“Is fearr Gaeilge briste, ná Béarla cliste.”
The Irish proverb above translates to “broken Irish is better than clever English.” This proverb reflects the sentiment that it is better to try to speak any Irish you know than to speak perfect English and that it is important to learn the language of your people, your country, and your heritage.
Do you have ancestors from Ireland? If so, the Irish language, and therefore Irish names, may be a part of your heritage.
Irish names vary from the exotic to the surprisingly commonplace. Many names that originated in Ireland have also become a part of the cultures that Irish immigrants have joined. Names common in many English-speaking countries can be traced to Ireland; some even alternative or traditional spellings. Even if you aren’t Irish, you may find Irish first names in your own family tree.
Irish Girl Names
The following names are some of the most popular girl names of Irish origin in the United States. Did you know that all of these common names came from Irish?
- Caitlyn, Kaitlynn
- Cassidy, Kassidy
Meaning: curly haired
- Cathleen, Kathleen
Meaning: someone who is Gaelic
Meaning: beautiful bird
- Kelly, Kelley
Meaning: red haired
Original Irish spelling: Ceallaigh
Meaning: island of the ships
Meaning: sea bright
Meaning: from the lake
- Rylie or Riley
Meaning: from the rye clearing
Meaning: straw worker
Original Irish spelling: Sionain; the Shannon is also a river in Ireland.
The following 5 names are the most popular girl names in Ireland in 2019. Not all these are Irish in their origin. But just as Irish names have spread across the globe, Ireland has drawn influence from other cultures.
Meaning: to excel
- Fiadh (fee-ah)
Irish Boy Names
The following 15 names are some of the most popular boy names with Irish origins in the United States. As with the feminine names above, some of them may surprise you.
Meaning: little fire
Meaning: vigilant in war
Meaning: descendant of hounds, from the old Irish name Conchobhar
Meaning: descendant of the dark-haired one
Meaning: full of goodness, original Irish spelling Deaglán
Meaning: little dark one
Meaning: with gilded helmet
Meaning: little seal
Meaning: descendant of the king
- Shane, Sean
Meaning: God is gracious
Of course, the list wouldn’t be complete without the top 5 boy names in Ireland in 2019. Not all these are Irish in origin, but they were the names most chosen by Irish parents in 2019.
Meaning: God is gracious.
Meaning: wolf lover
Meaning: God is my judge.
You may have noticed that some of these Irish names are also part of common Irish surnames. The “O” found in some Irish surnames simply translates to “of.” So the surname O’Brian means descendant) of Brian. This form is similar to many naming traditions in other countries, such as English surnames like Johnson, or the son of John, and Swedish surnames like Johansdotter, or daughter of Johan.
Irish Name Pronunciation
Today, English is the most commonly spoken language in Ireland. However, Irish is one of the country’s official languages, and it is still spoken by many people throughout Ireland as well as in parts of the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States. This beautiful language is a part of Ireland’s heritage and national identity.
While it may seem intimidating at first, Irish pronunciation makes sense if you set aside the pronunciations you know from English. Irish phonetic spelling is more consistent than English letter sounds are; for example, C always has a hard K sound, even when followed by an H. In Irish, a C is never pronounced with a soft S sound. The letter G is never pronounced like a J, but always makes the guttural G sound.
The only variations in pronunciation come from the vowels nearest the consonants. Vowels are either broad (a, o, u) or slender (e, i). The An Gael magazine, an Irish language magazine, has a helpful pronunciation guide for those who want to learn more about how to read and pronounce Irish words and names.
Here are some examples of Irish names with Irish spellings:
- Aisling (ash-ling) is a feminine name meaning a vision or dream.
- Caoimhín (kee-vin) is a masculine name meaning handsome, beautiful, and kind. This name is an alternate spelling of the name Kevin. St. Caoimhín is the patron saint of Ireland.
- Saoirse (seer-sha) is a feminine name meaning freedom.
- Sonnagh (sun-ah) is a masculine or feminine name meaning a mound.
- Tadhg (tayg) is a masculine name meaning a poet or philosopher. Tadhg was number 8 on the 2019 list of popular baby names in Ireland.
- Taisce (tash-ka) is a masculine or feminine name meaning treasure.
Irish Names in Your Family
Do you have Irish heritage? Do any of your ancestors have Irish names? Even if you aren’t Irish, you may find Irish names in your family tree. Search your tree, and discover more about your own family’s history!