Learn English – When does the name prefix “Mc” take stress

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Mc (or Mac) is often used as a prefix in Gaelic-derived names.

In one class containing most such names, prefixing Mc does not affect the position of the accent somewhere on the base name. Thus Mc is unstressed. For example:

  • McDonald /mɛkˈdɑnl̩d/
  • MacArthur /mɛkˈarθr̩/
  • McCoy /mɛk̚ˈkoj/
  • McGill /mɛˈɡɪl/
  • McMahon /mɛkˈmæn/
  • McCarthy
  • McLeod
  • McDonnell
  • McCormack
  • McEwan
  • McAllister
  • McOrmond
  • McNuggets

But sometimes Mc takes stress:

  • McIntosh /ˈmækɪntɑʃ/
  • McIntyre /ˈmækɪntajr̩/
  • McAfee /ˈmækəfi/
  • McAvoy /ˈmækəvoj/

All of these I could think of contain a vowel-initial base name, but that's not a sufficient condition.

How can you determine which class a particular name belongs to, and what is the etymological reason for the distinction?

Best Answer

Check this: John Wells’s phonetic blog, "Joe Mc-what?"

the prefix M(a)c- means ‘son of’ in Irish and Scottish Gaelic. The general rule is that

  • before a stressed syllable it is pronounced mək, or in a more formal style perhaps mæk; thus McBride, McDonald, McEwan, McPherson
  • before an unstressed syllable it is mæk, and is itself stressed; thus McAnulty ˌmækəˈnʌlti, McAvoy ˈmækəvɔɪ, McEnroe, McIntosh, McNamara
  • but before k or g it is reduced to , thus McCarthy məˈkɑː(r)θi, McCorquodale, McGill, McGonagall, McQueen.

The problem with McElderry, and with several other names of three or more syllables, is knowing whether the second syllable is stressed or not.

There is more information in the blog post and the comments below.