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Regarding names like McNeil or McDonald and such, twice recently I have been asked to move the lowercase c up so that the top of the lowercase letter aligns up with tops of the other two uppercase letters to either side of it like MᶜNeil or MᶜDonald, or even so that it sits above them like in M cNeil or M cDonald.

I do not recall seeing this done in most comparable situations.

Do you know why some might consider this necessary ... is it merely a matter of preferred style? And is the history of the different formats known?

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    @Catija I know what he means: the "c" of "Mc" is written as a superscript.
    – TrevorD
    Jun 29, 2016 at 20:40
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    It used to be fairly common to see the "c" of a name beginning "Mc..." written as a superscript, but I don't recall seeing it like that for a while. (Actually, maybe it's not quite a superscript; from memory the top of the "c" is level with the top of the "M"; whereas with a superscript such as 1st (first), the top od the "st" is slightly above the top of the digit.)
    – TrevorD
    Jun 29, 2016 at 20:45
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    My name happens to start with McG.. My family has always written the ’c’ high with a line under it. (we also pronounce it as “Mick”) but it’s so difficult to enforce in others that i’m completely ok with it “down” and I don’t even notice it at all when it’s not. (I do notice when the ’G’ is lowercase and it does upset me and I typically fight to get that corrected.)
    – Jim
    Jun 29, 2016 at 22:58
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    Hi Colleen - in what context were you asked to do this? Do you mean, you are a designer or typographer? If so, I'd guess that the client wanted an "old fashioned" look - right?
    – Fattie
    Jun 30, 2016 at 16:59

5 Answers 5

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I believe this is because the name element (now) usually expressed "Mc" is an abbreviation for "Mac"; at one time, superscript (often with an underline or under dots) was a common way of writing abbreviations without resort to an apostrophe. This is preserved in the symbol for "number".

You can see an example of this in the signature on the letter below, abbreviating "Nathaniel" (from Wikimedia Commons):

enter image description here

Writing Mc as MC therefore preserves the original, "true" form of the name in a way that Mc does not (as it does not indicate the abbreviation).

There is also a discussion here about the aesthetic and legibility benefits of the superscript c, for more formal type-setting.

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    At one time this style of writing abbreviations was used much more widely that just for names. For example archive.org/stream/TheGenevaBible1560/geneva_bible1560#page/n6/… contains many examples with the superscript printed above the preceding letter rather than to its right, like "y<sup>e</sup>" for "the", "w<sup>c</sup>" for "which", etc, etc. The original purpose seems to have been to save space, when paper and vellum were expensive and scarce commodities.
    – alephzero
    Jun 30, 2016 at 2:01
  • @alephzero, I hadn't seen/noticed the right-on-top version--thanks for the link. I tried to convey your point about the general practice extending beyond names with the "No." example. I believe the (US?) convention of using superscript for the letters in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. is also a relic of this practice, though those aren't exactly substituting for an apostrophe. The "Nath'l" example was just the first clear, high-res, open use-licensed example I could find in English.
    – 1006a
    Jun 30, 2016 at 3:18
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    @alephzero, the y in ye is not a y it's a thorn and it's pronounced th. It's a lost letter in English.
    – Separatrix
    Jun 30, 2016 at 14:54
  • @Separatrix Historically, that is true. In the source alephzero linked to here, however, the printed glyph is very clearly a ⟨y⟩, not a ⟨þ⟩. By 1560, an actual ⟨y⟩ was used to represent what had historically been thorns. Oct 3, 2017 at 19:23
  • This is nonsense. Mc is read as Mac, without confusion in English-speaking countries today. Hence it preserves the abbreviation. The raised ‘c’ only preserves an alternative historical way of doing this. It is now completely unnecessary except in period drama.
    – David
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:07
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Pronunciation.

enter image description here

The 'upper-C' is a type of diacritical mark. In the 'good old days' this used to have a line under the superscript C called macron. All these tend to alter the actual pronunciation of the name.

All this is to differentiate between Mick and Mack. The 'upper-C' is denoting the pronunciation to be Mack (as is Old MacDonald).

It should also be noted that it is archaic and doesn't really matter anymore.

  • MacDonald
  • McDonald
  • Mc̄Donald
  • Mc̱Donald
  • MᶜDonald
  • MDonald

Mc example

If you really want to get into it, look up: punctum delens, lenites, etc.

