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Irish names

Traditional Irish names
Naming conventions
Irish last names

Irish names and naming conventions

There's something about Irish names – both first names and last names – that people the world over find compelling. And it's not just those with direct connections to Ireland who are fascinated by them.
Sean and Seamus Ó Dubhghaill (aka John and James Doyle)
bathing their little cousin Sean O'Geanin (John Gannon).
John and James with baby John

The very concept of Irish names evokes the Celts and their rich legacy of glorious myths and folklore, fabulous art and music and their beautiful Gaelic language.

From this Gaelic language (which is known in Ireland as Irish, not Gaelic) came wonderfully arousing Irish names such as Conn Cetchathach, Eochaid Iarlaithe, Cormac mac Airt and Ruaidrí Ua Canannáin.

These are the names that history has recorded, but the ordinary Celts – those who didn't spend their lives going off on epic adventures or slaying aggressors – would have had equally colourful names.

These names were an integral part of the Celtic culture which dominated most of Ireland until the 18th century.

Only then did its light begin to weaken, as you'll see in the brief History of Irish names below.

There's a lot of Irish heritage wrapped up in the names of our ancestors, so enjoy finding out more on this fascinating subject.

Irish surnames

Irish names for boys

Irish girls names

Miscellaneous names features

Old Irish naming conventions

For sons

The 1st son was named after the father's father.
The 2nd son was named after the mother's father.
The 3rd son was named after the father.
The 4th son was named after the father's eldest brother.
The 5th son was named after the mother's eldest brother.

For daughters
The 1st daughter was named after the mother's mother.
The 2nd daughter was named after the father's mother.
The 3rd daughter was named after the mother.
The 4th daughter was named after the mother's eldest sister.
The 5th daughter was named after the father's eldest sister.

Understanding old naming conventions can be helpful to Irish genealogy researchers. Just bear in mind that these conventions were not necessarily adhered to by all families all the time. However, most families in the 18th and 19th century did follow tradition when a child was born, with the result that the same names tend to be repeated generation after generation.

While this can cause some confusion when researching your ancestors, a likely 'mix' of first names can be helpful when faced with a choice of families with the same Irish surname.

Although the practice has largely been abandoned, it is surprising just how recently it was still in use. Certainly the 10 siblings of my grandfather, Edmond Tierney, born 1903, were all named according to the convention (he, as second son, was named after his maternal grandfather, Edmond Tobin), but there was a lot of deviation from the pattern when he and his brothers and sisters became parents in the 1930s and 1940s.

Where next?

  • Use the links above to explore the fascinating subject of Irish names more deeply.
  • Find out more about the Irish civil registration system (which recorded names for posterity from 1845).

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Identity capers

In certain localised areas, some family names have become extremely common. To ensure correct identification, Irish speaking areas still resort to an archaic practice that sees the father, grandfather and even great grandfather tagged on to the first name.

For example, on Cape Clear, an island eight miles from the Cork coastline, Ciarán is the local saint and a common boy's name.

Cape Clear pub sign The island is prime O'Driscoll country. So over the years, a good few Ciarán O'Driscolls have lived on this small scrap of land.

This is why you'll find the local pub, run by the O'Driscoll family, is named Ciaran Danny Mike's.

Top Ten Bubbles

See my personal selection of the very best free online databases for Irish genealogy research. Click image.

The Gaelic language

The Gaelic language of the Celts is found in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man.

In Ireland, the language is known as Irish. In Scotland it is known as Scottish Gaelic. In the Isle of Man it is known as Manx.

Most famous Irish name?

Thanks to the song 'Cockles and Mussels', Molly Malone is probably one of the most instantly recognised Irish names around the world.

But don't be thinking she might appear in your genealogy, even if your surname is Malone. There's no evidence to suggest she was anything other than a figment of the song writer's imagination.

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By Claire Santry, Copyright© 2008-2015 Dedicated to helping YOU discover your Irish Heritage.
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