Monday, October 27, 2008


This is the first post that takes a suggestion from a reader (thanks, StephanieG!) to further extend the realm of ignorance in order to combat it. Luckily, my ignorance probably matches anyone's who posts here, so I can treat your ignorance as my own!

Today's word is "Hibernian". Our commenter confesses to thinking the word is an Irish word, but has recenly discovered that it's the name of a Scottish football team. I am guessing that it is a Celtic word, with a meaning in both languages. My own associations to the word are curiously financial, as my only point of reference is the "Hibernian National Bank." And I am intrigued by the possible connection to the word 'hibernate'. I will even guess that it all somehow relates to the Latin word for winter, which I believe is something along the lines of 'hiver'. So lets see where I went astray...

So Wikipedia has it that "Hibernia" is the Roman name for Ireland. Apparently, this is some sort of dubious translation from the Greek word for Ireland "Iouernia" with overtones of the Latin word hibernus, meaning 'wintry'. I am sorry to say that Hibernia and Iouernia do not sound similar enough to be cognates unless you are extremely hard of hearing...Perhaps someone would like to stake their doctoral thesis on the idea that the Romans were slightly deaf. Or at least deaf to the sound of Greek words.

It's interesting that Ioernia and Eire do have a similar sound.

This leaves the problem of the fact that, to American ears, "Hiberian" has vaguely Scottish connotations. But it turns out that the Romans were as confused as we are about this. "Scotia eadem et Hibernia", as Isidore of Seville would have it, means "Scotland and Ireland are the same country". Is this a condescending blurring by the conquering class, or is it in fact an identity?

I don't know, but it's worth pondering.


  1. Technically, I always thought it meant "Scottish" *because of* the football team. Only recently - while doing a crossword! - did I find out it meant "Irish".

    Who knew? NOT ME!!

  2. Unfortunately, I now have the Hibernia National Bank theme song running through my head--"Remember us, HI-bern-i-a, HI-bern-i-a." Why do I have the feeling that kilts were featured?

  3. Hibernian F.C. Edinburgh is so named because it was founded in 1875 by Irish Catholics

  4. Thanks, anon! It is all beginning to become clear. However there is still a gap about the Hibernia National Bank in the U.S. I assume it was a bank set up to serve the Irish community, but did it somehow come here by way of Scotland? Sounds like it's worth a bit of googling...