul” is “m’anam,” not “mo anam.”) So you COULD have “M’anam cara,” but that would be even odder, as it would come out to “My soul of a friend.”

      If you really wanted to use those two Irish words to mean “soul friend,” you’d need “cara m’anama.” In Irish, the word being modified (in this case, “friend”) comes first and the modifier (in this case “of my soul”) comes after. Even then, though, it would be kind of iffy to use it in much of a romantic sense.

  7. jgunther says:

    Irish endearments- I have been really stumped on locating something special for my daughter. Her “Golden” birthday is coming up and I was trying to find something with Anam Cara on it (as my husband and I both have the wedding bands). We do believe that the three of us are eternally connected and that it does not only apply to “marriage”. I was disheartened to read that Mo Anam Cara doesn’t reflect what we were lead to believe, yet, now after 10 years, this is what we have come to cherish as a term of endearment. I know it might be upsetting because it is not translated correctly, but if there is no translation for it, at least it is perhaps keeping Gaelic alive, and gives some sort of connection to our heritage.

  8. Audrey Nickel says:

    jgunther…the problem is, it DOES mean something. It just doesn’t mean what it was sold to you as meaning. It means “my soul of a friend.” Written that way (with the words separated and no inflection on the second word) that’s all it CAN mean, sadly. And not eliding the “mo” to “m’” is just plain wrong. I think it’s criminal, frankly. If I’d been sold something like that and learned how wrong it is, I’d be in the jeweler’s face about it. BTW, we’re keeping Irish alive by learning it and speaking it…that’s the best way to honor any language. Mistranslating it does it no favors.

  9. jgunther says:

    Unfortunately, we purchased our rings from Westport. I love the owners, so I wouldn’t get in their face about it, when it was over 10 years ago. And have purchased many things from them, through the years, when we have returned. I do think the best way to carry on with the language is to learn it, unfortunately, not much opportunity to practice it. But I do enjoy symbolism. I just don’t think it is “criminal”, as you do, for not having it exact. If you look at history, many things change as time goes by…Look at many last names from Ireland and England…etc.
    If items begin to sell with the correct spelling, I will buy them. In the meantime, I still love my wedding ring and will never replace it – it has the meaning all the same, no matter what the letters read.
    Take Care.

  10. Audrey says:

    It isn’t a matter of “not having it exact.” It’s a matter of it being completely wrong. Your wedding ring says “My Soul of a Friend,” and that’s all it can possibly say. It IS criminal that people are selling these things that are incorrect…that a tiny bit of research would SHOW to be correct…and making a profit off people who don’t know any better. These people decided to pick up a dictionary for a language they didn’t speak, jam the words together using English syntax, and sell the results as Irish. Frankly, you SHOULD get in their faces about it, as they are either criminally ignorant or willfully selling shite translations. This is not a matter of language evolution, it’s a matter of ignorant people capitalizing on the ignorance of others.

  11. Columbcille says:

    I noticed that youre pronunciations sound like Ulster Dialect. Would your course also be more geared to ulster or the Gaoth Dobhair dialect?

  12. Audrey says:

    Columcille,

    Eoin does the recordings, and his dialect leans more toward Munster. I use more Ulster-geared pronunciations in the blog posts because that’s the dialect I speak. The differences are fairly minor, however.

  13. Google says:

    It will also increase the ranking of your website on search engines and will drive more traffic to your website.
    In addition, the observing surgeons could transmit their
    comments to the operating surgeon, who could read
    them on the Google
    Glass monitor. Besides placing advertisers ads on your Blog, you
    can also make money Blogging by placing Google Adsense into your Blog.