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Traditional Irish female names N - U

You won't find any traditional Irish girl's names beginning with the letters Q, V, W, X, Y or Z. These letters, along with J and K, don't exist in the Irish alphabet. But within this second half of the Roman alphabet are some favourite old names: Orlaith, Siban and Sadb. These were among the most popular Celtic baby names and remained extremely common for several centuries.

My mother, Hester, was grateful to avoid our family's 'hereditary' female name of Sydney.

For some reason, Irish female names beginning with the letter S seem to have taken it upon themselves to fly the flag of Ireland around the globe in the last quarter of a century.

I'm thinking here of Siobhán, Sinéad, Síle and Saoirse, each one a lovely name that requires some appreciation of the peculiarities of Irish pronunciation to say them or spell them correctly (see below) and that have become reasonably recognisable, if not commonplace.

There is another Irish female name beginning with S that has come to be perceived as traditional but is nothing of the kind. Shannon. (The spelling alone should be proof.)

It is the name of a river – the longest river in the geographical British Isles, as it happens – and you won't find any Irish legendary heroines, mythical goddesses or historical figures answering to it.

Together with Colleen, Shannon is a fairly modern invention of a name and is rarely heard in Ireland.

There is one other 'S' name that, despite having a much longer pedigree than Shannon, will never make it onto my list of favourite Irish female names. It is Sydney. Yes, Sydney.

Oh my goodness, this name has cursed generations of women in my own family (My great grandmother, the woman photographed on the Home page, was Sydney and so was the sad little lass leaning on her left knee. There were cousins, too.) I am eternally grateful that its use came to an unceremonious end with my mother's generation, otherwise I too might have been lumbered with it.

Irish NamePronunciationEnglish equivalentMeaning or Origin
Niamh Neev   Means brightness or lustre. In the Finn Tales, the name of a beautiful fairy. Fell out of the top 10 Irish female names in 2005 but remains one of the most solidly popular Irish names.
Nóirín Noh-reen Noreen The name is the modern-day form of Onora which itself was an adaptation of the Anglo-Norman, Hanora.
Órlaith Or-lah Orla Meaning golden princess, it was a common Celtic baby name and was given to Brian Boru's daughter. Its popularity has been revived in modern Ireland, in both Irish and English spellings.
Órnait Or-nit   Among the holders of this unusual early Irish name were a queen of Connacht and a princess of Munster.
Raghnailt Rayn-ilt   A favourite name in late medieval Ireland, it has not retained its popularity.
Ríonach Ree-uh-nak Riona Means queenly. It has a long history but is now considered quite unusual.
Roisin Roh-sheen Rose A diminutive and more modern form of the name Ros.
Syve   First recorded in the 11th century, it became the second most popular of Irish female names for a few centuries. It's still in the top 100. Possibly means 'sweet'.
Saoirse Seer-sha Means freedom. Usually appears in the annual top 40 names list.
Siomha Shee-vah Derived from the Irish word for peace.
Síle Shee-lah Sheila Originates from the Latin name Cecilia.
Sinéad Shin-aid A diminutive form of Siobhán.
Siobhán Shiv-awn Originates from the French name Jehane, and popular throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.
Sorcha Sur-chah Quite a common name in medieval Ireland and until the end of the 18th century.
Taillte Tal-teh   Figures in many Irish legends and, as wife of Turlough O'Connor who died in 1127 and was queen of Ireland.
Tara Tar-ah Tara From the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of power in Ireland, and not originally a woman's name. Makes its way into the top 200 Irish female names each year.
Ooo-nah Una Extremely common Celtic baby name and retained its position throughout medieval Ireland. Now out of favour.

Lime Green circle with white words See my selection of the Top 10 free Irish Genealogy websites.