A primer on Irish names

Though I have very unpleasant associations with St. Patrick’s Day, owing to that being my uncle’s Jahrzeit (death anniversary), it’s fitting to cover Irish names today. Being Jewish, I feel a deep kinship with the Irish people, as I do with all other peoples who have the historical experience of being persecuted, discriminated against, and denied their own homeland. There’s also a possibility my nine-greats-grandpap was Irish, and I have a number of characters of Irish descent.

Most notably are the four Ryan siblings in my contemporary historical family saga, who grow up as simply Girl, Boy, Baby, and Infant, before taking the names Deirdre Apollonia, David Edgar, Fiona Líobhan, and Aoife Saoirse. They’re extremely proud of being Irish, particularly spitfire Deirdre.

There’s also lawyer Lucifer O’Malley in my Atlantic City books, who marries Violet’s daughter Carmine (a name I was introduced to as female and had no idea was male for many years!). Lucifer is a Wiccan, and was given that name because it doesn’t have a negative association in his religion. Their three kids, Liam Rory, Flidais Sorcha, and Nemetona Riona, are raised Wiccan.

Alphabet:

Irish uses the Roman alphabet, minus J, K, Q, V, W, X, Y, and Z and with the addition of Á, É, Í, Ó, and Ú. The absent consonants may appear in loanwords, and V appears in a small number of native Irish words and alternate colloquialisms. V is also the only non-Irish letter used to render foreign names and words adapted into Irish.

Irish is also notorious for having vowel and consonant clusters which many non-Hibernophones don’t even want to attempt pronouncing. For this reason, many names have been Anglicized, or at least simplified. However, once you’ve learnt how to pronounce a few names or words, you recognise those sounds when they appear in other words and names.

E.g., since Aoife is EE-fa, it’s easy to figure out Saoirse is SEER-sha. Siobhán is She-VAHN, so Líobhan is LEE-vahn. Niamh is NEEV, so Caoimhe is KEE-va. Catriona is Ka-tree-na, so Alastríona is Al-as-TREE-na.

Surnames:

As we probably all know, many Irish surnames are patronymical and start in O’ or Mc. Though many people believe Mac is Scottish and Mc is Irish, Mac is also an Irish surname prefix. It’s just that Mc is a much more commonly used Anglicization in the modern era.

Other Irish surnames include Brennan, Kennedy, Ryan, Sullivan, Doyle, Fitzgerald, Fitzpatrick, Flanagan, Kelly, Monaghan, Murphy, Mulligan, Quinlan, Reagan, Lennon, Teague, and Cavanaugh.

Sample names:

Female:

Aifric, Africa (Pleasant)
Aignéis (Agnes)
Ailbhe, Elva (White)
Ailís (Alice)
Áine (Radiance)
Aingeal (Angela)
Aisling, Aislin, Aislinn, Ashling (Dream)
Alannah (O child)
Alastríona (Alexandra)
Aoibheann, Aoibhín, Eavan (Beautiful sheen)
Aoife, Aoibhe (EE-fa) (Beauty)
Aran (After the Aran islands off the west Irish coast)
Assumpta (Assumption, in reference to the Virgin Mary ascending into Paradise)

Báirbre (Barbara)
Bébhinn, Bébhionn, Bevin (Fair lady)
Bláthnat, Bláthnaid, Blanid, Bláithín (Little flower)
Brighid, Brigid, Bríd, Breda, Bridget (Bidelia, Biddy, Bridie)
Brígh, Bree (High, power)
Brogan (Little shoe)
Brónach, Bronagh (Sorrow)

Caitlín (Cot-LEEN, Coyt-LEEN)
Caitríona, Caitria, Catriona (Cáit, Ríona)
Caoilfhionn, Caoileann, Caoilinn, Keelan, Keelin (Slender and fair)
Caoimhe, Keeva (Kind, gentle, beautiful)
Ciannait (Ancient)
Ciara, Kiera (KEER-a) (Black)
Clíodhna, Clíona, Cleena (Shapely)
Clodagh (The name of a river)
Concepta (Concepta, referring to the Virgin Mary)

Dáiríne, Darina (Fertile, fruitful)
Damhnait, Dymphna, Devnet (Fawn)
Dearbháil, Derval, Dervila, Dervla (Daughter of Fál)
Deirbhile, Derval, Dervila, Dervla (Daughter of a poet)
Deirdre (Possibly means “woman”)
Doireann (Tempestuous, sullen)

Éabha (Eva)
Eibhlín, Aileen, Eileen (Aveline)
Eilís, Eilish (Elizabeth)
Éimhear, Eimear (Swift)
Eireen (Irene)
Eithne, Aithne, Edna, Ena, Enya, Ethna, Ethne, Etna (Grain, kernel)
Étaín, Aideen, Eadan, Éadaoin

