Bermuda’s Ireland: Naming the Colonial World

  • Rebecca Ann Bach


Edmund Spenser worried that Old English settlers’ experiences in Ireland had caused them to “forgett theire Countrie and theire own names” (View 64 (1970) 83–4). In A View of the Present State of Ireland, when Irenius finally introduces his program for Irish reformation he calls on the English to

renew that old statute … by which it was commanded that whereas all men used to be called by the name of their septs according to their several nations, and had no surnames at all, that from thenceforth each one should take unto himself a several surname, either of his trade or faculty … whereby they shall not only not depend upon the head of their sept … but also shall in short time learn quite to forget his Irish nation. (View 155–56)

For Spenser a man’s English or Irish identity rested in his English or sept (clan) name; name and “countrie” or “nation” were inextricably linked. While integrating with the native community could cause settlers to lose national identity and name, colonizers could use the integrity of name and nation to divorce the Irish from their traditional clan identification. Spenser’s fear of English degeneration and his program for reidentifying the Irish point to the crucial place of names and naming in the new Atlantic world. As David Spurr argues, “the very process by which one culture subordinates another begins in the act of naming and leaving unnamed” (4).


True Reportory Colonial Transformation Patron Saint English Settler Atlantic World 
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© Rebecca Ann Bach 2000

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  • Rebecca Ann Bach

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