Malo, Maclovius, Machutus.

I ran across a reference to the wee Scottish town of Lesmahagow and (of course) wanted to know how it was pronounced, and Wikipedia told me that it was /lɛzməˈheɪɡoʊ/ (which I would never have guessed). But it also had a startling etymology section:

The name means “Enclosure (meaning a walled area, like a monastery or fort) of St Machutus”. The saint was born in Wales and may originally have been known as “Mahagw” prior to emigrating to Brittany where he became known by the Latinised form of the name and also as “St Malo”. It is also possible that the first syllable may mean “garden” rather than “monastery”, although Mac an Tailleir (2003) believes the former was altered from the latter in Gaelic.

So off I went to investigate the saint, and found:

Saint Malo (French pronunciation: ​[sɛ̃.ma.lo]; also known as Maclou, Maloù or Mac’h Low, or in Latin as Maclovius or Machutus, c. 27 March 520 – 15 November 621) was a Welsh mid-sixth century founder of Saint-Malo, a commune in Brittany, France. He was one of the seven founding saints of Brittany. […]

Malo’s name may derive from the Old Breton machlou, a compound of mach “warrant, hostage” and lou (or loh) “brilliant, bright, beautiful”.

All those “may” and “possible” make me itch, but it’s certainly an intriguing tangle. From Lesmahagow to Saint-Malo in one easy step!


  1. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Where two of my grandparents came from, more or less 🙂

    I would say it with Liss- for the first syllable, actually, but the Wikipedia speaker is certainly from somewhere around there, so call it variation!

  2. I figured you’d have something to say, but I’m delighted there turned out to be a personal connection!

  3. Possibly the same saint was the dedicatee of Kilmacud. My Dublin cousins played Gaelic football for Kilmacud Crokes.

  4. Although Kilmacud Crokes is located in Stillorgan. (The article doesn’t say why they’re called Crokes, just that “The name of the joint football/hurling teams was changed from Kilmacud G.A.A. club to Kilmacud Crokes G.A.A. club in 1971.”)

  5. David Marjanović says

    c. 27 March 520 – 15 November 621

    He lived to be 101 years old? Not impossible, of course, but is it more likely that two partially historical saints got merged?

  6. Even the existence of specific dates seems unlikely.

  7. c. 27 March 520


  8. “In April 1966, Crokes hurling club joined up with Kilmacud football club.” Crokes were presumably named after Archbishop Thomas Croke, founding patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association and namesake of its national stadium, Croke Park.

  9. Ah, thanks!

  10. is it more likely that two partially historical saints got merged? the article admits the possibility and names Saint Marcoult, but the only Saint of that name with an article has incompatible dates.

    “c. 27 March 520” must mean “27 March c. 520”.

  11. David Eddyshaw says

    Well. we’re not sure if it mightn’t have been the day before or the day after …
    Probably morning, though.

  12. … Wikipedia told me …

    Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (LPD) gives unvoiced /s/, confirmed in its UK and US spoken versions. The WP pronunciation has a readily believable voicing to /z/ before /m/; but the first element in isolation, Gaelic lios (Wiktionary: “garden”, etc.), is unvoiced.

    … is it more likely that two partially historical saints got merged?

    My guess is that their historical parts got merged by militant Breton proto-retro-Marxist revisionists to make one fully historical saint, and the ahistorical parts were simply discarded.

  13. PlasticPaddy says

    If one is going to mimic the accent in the pronunciation of the town by making the s a z, then maybe the first vowel should be a schwa…
    When I saw the name Machutus, I thought it might be a Latinisation of Mac Hiúdaí. However, despite their cause being a lost one in the face of the Saxon foe (sorry, D.E.), I do not believe many Welsh around 27/03/520 had parents called after St. Jude.

  14. Any relation to Jackson Mac Low?

  15. David Marjanović says

    Even the existence of specific dates seems unlikely.

    Well, the precise death dates of Catholic saints are considered so important they’re easily the most believable part of an entire hagiography by far. (If people can remember to chant their Vedas with consonant clusters and palatal plosives and all that jazz, people can also remember that a particular saint died on a particular date.) But that also means that if, for whatever reason*, a death date was not known, there was immense pressure to make one up…

    * including but by no means limited to critical existence failure

  16. @David Marjanović: The focus on dates of saints’ deaths seems to have been an overgeneralization of the commemoration of the numerous martyrs in early Christianity. For a martyr, the date of death may well have represented the most significant event in a Christian life. Absent some better date that was specifically known (such as the opening of the Second Vatican Council), the date of death came to be the default choice for the feast dates of any saints, even those who died under the most boring of circumstances.

  17. The date of a saint’s death is a saint’s heavenly birthday, the date of the entrance of a saint into heaven. That is why it is important and why it is commemorated over a saint’s earthly birthday. There are one or two exceptions, like St John the Baptist, where a saint’s earthly birthday is also commemorated, and certain other saints are remembered on dates other that those of their deaths for a number of other reasons as well.

  18. John Cowan says

    Marie-Lucie wrote in 2014:

    When I came to North America I was surprised to learn that there were special days commemorating the births of famous dead people, for instance Abraham Lincoln. Their births? What for? They hadn’t done anything yet! French people recognize the anniversaries of famous people’s deaths, occurring after a lifetime of achievement. These anniversaries are not public holidays but the media run features about the people, learned societies organize conferences, visits to the graves, dinners, and similar events.

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