The Random Thoughts of a Geek heading for Gaydon
The Random Thoughts of a Geek heading for Gaydon

Scottish Last-names on computers

The Mystery of Mc vs. Mac

This page will attempt to solve the mystery of Mc versus Mac, the alphabetization of Mc, as well as the mystery of the raised c often used in Mc.

Historically, Mac was a surname prefix for Irish or Scottish sons. Many people believe that Mc is Irish and Mac is Scottish, but Mc is merely an abbreviation of Mac, and both forms are in use in both places. Mac was often abbreviated as M’ or M’c (with the apostrophe to indicate it was an abbreviation). After the invention of the printing press, it was common to typeset abbreviations with raised letters, so M’c became Mʿ (Mc). In handwritten form, the c was often raised, and sometimes had one or two lines or two dots underneath to indicate it as raised (and therefore as an abbreviation). Since Mc is an abbreviation of Mac, Mc names are often seen alphabetized (as they properly should be) as though they are spelled Mac.

Personally, I think it is wrong to write Mc names with a lower c, as there is nothing to indicate that this is actually an abbreviated form of the original name. This raises a problem in that there are many people with Mc names that write their names with a raised c, yet the computer-age has forced people to typeset their names with a lower c.

— Megan.L. M’Clure.

My last name is McGaw, which is supposed to be written with the ‘c’ at a higher level, According to people online; the ‘upper-c’ is a type of diacritical mark, often in older hand written or in manually sign written locations there was drawn a line under the superscript c called a macron (macron below).

There are a few forum posts online that relate to this topic12, because of course there is…

Reddit’s AnticoIt, and a few others have pointed out this image, which shows the it isn’t a scaled down letter, but rather a separate letterform:

The most common ‘easy’ way to achieve something that works on a computer is to write McGaw, However when typed into forms often turns into Mcgaw as apparently computer programmers are amazing with names. Megan’s page continues

In HTML Mc can be typeset with:
M<sup>c</sup>3
or Mʿ can be typeset with HTML character code 703:
M&#703;

In LaTeX Mʿ (Mc) can be typeset perfectly with:
\newlength{\Mheight}
\newlength{\cwidth}
\settoheight{\Mheight}{M}\settowidth{\cwidth}{c}M\parbox[b][\Mheight][t]{\cwidth}{c}

A while ago I found the following online that I can use in LaTeX:

\makeatletter
\newcommand{\Mc}{}
\DeclareRobustCommand{\Mc}{%
  M%
  \raisebox{\dimexpr\fontcharht\font`M-\height}{%
    \[email protected]\fontsize{\[email protected]}{0}\selectfont
    \underline{c}%
  }%
}

This means that I can use

Philip \Mc Gaw

to make my last name render closer to correct.

  1. Moving the lower case “c” up above type in the last name McNeil?
  2. Using small caps with ‘Mc’ surnames
  3. This doesn’t work with browsers like Lynx, and even with graphical browsers the c can appear too high or too low with some fonts.

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