© Copyright 2024 Mary McGonigal

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This article applies to particular surnames

but many of the points made in it

apply to many surnames that transited from a Gaelic form to an Anglicised form

Quigley background

The name known in English as Quigley is a rendering of the Irish name Ui Coigligh. This was the name of one of the old Irish families dispossessed by the penal laws outlawing the political power of Roman Catholicism.

Their Gaelic culture and language came under threat from Anglo-Scots culture, and although many families continued to have influence in their own areas, and even to be quite wealthy, English and Scots language, religion and politics sounded the death knell in many areas of Ireland for native Irish speech.

 The surname was found in many of the counties of the north of Ireland, and arrived on mainland Britain, principally in Scotland and the north of England, from the time of the 1798 Rebellion onwards. Since it is an old name, however, it can be found all over Britain over several centuries in varying numbers, and in many other parts of the world where Irish people have travelled.

 In Henry IV (Part I) by William Shakespeare, the character, Mistress Quickly, a tavern keeper in Eastcheap, is undoubtedly a holder of this surname.

Quigley variants

Here are just some of the variants of Quigley to be found in references and records in English from the 1780s on:

Cogley        Coigley        Coigly        Huigly        Huygly        Kegley        O'Coigley        O'Coigly        Quagley        Quagly        Queggley        Quegley        Queegly       

Quick        Quickley        Quicley        Quig        Quigeley        Quigg        Quiggely        Quiggley        Quiggly        Quighley        Quiglay        Quigley        Quiglie        Quigly

(27) Only the variations without the letter 'T' as a starting consonant are listed here.

How did Quigley come to be Tweedley?

 All surnames, like language of all kinds, are subject to the forces of change from many directions. Some changes are historical, some geographical, some sociological. We track the changes more easily when we look back, than we do when we are alongside them.

 Here are some of the influences that caused some Quigley families to become Tweedley or one of its variants:

 a] in Ireland and Scotland, especially in western Scotland, two languages were spoken in the late 18th century: English, and a local form of Gaelic. Even in the later 19th century census forms a  column was still provided to indicate whether the person being recorded was a Gaelic speaker or not

b] names, like Quigley, too, were spoken in the Gaelic form: Coigligh is a Gaelic form, pronounced according to Gaelic rules of pronunciation. Some eccentricities in the written form of the name in English arise from the hearer's efforts to put into English spelling what was essentially a Gaelic sound - Tweedley is what Coigligh may have sounded like to an English speaker

c] early 19th century English-speaking registrars and clerks spread variations of the spelling of Coigligh, a name that was basically unfamiliar and foreign to them

d] the individual or the family holding the name, especially if they were immigrants, wanted to be absorbed readily into their new country and to find an anglicised version of their name that would be easily recognisable and acceptable locally - Quigly or Quigley was an early version; the variants of Tweedley were later versions

e] written records favoured certain variants in particular areas of the country, and at particular historical periods. Not everyone could read; there were no radios or TVs, so regional differences were favoured. Once it became obligatory in Britain in 1855 to record all births, marriages and deaths, family versions of the names became much more fixed

f] as the level of literacy rose among immigrant families and their descendants, the spellings found in their family documents produced under the conditions outlined above began to become the norm, as people produced the only documents they had and the spelling written there by officials was used over and over again

Tweedley Background                                          

 Tweedley, or some variant of it, seems to have been an anglicised form of Quigley, itself an English version of the Gaelic name of Ui Coighligh. The switch may have been partly connected with the sound  of the name spoken in the Gaelic way.

 Some Irish emigrants to Scotland, and perhaps to mainland Britain generally, began adopting this as a surname just after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It is unusual to find it before 1815, although Scots and English names that are similar, like Tweddle, Twaddle, Tweedie, are found. Later documents also sometimes 'backdated' its use in referring to parents, or even grandparents.

 In some cases individuals or families allowed both forms - the Quigley and the Tweedley or their variants -  to be used, and  they answered to both, retaining a preference for one or the other. Sometimes Quigley, or variant, was used by parents in the early part of a child's life, but in the adult married life of the same children, a switch to some form of Tweedley took place.

 Before the statutory regulations of 1855 in Britain came into force, spelling of names was typically idiosyncratic, even erratic, but after 1855, when the written form of vital details took over, one spelling was chosen and became the 'family name'.

Tweedley variants

 Here are some of the variants of Quigley to be found in references and records in English from the 1800s on:

 Sweedley        Taredly        Teadley        Tedley        Tiadley        Twedely        Twedily    Tweedale        Tweedie        Tweedily        Tweedley        Tweedlie        Tweedly

 Tweetlie        Twidly        Twigley        Twigly        Twitley

(18) Only the variations without the letter 'O' or the letter 'Q' as a starting consonant are listed her.

Why the switch from Quigley to Tweedley ?

 There is a lot of evidence of names being changed from a Gaelic form to one or more English versions.

Families often explain the change as a 'falling out' of brothers, or a feud. That is, they fell out, and one family kept one form and the other changed to a newer form. Or maybe they fell out because one family changed. No doubt there were feuds, but this simple explanation does not account for the large numbers who did change, nor for those who did not.

The issue was more complex than a simple feud between brothers. Here are some of the factors likely to have been operating:

a] some immigrant speakers would have been more skilled in Gaelic than others and wanted to continue using it

b] some immigrant individuals or families would have felt more loyalty and greater attachment to the Gaelic form of their name as part of their sense of identity

c] politically it may have been safer people to use one particular form of surname: many Irish immigrants to Scotland from 1790 on were political refugees; later many were members of proscribed societies

e] socially many immigrants might have found it easier to 'blend in' to their new society: a locally familiar-sounding surname helped the bearer to be less of a stranger

f] there was strong anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feeling in different decades of 19th century Scotland, particularly from 1870 on, which may have caused increased pressure on immigrants to blend in

g] changing surname helped many to leave their past behind and start afresh

h] there were religious consideration: in 19th century Presbyterian Scotland the protestant Irish immigrants were considerably more acceptable and more easily assimilated than Catholic Irish, and Gaelic-sounding surnames indicated identity.


There are still a great many people called Quigley throughout the British Isles and in the large communities of the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and further afield. Many others use surnames that have derived from Quigley, and do not realise it. Cultural, linguistic, historical and sociological influences have brought about this situation. Some people researching family history and origins get stuck because they are unaware of these many factors.

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© Copyright 2024 Mary McGonigal