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Irish baby girl names

While Mary's star is waning,
other traditional girls names remain popular
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Mary, the most classic of Irish baby girl names, is on the wane in modern Ireland. It didn't even figure in the top 70 girl's names in 2015 when just 91 Marys were registered. Maria was only slightly more popular with 119 registrations.

Bagenealstown hockey team late-1920s
How many Marys can a hockey team handle?
Five, according to my Nana, front row, third from left.

It was very different back in the middle 1800s when one in four little girls in Ireland was called Mary. The reason for this favouritism stems from it having been popularly proclaimed as the anglicised version of the much older name, Mór.

Back in early medieval Ireland, Mór was easily the most popular Irish baby girl name. It had a rich heritage. It was first recorded in the 7th century and was the name of two queens of Ireland in the 10th century. They were Mór, daughter of Domanll mac Lochlainn (king of the North) and Móre, wife of Tairdelbach Ua Conshobair (Turlough O Connor).

For nearly 600 years, it held its position as the most popular of all Irish names for girls and, in the 16th century, once again had queenly connotations: Mór, the daughter of Mac Caba and wife of the earl of Desmond.

As English became more prevalent in Ireland, Mór became anglicised as Martha and Agnes before becoming Mary.

The other Irish baby girl names to give Mór a historical run for her money were Sadb (always in second place) and Etain, Finnguala, Gormlaith and Medb. Information about these are in the list below.

Irish NamePronunciationEnglish equivalentMeaning or Origin
Eachra Ach-rah   The most famous bearer was the daughter of a king of Connacht in the 10th century. She was noted for her clear complexion.
Eibhlín Ev-lin Evelyn/Eileen Of Anglo-Norman origin, from Aveline.
Eilís/Ailís I-leesh Elizabeth/Alice Of Anglo-Norman origin. The Irish version of Alice or Elizabeth.
Éithne Eh-ne/En-ya Ena A very popular early female name but also a less-common one for boys. In legend, Eithne was the mother of the god Lug.
Émer Ee-ver   According to legend, Émer had six gifts: beauty, voice, sweet speech, needlework, wisdom and chastity.
Étaín Eh-dane/Eh-tane   The heroine of an old Irish folktale who loved Midir, the fairy king.
Eabha Ee-va Eva One of the wives of Nemed, the legendary invader of Ireland, and also appears in the Finn Tales.
Fedelm Feh-delm Fidelma Among the many famous holders were the 'nine times beautiful' warrior princess Fedelm Noichrothach, and the grand-daughter of Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Finnguala/Fionnuala Fuh-noola Finola Meaning fair shouldered, it was one of the most popular Irish baby girl names in the early medieval period. Sometimes shortened to Nuala.
Fodhla Foh-lah   Another alternative term for Ireland. In legend, Fodhla was wife of the god Mac Cécht.
Gormlaith Gurm-lah   Means splendid sovereignty. One of the most popular early Irish baby girl names.
Grainne Grawn-ya Grace Possibly the moniker of a Celtic goddess, it was popular in the early medieval period.
Lasair Los-ir   Meaning flame or fire, this was one of the most common Celtic baby names.
Líobhan Lee-von   Appears in the Ulster Tales as the wife of Lúathlám. It means 'beauty of women'.
Luighseach Lee-sak   Derived from the male option, Lug, the female form means 'radiant girl'.
Macha Mok-hah   In legend, one of three war goddesses.
Máire Mor-rah Mary/Moira/Maura Surprisingly, a very rare name before the 17th century
Medb Mave Maeve One of the top 20 traditional Irish names of the late medieval period, it means intoxicating. The most famous Mebhs are the goddess of Tara, and the legendary queen of Connacht.
Mór More   Meaning tall or great, this was easily the most popular Irish baby girl name throughout medieval Ireland.

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