A friend of mine who speaks gaelic treated me to a rant about the pronunciation of Samhain. Apparently saying it like "sam-hayn," "sow-wen" or "sow-een" is completely and utterly wrong, and it gives him the willies to hear it.

According to my friend (who has studied the matter intensely) Samhain should be pronounced as shavnah (if you’re male) or havnah (if you’re female). However, he says that most gaelic-speaking people, male or female, simply pronounce it shavnah nowadays.

He continued to rant about the people who vehemently insist that it must be pronounced "sow-wen," declaring that if they had ever bothered to open an Irish Gaelic dictionary they would see for themselves that they were sadly mistaken. He went on to blame Gerald Gardiner for this, claiming that he mispronounced it and his worshipful followers (these are his words, not mine - please don't hurt me) were afraid to correct him and so it's remained sow-wen ever since.

I promised to pass on the correct information, so remember, it's shavnah.

Have a Happy Samhain, however you want to pronounce it.

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I would like to say it's a silly thing to rant about BUT, nothing irritates me more than mis-pronuncitations and mis-spelling, it's just a *thing*, I have , LOL. Happy Samhain to you as well! :)
Hmm. I call it Hallows. As for Samhain, I have never heard it pronounced 'shavnah' before. That's a new one. Not that I'm disagreeing with you, just that I've never heard it that way before. I understand the willies, I get them when people pronounce it 'sam-hain'.

Does your friend speak Scots Gaelic or one of the Irish dialects of Gaelic? The little bit I studied was Ulster Gaelic and the 'mh' is a 'w' sound when flanked by broad vowels like 'a', 'o', or 'u'. It makes a 'v' sound when flanked by slender vowels, 'i' or 'e'. Just wondering. I know there are a lot of exceptions to that rule, maybe Samhain is one of those exceptions, I don't know.
I believe he's talking about Irish Gaelic, but I'd have to ask him and he's out of the country right now.

From what I understand though, he's also familiar with Scots Gaelic so the pronunciation could be Scots. I'll find out and get back to you.
I found this on Wikipedia: In modern Ireland and Scotland, the name by which Halloween is known in the Gaelic language is still Oíche/Oidhche Shamhna. It is still the custom in some areas to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night. It seems that would make more sense to be pronounced shavnah.

But the wiccan Samhain is a little bit more mixed in its origins: (also from wikipedia):
The Irish word Samhain is derived from the Old Irish samain, samuin, or samfuin, all referring to 1 November (latha na samna: 'samhain day'), and the festival and royal assembly held on that date in medieval Ireland (oenaig na samna: 'samhain assembly'). Its meaning is glossed as 'summer's end', and the frequent spelling with f suggests analysis by popular etymology as sam ('summer') and fuin ('sunset', 'end'). The Old Irish sam ('summer') is from Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) *semo-; cognates are Welsh haf, Breton hañv, English summer and Old Norse language sumar, all meaning 'summer', and the Sanskrit sáma ("season"). (Pokorny, IEW (1959), s.v. "sem-3", p. 905)

Whitley Stokes in KZ 40:245 (1907) suggests an etymology from Proto-Celtic *samani ('assembly'), cognate to Sanskrit sámana, and the Gothic samana. J. Vendryes in Lexique Étymologique de l'Irlandais Ancien (1959) concludes that these words containing *semo- ('summer') are unrelated to samain, remarking that furthermore the Celtic 'end of summer' was in July, not November, as evidenced by Welsh gorffennaf ('July'). We would therefore be dealing with an Insular Celtic word for 'assembly', *samani or *samoni, and a word for 'summer', saminos (derived from *samo-: 'summer') alongside samrad, *samo-roto-. The Irish samain would be etymologically unrelated to 'summer', and derive from 'assembly'. But note that the name of the month is of Proto-Celtic age, cf. Gaulish SAMON[IOS] from the Coligny calendar, and the association with 'summer' by popular etymology may therefore in principle date to even pre-Insular Celtic times.

Confusingly, Gaulish Samonios (October/November lunation) corresponds to GIAMONIOS, the seventh month (the April/May lunation) and the beginning of the summer season. Giamonios, the beginning of the summer season, is clearly related to the word for winter, Proto-Indo-European *g'hei-men- (Latin hiems, Slavic zima, Greek kheimon, Hittite gimmanza), cf. Old Irish gem-adaig ('winter's night'). It appears, therefore, that in Proto-Celtic the first month of the summer season was named 'wintry', and the first month of the winter half-year 'summery', possibly by ellipsis, '[month at the end] of summer/winter', so that samfuin would be a restitution of the original meaning. This interpretation would either invalidate the 'assembly' explanation given above, or push back the time of the re-interpretation by popular etymology to very early times indeed. Bealtaine, Lúnasa and Samhain are still today the names of the months of May, August and November in the Irish language. Similarly, an Lùnasdal and an t-Samhain are the modern Scottish Gaelic names for August and November.

