The Derivation of the Surname 'Coleman'

Genealogy at the Irish Times. 

"In Ireland the name is almost always of native Irish origin and comes from the personal name Colmán (Kole-mawn)[1], a version of the Latin Columba, meaning ‘dove'.


Its popularity as a personal name was due to the two sixth century Irish missionary saints of the name, in particular St. Columbán (Columbanus), who founded monasteries in many places throughout central Europe and whose name is the source of many similar European surnames: Kolman (Czech),

Kalman (Hungarian), Columbano (Italian).


Irish Genealogy on

           "Coleman in Ireland almost always denotes a Gaelic origin. The sept of Ó Colmáin, a branch of the Úi Fiachrach, was located in the Barony of Tireach (sic), Co. Sligo, and representatives of it are still living in north Connacht(sic). Colemans, however, are more numerous in Co. Cork. These are a sept called Ó Clúmháin[1] in Irish which, like the foregoing, originated in Co. Sligo. The branch of it which migrated to Munster became numerically strong. Indeed they are even more numerous than would appear from the statistics at first sight, because Ó Clúmháin has also been anglicized Clifford and there are many Cliffords in Kerry and Cork


Coleman family History Report - Mayo Family History Centre, Balinrobe.  

The surname Coleman, as it occurs in Ireland, is borne by a number of families of different origins. The great majority of Colemans in Ireland today derive their descent from two old Irish families who adopted "Coleman" as the anglicised form of their surname. Both of these families have their origins in present-day County Sligo.                 


Ó Colmáin.

This surname means "descendant of Colmán." The personal name Colmán, a diminutive of Colm, meaning "dove", was very popular in ancient Ireland and was borne by over one hundred Irish saints[3]! While it is possible that a number of these Colmáins gave rise to different Ó Colmáin families, the only recorded family of the surname were a branch of the Úi Fiachrach, a tribal group who held sway in Connacht over the present counties Mayo and Sligo until the arrival of Anglo-Norman families here in the early thirteenth century. This Ó Colmáin sept had their ancient headquarters in the townland of Grangemore, parish of Templeboy, Barony of Tireragh, County Sligo[4].


Ó Clúmháin (pronounced 'o-cloo-waun', emphasis on the ‘cloo').


This surname means "descendant of Clúmán", where Clúmán (pronounced ‘cloo-maun') is a personal name derived from clúmách, meaning "hairy"[5]. This was a literary and bardic family in County Sligo. They were hereditary poets and chroniclers to the O'Haras, one of the most powerful families in old Sligo. Some of the families migrated to south Leinster and West Munster where they anglicised their surname as Coleman and Clifford.




I ascribe the differences in pronunciation and spelling between Ó Colmáin and Ó Clúmháin to the ongoing vowel and consonant shifts occurring in language, and to conclude that both names have the same source Columhan (Kole-u-waun).  Add to this the fact that spelling wasn't given any regularity or uniformity until well after the introduction of printing in the fifteenth century[6]- in fact, the Irish were denied access to printing - and even in the English language spelling could hardly be said to be fixed until the development of lexicography and the subsequent publication of dictionaries in the eighteenth century[7].  If it was not my aim here to be descriptive rather than to become involved in theories, I would pursue it further.  However, these consonant and vowel shifts which were far more significant in olden times are explained in detail in such sciences of the language as etymology, philology and phonology.


[1]á as aw in ‘dawn'
[2] ú as oo in ‘moon'
[3] Woulfe, Rev. Patrick, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall - Irish Names and Surnames, Dublin 1923. P. 176
[4] Woulfe, Rev. Patrick, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall - Irish Names and Surnames, Dublin 1923. P. 473
     MacLysagh, Edward, Irish Families, their Names,Arms and Origins, Dublin 1991, p57
[5]Woulfe, Rev. Patrick, Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall - Irish Names and Surnames, Dublin 1923. P.468
[6] William Caxton introduced the Printing Press fropm Germany in 1476

[7] The publication in 1755 of the two-volume Dictionary of the English language by samuel Johnson

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