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    Mc is short for Mac, which is Gaelic for 'son of'. Although 'mick' is considered Irish and 'mack' Scottish, they have the same root.
    – AmI
    Jun 29, 2016 at 22:07
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    Regarding Mc/Mac pronunciation I think other factors take precedence. See article at phonetic-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/joe-mc-what.html?m=1 which says it depends on stress patterns of the following syllables. Indeed my experience (as an Irish person) is that I treat Mc/Mac/Mc-with-the-underbar as interchangeable as its pronunciation depends entirely on second part of the name.
    – k1eran
    Jun 29, 2016 at 22:46
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    @Aml Both regions pronounce it as 'mack' (or maybe even 'mock') The position of the letter has nothing to do with pronunciation.
    – James
    Jun 30, 2016 at 16:25
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    I have never, ever heard the idea that it was aiming to affect pronunciation. Someone will have to come up with some sort of reference for that.
    – Fattie
    Jun 30, 2016 at 16:56
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    @tucker as someone who was taught Irish for more years than I care to remember I know how to pronounce 'mac', which means 'son of' in this context. It's never pronounced 'mick' and I can only imagine this happened due to people with your surname no longer speaking the language. You can pronounce it 'mick' if you like and you'll be neither right nor wrong.
    – James
    Jun 30, 2016 at 20:34
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The computer killed the middlce case c, a raised c with 2 small lines underneath it. It was commonly available in old printing type faces but it was lost in conversion to computers. My family always used the middle case, but I have not found how to get it on the computer, though I have seen a a few times.

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    I suspect that the demise predated the computer by at least 50 years, and is more likely to relate to the introduction of movable type. And today with the right software you can put the c wherever you like in a document, or at least I can.
    – David
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:15
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... twice recently I have been asked to move the lowercase c up so that the top of the lowercase letter aligns up with tops of the other two uppercase letters to either side of it like MᶜNeil or MᶜDonald, or even so that it sits above them like in M cNeil or M cDonald.

I do not recall seeing this done in most situations.

Do you know why it would be necessary?

You could ask the person telling you...

This has nothing to do with the English language. The person paying you, or otherwise having authority over you, is telling you to do this. If that person also wanted it in green ink in Gothic script, then your job is to do it.

There was never, in history, a committee that sat down and cast in tablets of stone the precise position of that letter "c".

It is a matter of desired style.

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  • If 'This has nothing to do with the English language' the correct procedure is to CV rather than answer. Nowadays, the requirement is doubtless POB, but orthographics / typography is a grey area on ELU. Jul 31, 2023 at 10:58
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Putting in my oar on the Mick/Mack controversy: My family have always pronounced Mc as Mick—although the vowel is elided so quickly that it's really a schwa. My understanding is that it is indeed an abbreviation of Mac, but this is the preferred spelling and pronunciation among the Scots who emigrated to Ireland beginning in the 16th century. And yes, I have always been taught to write it as a superscript with a macron under it, although I rarely see that in type.

An exception is in names where the actual surname following the prefix begins with a vowel, as in McIntyre: in these cases Mc is pronounced Mac, and also becomes the stressed syllable.

(Everyone I know with this type of name identifies as Scots-Irish; I am not sure about native Irish names, but I believe it's not so common: O'– meaning pretty much the same thing. But I have seen the name of the legendary hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill spelled Finn M'Cool in popular fiction, and I would assume here also the apostrophe would be pronounced as a schwa.)

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    The stress does not necessarily move with vowel-initial patronymics. McAleese (from Mac Giolla Íosa) retains the Gaelic stress /mækəˈliːs/, for example, as do McAuley (and the first name Macauley; from Mac Amhalghaidh), MacAuliffe (from Mac Amhlaoibh), McOwen (from Mac Eoghainn), etc. Conversely, some names where the patronymic begins with a consonant have—at least sometimes—moved to initial stress, like McNamara (Mac na Mara ‘son of the sea’), which is varyingly stressed on the first, second, or third syllable; more here. Oct 3, 2017 at 19:44
  • What controversy? The question is about raising the ’c’ in Mc. Please pay attention.
    – David
    Aug 1, 2022 at 19:11
  • As an English person whose mother's maiden name, and therefore that of many of my cousins, starts with Mc (sometimes written with the raised 'c') I have always pronounced it with a sound much closer to 'muck' rather than 'mack' and certainly nothing like 'mick'. It's not exactly 'muck' it's more like a sound without a vowel. When names are written with the full 'Mac' that tends to be pronounced as 'Mack' as does the waterproof overcoat 'mac' short for 'macintosh' but I've never heard anyone pronounce 'Mc' as 'mick'.
    – BoldBen
    Aug 2, 2022 at 12:58
  • There's a lot of variation in unstressed vowels across English dialects, both in terms of the phonetics (which vowels are distinct, which aren't) and the precise realisation (where the tongue is for each vowel). (As for Finn M'Cool, the apostrophe is not pronounced as anything; it's a non-phonetic spelling, just like most English spellings.)
    – Stuart F
    Jul 31, 2023 at 10:03

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