Anyways, in my opinion, "sow-wen" is the correct Irish pronunciation for Samhain, our Sabbat. Shavnah is the correct pronunciation for Oíche/Oidhche Shamhna. Shamhna is Halloween, the cowan holiday in Ireland and Scotland.

Samhain Blessings,
AH! That's it! Shamhna is modern Gaelic and Samhain is Old Gaelic. That makes sense. However, I thought that whenever there was an 'H' in Gaelic, it wasn't a letter to be pronounced, per se, but indicated an aspirated consonant. Sort of like 'th' in English. The 'sh' sound comes from 'si' or 'se'. The slender vowels changing the sound of the 's'.

This topic inspires me to study more. Thank you.
A technical note from Wikipedia:

"(in English pronounced /ˈsaʊn/, /ˈsaʊɪn/ or /ˈsawɪn/,[1] from Irish samhain /ˈsˠaunʲ/, Scottish samhuinn /ˈsavɯɲ/, Old Irish samain /samanʲ/)...1 ^OED"

In other words, "sow-wen" is probably the closest, but there are a variety of ways to pronounce it. My suspicion is, though, that "shavnah" is actually a mispronunciation of the genitive/possessive form, spelled Shamhna, but correctly pronounced "havnah" or "hownah", regerdless of whether the speaker is male or female. However, the genitive/possessive form is never used as the subject of a sentence, so in fact, something along the lines of "sow-wen" will do nicely when using the word in English. (Sea, sea, tá beagánín Gaeilge agam./"Yes, yes, I have a little [Irish] Gaelic.")

Gaeilge/Gaelic was my fathers 1st language and I always heard him pronounce it as SIN has it stated above as sow-wen, the H is a silent letter in most Gaelic languishes, are many other letters. It can be used in some words but not in this case.

In the American language it is like saying that at times a Y sounds like an I; Example: Lynn/Linn and the second N here is silent!

Hope this helps, Blessings,


Caithfidh mé a rá, gur cheart fíoreolas teangeolaíoch a bheith ag duine nuair a bheidh an duine sin rud maidir le teanga a rá—go háirithe nuair a bheidh comhairle nó moltaí i gceist.

I have to say, that a person should have some genuine linguistic knowledge when that person is going to say something about a language—especially when advice or recommendations are in question. 

What Spiralle has said here is pure rubbish. Rubbish through and through. Whether it is Spiralle's rubbish or the rubbish of his or her friend (who has studied the matter intensely) it is still rubbish…

First off, not one of the Gaelic languages have initial consonant mutation depending on the sex of the speaker. Consonant mutation has a variety of causes, one of which is the grammatical gender of the noun preceding. Samhain has a genitive Samhna, and mutates when following a feminine noun, as in Oíche Shamhna.

Secondly, if you open an Irish dictionary, as I just have, you will find Samhain [saun´], where the tick indicates the palatal nature of the final consonant. [ˈsˠaunʲ] is another way of writing this. A reasonable approximation of this in English is just exactly what one hears every day in Ireland: "SOW-wen" with the first syllable rhyming with "how" and "cow" and the second syllable quite reduced. The genitive is pronounced [ˈsˠaunə] "SOW-na" and Oíche Shamhna is [ˈiːçə ˈhaunə] "EE-heh HOW-na" with consonant mutation from the feminine noun. 

I do not speak Scottish Gaelic, and can't comment on the Wikipedia re-spelling /ˈsavɯɲ/.

The pronunciation "SAM-hayn" is always incorrect. The "shavnah" which is "recommended" above would be [ˈʃavnə], which would be unprecedented in Irish, in Scottish Gaelic, or in Manx. 

There is a place for the curmudgeon. 

Thanks you!

Thank you!  My maiden name is a slight derivation on the Gaelic word for Summer (Samhraidh), though we've given up trying to get American's to pronounce it correctly and accept the anglicized pronunciation. *shrug* My folks are Irish citizens, so I've heard this Samhain pronounced correctly most of my life!

The argument the OP put forth had my teeth itching. Thank you for presenting the argument in a way everyone could understand! :D

Sounds like one of those Tomato vs. Tomato things.


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