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Type: lexical
Meaning: 'descendant, offspring' (?)
Language: Celtic
Phonemic analysis: -/gon/-, -/gonn/-
From PIE: *g̑onh₁-o- 'descendant, offspring' (?)
From Proto-Celtic: *gon-o- 'descendant, offspring' (?)
Attestation: aśkoneti, aśkonetio


The PIE root *g̑enh₁- 'bring forth, procreate' is continued in various stem forms in Celtic onomastics, predominantly as second element in compounds, including -gno-/-a (e.g. Gaulish RIG L-66 certiognu (dat.), RIG L-125 diuuogna, ategnia, Ogam CIIC 71, 166 coimagni (gen.)) < *g̑n̥h₁-o/(ii̯)ah₂- 'born' (see -ikn-), -gnato-/-a < *g̑n̥h₁-to/ah₂- 'born' (further on that morpheme page), -gen(n)o-/-a (e.g. Gaulish reitugenos, litugena, camulogenus, RIIG VAU-07-01 (RIG G-147) αδγεννοριγ[ι] (dat.), RIIG BDR-01-01 (RIG G-1) κογγενν|ολιτανο|ς, OW morgen < morigenus, Ogam inigena, OIr. amargen), and -gon(n)o-/-a (e.g. aśkonetio, adgonna, congonna, congonnetodubnus). (See KGP: 216–221, GPN: 203–211, Uhlich 1993: 261, DLG: 177 f., 181 f., Meid 2005: 124–132, Delamarre 2007: 222 et passim; also NIL: 139–153 for lexical derivations from the root in Celtic.)

The derivation of the thematic formations -gen(n)o- and -gon(n)o-, which appear to be semantically equivalent to and interchangeable with -gnato- (cintugnatacintugena, devognatadevogena, see Stüber 2005: 66), is not entirely clear. An e-grade thematic stem cannot be reconstructed for PIE with certainty, the only evidence beside the Celtic name element being possibly secondary Lat. -genus (see NIL: 141 f. with literature for the Celtic evidence). Stüber 2005: 66 f. and 2009: 252 suggests that -gen(n)o- is a secondary thematised form of either the second element of root compounds or of the s-stem *g̑enh₁-es- 'lineage, family'; in the latter case, compounds in -gen(n)o- would be original possessive compounds 'having birth/descent from X', reinterpreted early as 'being born to X'. That the formation goes back to PC is shown by OIr. ingen < *enigenā 'daughter', and Celtiberian names like retukenos. (See also Uhlich 1993: 129, 262, Wodtko MLH V.1: 251.) Geminate /n/ has been explained as expressive onomastic gemination (thus Stüber et al. 2009: 260 on nitiogenna, cf. AcS II: 668 f., Dottin 1920: 65, Lejeune 1971: 57), but the frequency of the phenomenon in this particular element is conspicuous. The geminate finds an explanation if -gen(n)- is not directly from the root *g̑enh₁-, but from the neuter men-stem *g̑en(h₁)men-. This form regulary lost the laryngeal in the heavy cluster; furthermore even the -m- could be lost in cases where the suffix was in the zero-grade, i.e. *g̑enmn- > *g̑en-n-. This explains the OIr. n-stem verbal noun gein 'birth' < *genan, as well as dial. Gk γέννα 'descent, birth, origin'. Gaulish names such as adgennos are thematic adjectives derived from the n-stem meaning 'he who belongs to the family'; congennolitanos can be understood as 'he who is broad through relatives (= those of common descent)'.

The variant with /o/ in the root, which only appears in combination with the preverbs ad- and kom-, was associated with the /e/-variant by Schmidt KGP: 219 f. on the basis of the pairs adgen(n)o-/adgonno-, congen(n)o-/congon(n)o-. Schmidt argues that the /o/-variant came about through a misinterpretation of derivations in -onio- from names with a base with auslaut /k/ (e.g. matucomatuconius), supported by influence from Greek γόνος. (See also Meid 2005: 127.) -gon(n)- can in fact be derived directly from PIE, namely the regular thematic o-grade *g̑onh₁-o- 'offspring, descendant' (Ved. jána-, Gk γόνος), so that -gon(n)o- 'born of, descendant of X' could be of an origin independent from -gen(n)o-. The tendency to geminate /n/ could then be due to secondary influence from -genn-. However, the restricted attestation of -gon(n)o- only with specific preverbs calls for an explanation, as does its frequent appearance in a derivation with -et- (adgonnet(i)us, conetodu[, conconnetodumnus, congon(n)etiacus, conconetus in GPN: 210, see also Delamarre 2007: 209 f., 217) – perhaps a derivation from a verbal base?

Older etymologies are collected by Evans GPN: 203–207, 210 f., who remarks upon the clustering of names in adgen(n)o- and congen(n)o- in the south (cf. KGP: 113), suggests the influence of Lat. -genus, and concludes that the variants with /o/ "may well be of multiple origin" (211). The possibility that elements of different origin have merged, and that -ge/on(n)o- may therefore have other semantics than 'X-born' in some attestations, must be kept in mind.

David Stifter, Corinna Salomon


AcS Alfred Holder, Alt-celtischer Sprachschatz, Leipzig: Teubner 1896–1907.
CIIC R[obert] A[lexander] S[tewart] Macalister, Corpus inscriptionum insularum Celticarum, Dublin: Stationery Office 1945–1949.
Delamarre 2007 Xavier Delamarre, Noms de personnes celtiques dans l'épigraphie classique. Nomina Celtica Antiqua Selecta Inscriptionum, Paris: Errance 2007.
DLG Xavier Delamarre, Dictionnaire de la langue gauloise. Une approche linguistique du vieux-celtique continental, 2nd, revised edition, Paris: Errance 2003.
Dottin 1920 Georges Dottin, La langue gauloise. grammaire, textes et glossaire [= Collection pour l’étude des antiquités nationales 2], Paris: Klincksieck 1920.