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.