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Irish first names in 1864

What were the most popular Irish first names in the year civil registration started?

Irish first names

School pegs with traditional Irish first names written on them.
Irish first names had become pretty predicatable by 1864, the year Ireland introduced an obligatory system for the civil registration of births.

By this time, English was the language of the majority (less than 25% still spoke Irish) and all the stirring Celtic names of Old Ireland had been swept away in favour of anglicised names, especially those of saints.

Historic studies suggest this is because some priests refused baptism to a child unless it was taking the name of a saint. Ireland has a vast number of saints and their names are repeated over and over, so it is no wonder that the selection of names given to infants followed the same pattern.

While modern trends in Irish first names are published every year, I had never come across any similar enquiry into mid-19th century Christian names in Ireland. Birth records from the civil registration indexes had recently gone online so I decided to carry out my very own research.

Having made a selection of surnames from the indexes – they included Cleary, Connell, Minihane and Kennedy – I had a pool of more than 1700 birth records. I then simply counted the occurrences of each name, ignoring spelling variations ie Denis or Dennis was accepted as the same name.

I accept that my methods would probably not pass too much expert scrutiny but I stand by them as a kind of 'vox pox' of first names in Ireland in the year 1864.

Below are the findings for my survey of Irish first names for girls and first names for boys. The number beside each name gives the count of entries for that name.

Top ten first names for girls in 1864

  1. Mary (232)
  2. Margaret (120)
  3. Catherine/Kate (81)
  4. Bridget/Biddy (62)
  5. Ann/Anne (54)
  6. Ellen (48)
  7. Eliza/Elizabeth/Betty (22)
  8. Johanna (20)
  9. Sarah (19)
  10. Julia (15)

Also in double figures were Hanora/Honora and Jane.

What is most surprising about these figures is the proportions of baby girls given the name Mary. If my sample was truly representative, nearly one little girl in three was called Mary.

Since then, the name has almost completely fallen from favour (although you can bet it still features highly as a middle name). In 2012, there were just 99 baby girls given the forename of Mary in the Republic of Ireland.... less than one little girl in every three hundred and fifty.

Top ten Irish first names for boys in 1864

    Irish boy names on school pegs
  1. John (143)
  2. Patrick/Pat (142)
  3. James (90)
  4. Thomas (89)
  5. Michael (86)
  6. William (67)
  7. Martin (18)
  8. Peter (16)
  9. Timothy (16)
  10. Denis/Dennis (15)

Also in double figures were Robert, Daniel, Francis, Hugh, Edward, Mathew, Maurice and Richard.

The top names for boys show a much more spread out numerical pattern than those for girls. Less than one boy in six would have been called John. The same is true of Patrick.

John remains reasonably popular. In 2012 it came 25th in the Republic's list of boys' first names. But Jack, originally a pet name for John, has completely taken over, and has been in the top spot or close to it for some years. In Northern Ireland in 2012, Jack had held the number one position for a decade.


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