Guinness – descended from ‘the chosen one’

History of the Irish name Guinness. Image copyright Ireland Calling

Guinness is a very popular name in Ireland. It is also found in England, America, Canada and Australia, much because of the mass emigration from Ireland in the years after the ‘Great Famine’ in the mid-1800s.

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The name is an anglicised version of the ancient Celtic name MagAonghusa. This was made up of three different Gaelic words; ‘mag’ meaning ‘the son of’, ‘aon’ meaning ‘one’, and ‘gus’ which meant ‘choice’.

When put together, the words formed the name MagAonghusa, meaning ‘the son of the chosen one’. Who the ‘chosen one’ was is unknown, but it is likely that it was the name given to a great warrior or leader.

There are records of the name as far back as the year 3BC, when it is believed an Irish invasion of Scotland resulted in the naming of the region, Angus.

Rulers of County Down

There is more solid evidence of the name in Ireland from the 12th century onwards. The MagAonghusa clan had control of a large territory in the north-east of Ireland. They fortified their position by building Rathfriland Castle in County Down.

The MagAonghusa clan were close neighbours of the Uí Néill clan, led by Hugh O’Neill and the two lived happily as allies for hundreds of years.

That was until Oliver Cromwell’s invasion in the late 17th century. His troops swept across Ireland and ruthlessly slaughtered any clans that resisted.

The MagAonghusa family was overpowered and their fortress, Rathfriland Castle, was destroyed. Their land was taken and handed over to British settlers.

The British landowners preferred to employ workers with English links. For this reason, many Irish people dropped the ‘Mc’ and ‘O’ prefixes from their names to make it easier to find work.

Written records of people’s names were also taken so that they could be taxed efficiently. The records were taken by English officials who wrote down the names as they sounded.

Therefore, the Gaelic names disappeared and more English-friendly versions replaced them. This was when the names McGuinness, Magennis and Guinness emerged.

There have since been many noteworthy people from all over the world named Guinness or one of its variations.

Arthur Guinness and the Guinness Book of Records

Arthur Guinness inherited £100 from his uncle in 1752. He invested it in a beer brewing facility and began manufacturing Irish stout. Guinness is now brewed in more than 60 different countries. Each year, more than 850 million litres are drank worldwide making the brewery nearly €2 billion.

Guinness. Photo copyright Ireland Calling

The Guinness Book of Records was the idea of Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of the Guinness Breweries. He got into an argument with a friend over what the fastest game bird in Ireland and realised there was no place to settle the argument either way.

He then realised that similar arguments must take place about thousands of statistics with no reference point for people to find a definitive answer.

He commissioned two London fact-finding brothers to compile a book of records and the first 1,000 copies were given away in 1954. The following year the book was a bestseller in England and America and has remained an authoritative record compiler ever since.

Achievers named Guinness from around the world

Alec Guinness

Alec Guinness was a successful actor of the 20th century. He won the Best Actor Oscar, Golden Globe and BAFTA for his role in the 1957 film, The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Guinness died in 2000 but is remembered fondly for films such as Oliver Twist, the Ladykillers and Dr Zhivago. He also played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the 1977 Star Wars movie.

Paddy McGuinness is an English actor, comedian and television presenter. He rose to fame in the late 1990s as the dim-witted doorman in the hit comedy Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights.

McGuinness and his co-star Peter Kay then starred in a spin-off about the adventures of the two doormen, Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere. McGuiness has since widened his appeal to television audiences by presenting the hugely popular dating game show Take Me Out.

Jasmine Guinness is an Irish model and designer who has been the face of campaigns for fashion giants such as Armani and Shu Uemura in the past.

Bunny Guinness is an English journalist and broadcaster. She is a leading landscaper and gardener and writes a column on the subject. She is a regular entrant in the Chelsea Flower Show and has won several gold medals at the event.

Video histories of popular Irish names

Irish names and their meanings