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