Name of the Day: Hamish

Many classic names sound just a bit different in other tongues. But no name has shapeshifted as dramatically as James. We’ve discussed the Cornish Jago and the Italian Giacomo. Thanks to Katharine for suggesting yet another variant: the Scottish Hamish.

To an American ear, Hamish is undeniably red, white and blue – as in the colors of the Union Jack. It’s rarely heard in the US, and has never charted in the Top 1000. While Hamish remains popular in Scotland – he came in at #108 last year – he’s especially favored in Australia, where he’s a Top 100 pick. In fact, in Victoria, Hamish comes in at #50.

Modern bearers of the name hail from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. A few that come to mind, both fictional and real, include:

  • In 1994’s Four Weddings and a Funeral, Hamish is the groom in wedding number three – and one of the reasons it takes the whole movie for Hugh Grant’s Charles and Andie MacDowell’s Carrie to live happily ever after;
  • The BBC’s Monarch of the Glen featured Scottish actor Hamish Clark as Duncan McKay;
  • In the 2004 Summer Olympics, New Zealand’s Hamish Carter won the gold medal in the triathalon;
  • Australian band The Vines features drummer Hamish Rosser;
  • From the 1970s to the 90s, fictional – and powerful – Hamish Balfour appeared as Hot Shot Hamish in a comic strip about British football.

Without a well-known hero or a villain, artist or athlete attached to the name, Hamish is simply neutral – it’s hard to attach much of a feeling to him other than his British tone. It makes for an appealing heritage choice, but might be a stretch if you can’t claim a family tartan.

As for the evolution from James to Hamish, it helps to know a bit of linguistic theory to follow the thread. Lenition is one type of consonant mutation. As words travel from one language to another, they sometimes soften – in this case, the “jay” of James becoming a “sh” – think Seamus, the Irish form of James. The Scottish version was typically closer to Seumas.

The game of whisper down the alley doesn’t stop there. When Anglicized, instead of reverting to James, Seumas was heard – and spelled – Hamish. And so we see a classic name take on a seemingly unrelated form over a few centuries.

Hamish has an undeniable appeal, with his bright “ay” vowel sound and his Scottish vibe. But unlike many James variants – including Diego, Giacomo and Seamus – we’re not sure that this one translates quite as well as some of the others. We do like the idea of Hamish as a choice for parents of Scottish descent – and there are certainly many such families in the US – but it seems like a random choice if your background is, say, Swedish, Dutch, Greek or Jamaican.

In the UK, however, we suspect this one would wear well – an appealing twist on a classic.

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14 Comments

Perhaps this sounds a bit silly, but the name Hamish was ruined for me six years ago when I first saw Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.
Even the image of the cute triplets in Brave, my current obsession with Celtic names, and the fact that I love Sherlock (John Hamish Watson) cannot correct that for me. So as much as I WANT to like Hamish…I just CAN’T. It’s unfortunate, I suppose.

definitely needs the right last name to go with it.. just not too fond of the sound of it..I think it’s the ish, but also too “hammy” although it is Hay-mish, not Ham-ish, right? Been a while since I’ve seen Four Weddings and a Funeral

Thanks for making Hamish name of the day! I simply adore him – I imagine a curly headed, cheeky, cheerful little boy. Using Hamish would also be a lovely acknowledgement of all the James’ in my family but I just don’t think I’m quite Scottish enough to pull it off!

I can’t warm to Hamish. I usually love it in Lola’s combos, but elsewhere I am just not feeling it. It’s too breakfasty to me as well. Reminds me of ham and hash browns. =( And I would be honored to be on your blogroll, thanks!

EmmyJo made me actually laugh out loud. I think she’s rather “hammy”. (I used that word in a different way – get it?)

Photoquilty, I keep meaning to mention – love your Ethan icon!

I really hadn’t thought about the -ish factor. It’s an interesting point. And even if Hamish is undeniably different than Aiden and Jayden and Braeden, it’s true that “ay” feels worn out.

For me, Hamish is forever the guy that Andie MacDowell marries in Four Weddings and a Funeral. It makes it difficult to picture Hamish on a child. And I think that sums up Hamish for me – I love the idea of meeting an adult Hamish, but it’s difficult for me to imagine a baby Hamish. (Though surely they must exist!) Now Seamus? I know the most adorable baby Seamus, and that one works. 🙂

I’m with photoquilty on this one. Hamish sounds a bit too “hammy” to me (though I know the vowel is different), and the common adjective ending “-ish” certainly doesn’t help things. I could imagine an old British man saying, “No, I shan’t have sausages this morning. I’m feeling rather hammish instead.”

Photoquilty, It’s nice to have a dissenting voice in any discussion. It makes it more like an actual discussion rather than an all out gush fest. It takes a certain sort of courage to do so. 🙂 Thank you for being the dissenting voice most often.

I don’t like it! (Is anyone surprised?) It’s the AY sound, that I really detest; am just so sick of that sound in boys’ names. The other thing is the -ish ending. It’s generally a descriptive ending: Jewish, British, English… I read this online,and I think this is a good definition of what I’m talking about: “The suffix

It’s really charming! I’m just Scottish enough I could get away with it, but Hamish Huff sounds really silly to me. Also, the husband would never go for it.

I am thoroughly charmed by Hamish. I like his cheerful demeanor and his breezy style. I think, here outside of Boston, he’d be fine, no ‘ham-ish’ here. My only problem with him (and I’m being weird here) is he sounds overly Celtic with my surname and the sma next to my other kids. (It’s the same problem I have with my beloved Alasdair).
I really do like him though. Hamish is really handsome and I love that he’s familiar sounding but not at all common in my area (Hello from the other side of the world, Sophie!).

I have been to Scotland a half dozen times and love hearing him in that lovely brogue. I think he’s really great and while I’m not entirely sure he’s right for me, I would love to have a few in Josephine’s social groups as she grows up. He beats Aidan, Ryan & Brian by miles of style!

I find Hamish oddly charming, although he does sort of remind me of hash browns that little bit! 🙂 I live in Victoria, Australia, and, yes there was a Hamish in both my mother’s group with Matilda and in my mother’s group with the twins… it’s quite a popular name where I live. My niece (Annalese- who’s 3) was almost a Hamish also!

Plus, there’s an ultra wicked comedy duo named Hamish & Andy out here who I’m pretty sure are based in Melbourne (the capital of Vic.), so they’re probably partially responsible for the surge – especially because most are sick of Andy (the name, not the person!!)

Maybe that’s why I find it a rather ‘cheeky’ name… any little boy I see named Hamish always has a little grin on his face!