Fidelma, Fedelma, Feidhelm (Delma) (Beauty or Ever good)
Fionnuala, Finnuala, Fionnghuala, Finola, Fionola (Nola, Nuala) (White shoulder)
Fíona (Vine)
Flidais

Gobnait, Gobnet, Gobinet (Little smith)
Gormlaith, Gormflaith (Blue princess or Illustrious princess)
Gráinne, Grania, Granya (Grain)

Íde, Ita (Thirst)
Immaculata (Immaculate, in reference to the Virgin Mary)
Isibéal, Sibéal (Isabelle)
Iúile (Julia)

Laoise (Light, or an Irish form of Louisa)
Léan (Helen)
Líadan, Líadáin (Grey lady)
Líle (Lily)
Líobhan (LEE-vahn) (The beauty of women)
Luíseach (Light)

Madailéin (Magdalena)
Máire, Maura, Moira (Máirín, Mairenn, Maureen, Maurine, Mallaidh, Molly) (Mary)
Mairéad (Margaret)
Mavourneen (My darling)
Méabh, Medb, Maeve
Muadhnait (Little noble one)
Muirenn, Muireann (White sea)
Muirgen, Muirín (Born of the sea)
Muirgheal (Bright sea)
Muirne, Murna, Myrna (Festive)
Muriel

Nainsí (Nancy)
Naomh (NEEV) (Holy)
Neasa, Neassa, Nessa
Nemetona (Sacred area)
Niamh, Neve (Bright)
Nollaig (Christmas)
Nóra

Odharnait, Orna, Ornat (Little pale green one)
Onóra, Honora (Nora, Nóirín, Noreen, Norene)
Oona, Oonagh, Una
Órfhlaith, Órlaith, Orlagh, Orla (Golden princess)
Pádraigín (Patricia)

Raghnailt (Battle advice)
Ráichéal (Rachel)
Rathnait, Ronit (Little grace)
Ríona, Ríonach, Ríoghnach (Queen)
Róis (Róisín, Rosheen) (Rose)
Rowan

Sadb, Sadbh, Sadhbh, Saibh, Sive (SIEV) (Goodly, sweet)
Saoirse (SEER-sha) (Freedom)
Saraid (Excellent)
Séarlait (Charlotte)
Síle, Sheila (Cecilia)
Síne (Jeanne)
Sinéad (Jeannette)
Siobhán (Jeanne)
Siofra (Gift)
Síomha, Síthmaith (Good peace)
Sláine (Health)
Sorcha (Radiant)

Talulla (Abundance princess)
Toiréasa (Theresa)
Treasa (Strength)
Úna (Lamb)

Male:

Abbán (Little abbot)
Ádhamh (Adam)
Ailbhe, Alby (White)
Ailill (Elf)
Ailín (Allen)
Aindréas, Aindriú (Andrew)
Alaois (Aloysius)
Alastar (Alexander)
Amhlaoibh (Olaf)
Aodhán, Aodh, Aidan (Aodhagán) (Fire)
Aonghus, Aengus, Angus (One strength)
Anraí (Henry)
Aran (After the Aran islands off the west Irish coast)
Ardghal, Ardal (High valour)

Barrfhionn (Bairre, Barra, Barrie, Barry) (Fair hair)
Berach, Bearach (Sharp)
Brádach (Large-chested)
Bran (Raven)
Breandán, Brendan (Prince)
Brennan
Brian (Possibly means “noble, high” or “hill”)
Brogan (Little shoe)

Cadwgan, Cadogan (Glory in battle)
Cainneach, Kenneth (Handsome)
Cairbre, Carbrey, Carbry (Charioteer)
Calbhach, Calvagh (Bald)
Caoimhín, Kevin (Gentle/kind/handsome birth)
Caolán, Kelan (Little slender one)
Cárthach (Loving)
Cathair, Cathaoir, Cahir (Battle man)
Cathal, Cahal (Battle rule)
Cathán, Kane (Little battle)
Ceallach, Ceallagh (Ceallachán) (Bright-headed, War/strife, or Church)
Cearbhall, Carroll (Hacking with a weapon)
Cennétig (Misshapen head or Armoured head)
Cian, Keane, Kean (Cianán) (Ancient)
Ciar, Ciardha (Ciarán, Kieran) (Black)
Cillian, Cillín, Killian (Little church)
Cionaodh, Cináed (Born of fire)
Coilean, Colin (Young dog)
Colum, Colm, Columban (Colmán, Coleman) (Dove)
Comhghall, Comgall, Comgal, Cowal (Joint pledge)
Comhghán, Comgan (Born together)
Conall (Strong wolf)
Conan (Little wolf)
Conchúr, Conor (Dog-lover or Wolf-lover)
Conleth, Conley (Chaste fire)
Conn (Chief)
Conrí (Wolf king)
Cormac
Críostóir (Christopher)
Cuán (Little wolf)
Cuimín (Crooked, bent)

