There is clearly a prefix in names like McDonald, McChrystal, O'Brian, O'Neal
What does this Mc and O signify? Looks like Donald, Chrystal, Brian, Neal are perfectly fine names on their own so why is there a prefix
The standard way to form a name using a simple patronymic byname for men is:
The standard way to form a name using an Irish clan affiliation byname for men is:
Two common misconceptions are (1) that Mac means "son of" — it actually means just "son", and the "of" comes from putting the father's name into the possessive case; and (2) that Mc is Irish while Mac is Scottish (or vice versa) — actually, Mc and Mac are two ways to write the same thing, and both occur in names from both countries. (What is true is that O' is almost exclusively Irish; despite the romantic notions we have of Scottish clans, they didn't use their clan affiliation in their names.)
Edit: as for why the prefix is used even though the prefix-less names look perfectly fine on their own, this is basically Gaelic grammar and thus out of scope for this site. Suffice it to say, some languages are fine with unmarked patronymics — names that identify the bearer's father using the unmodified given name — but Gaelic is not one of them.
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Mac, is the Gaelic for "son", and O' means "grandson of". It is found mainly in names from family of Irish origin.
See Wikipedia for more information.
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