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The word shea has two distinct origins, and consequent meanings. Each has its own pronunciation.

  • The older, in Britain, is a Celtic surname, sometimes with the Irish prefix O' as O'Shea. It means 'a son [or descendant] of (Ó) Séaghdha, and its pronunciation may be shown by its alternative spelling of 'Shay[e]': 'shay', IPA: /ʃeɪ/. Famous bearers of the name Shea or 'O'Shea include
    • the actor Milo O'Shea (born 1926) and
    • Kitty O'Shea, the abusive nickname adopted by the Irish mob for Katharine O'Shea (née Wood) (1845-1921), a married woman whose affair with Charles Stuart Parnell (1846-1891), whom she married in June 1891 (he died a few months later, according to ODNB weakened by "The rigours of the [scandal and] split [from W.H. O'Shea]"). The scandal destroyed Parnell as a great champion of Irish Home Rule.
    • The Shea Stadium in New York, where baseball was played by the New York Mets, and American Football by the New York Jets, was named after William A. Shea, a lawyer who brought National League baseball back to New York. It was demolished in 2009.
    • Michael Shea (1938-2009), a British diplomat and Press Secretary to Queen Elizabeth, who wrote several thrillers under the pseudonym 'Michael Sinclair', as well as texts under his own name after he left royal service.
  • The name of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa or Butyrospermum parkii), the source of shea butter, is pronounced 'she' or 'SHE-ah', IPA: /ˈʃiː ə or ˈʃiː/. It is a label which originates from the Mandingo people from the same area of West Africa. The buttery substance extracted from its seeds has been used as a foodstuff in Africa since before its first mention in English, in 1799; in the developed world, it has become mostly used as a cosmetic and ingredient in cosmetics. In French, the tree is called karité, from a native language, Wolof, spoken in the former French colony of Senegal. In Wolof, it is ghariti.