Dáibhí (David)
Dáire, Dara, Darach, Darragh (Fertile, fruitful)
Dáithí (Swift)
Dálach (Assembly)
Damhán (Fawn)
Dara, Darach, Darragh (Oak tree)
Deaglán, Declan
Deasún (Desmond)
Diarmaid, Diarmait, Diarmuid, Dermot (Derry) (Without envy)
Domhnall, Domnall, Dónal (Donald)
Donagh, Donnchadh (Duncan) (Brown warrior)
Donovan
Doran
Dubhán (Little dark one)
Dubhghall, Dougal (Dark stranger)

Eachann (Brown horse)
Eadbhárd (Edward)
Éamonn, Éamon (Edmund)
Éibhear, Éibhir, Heber
Éimhin (Prompt, swift)
Einrí (Henry)
Énna, Éanna, Enda (Bird-like)
Eoghan, Owen (Born from the yew tree or the Irish form of Eugene)
Eoin (John)
Erskine (Projecting height)

Fachtna (Hostile)
Faolán, Fillin, Phelan (Little wolf)
Fearchar, Farquhar (Dear man)
Feardorcha (Dark man)
Fearghal, Fergal (Man of valour)
Fearghas, Fergus (Man of vigour)
Fechín, Feichín (Little raven)
Feidhlim, Feidhlimidh, Feidhlim, Felim, Phelim (Beauty or Ever good)
Fiachna, Fiachra (Raven)
Finnian (White)
Fintan, Fionntan (White bull or White fire)
Fionn, Fion (Finnagán) (White or Fair)
Fionnbharr, Finbar, Finbarr (Bairre, Barra, Barrie, Barry) (Fair hair)
Fionnlagh, Finlay, Finley (White warrior)
Flaithrí, Florry, Flurry (King of princes)
Flann (Flannán) (Red)

Garbhán, Garvan (Little rough one)
Gearalt, Gearóid (Gerald)
Gobán (Little smith)
Gofraidh (Godfrey)
Gréagóir (Gregory)

Iarfhlaith, Iarlaith, Jarlath
Íomhar, Ivor
Ionatán (Jonathan)

Labhrás (Lawrence)
Lachtna (Milk-coloured)
Laoghaire, Leary (Calf-herder)
Lochlainn, Lochlann
Lommán, Lomán (Little bare one)
Lonán (Little blackbird)
Lorcán (Little fierce one)
Lúcás

Mághnus, Manus (Great)
Mainchín (Little monk)
Máirtín (Martin)
Maitiú (Matthew)
Malachy
Mícheál
Muireadhach, Murdoch, Murtagh (Lord)
Muiris (Maurice)
Murchadh, Murrough, Murtagh (Sea warrior)

Naoise
Naomhán, Nevan (Little saint)
Niall, Neil
Nioclás (Nicholas)
Nollaig (Christmas)

Odhrán, Odran, Orrin, Oran (Little pale green one)
Oisín, Osheen (Little dear)
Oscar

Pádraic, Pádraig (Patsy, Paddy) (Patrick)
Pilib (Philip)
Pól (Paul)
Proinsias (Francis)
Quinn

Raghnall (Power advice)
Réamann, Redmund (Raymond)
Riagán (Impulsive)
Rían, Ríoghnán, Ryan (Little king)
Risteárd (Richard)
Roibeéard (Robert)
Rónán (Little seal)
Rórdán, Rearden, Riordan (Little poet king)
Rowan
Ruadh (Ruadhán) (Red)
Ruaidhrí, Ruaidrí, Ruairí, Rory (Red king)

Seachnall, Seachlann
Séafra, Siothrún (Jeffrey)
Séaghdha, Shea, Shay (Hawk-like or Admirable)
Séamus, Séamas (James)
Seán (John)
Séarlas (Charles)
Senán, Seanán (Little old person)
Seoirse (George)
Seosamh (Joseph)
Somhairle, Sorley (Summer traveller)
Stiofán (Steven)
Suibhne, Suibne, Sweeney (Well-going)

Tadhg, Teague, Tighe (Tadhgán) (Poet)
Tighearnach, Tigernach, Tiarnach, Tierney (Lord)
Tighearnán, Tigernán, Tiarnán, Tiernan (Little lord)
Toirdhealbhach, Turlough (Instigator)
Tomás
Torin (Chief)
Treasach (Warlike or Fighter)

Uaithne (Green)
Uilleag
Uilliam (Uilleag, Ulick, Liam) (William)
Uinseann (Vincent)
Ultán

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One comment on “A primer on Irish names

  1. cheriereich says:

    It still boggles my mind how such combinations of letters produce such sounds in Irish names, although I would like to learn the language to pick up on the correct pronunciation more readily. I always have to stop and think when I see certain Irish names on how they sound.

    Like

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