Original URL: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,967569,00.html

We'll fight to save Gaelic, so long as you don't use it
The Guardian
Saturday May 31, 2003
Gerard Seenan


When Austin Boyle went to register the birth of his daughter Aoife, he wanted to celebrate her Gaelic heritage. He had given her a Gaelic first name and planned to do likewise with the surname.

But when Mr Boyle got to the desk of the register office in Kyle, in the west Highlands, he got a bit of a shock. Although the Scottish executive spends millions of pounds each year trying to save the language from dying out, he was told that he couldn't register a Gaelic surname.

"I was told by the local office to contact Edinburgh, so I did. When I got on to this fellow he said that Gaelic, as far as their policy is concerned, is a foreign language. He added that wanting to register the name in Gaelic would be similar to registering it in Sanskrit."

According to the rules, if a surname is translatable into English then that name must be used. So while Mr Boyle is allowed to give his daughter a Gaelic first name, a Gaelic surname is out.

After years of exile in England, he has returned to the Highlands and is attempting to re-engage with his Gaelic roots. His son is
in Gaelic medium education and Mr Boyle is learning Gaelic in his spare time.

As part of this embracement of Gaeldom, he wanted to adopt the traditional naming scheme by giving his daughter the full name of Aoife Lochaillse NicBhaoill, with the last name meaning daughter of Baoill - Boyle in English.

But, although 13m of government money a year is spent promoting Gaelic culture and language in Scotland, Mr Boyle was told he could only register his child in English. He is now refusing to register the birth, though he is legally required to do so, while the general register office looks again at its rules.

Mr Boyle said: "In Wales you can register your child's name in Welsh and English, but in Scotland you can only register it in English. It is crazy, but Gaelic has no legal status in Scotland."

Alex Neil, a Scottish National party MSP who is attempting to reintroduce a Gaelic language bill, said the ruling should be changed. "This is absolutely absurd. It is nonsensical and shows why the Gaelic language needs legal status. It is essential to change this nonsense and get rid of this discrimination of what is the indigenous Scottish language."

Gaelic, introduced to Scotland from Ireland in the fifth century, has been in decline for 400 years. The 2001 census showed the number of Gaelic speakers had fallen 10% in a decade to below 60,000.