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Category: Irish boys’ names

Irish Names: Hot off the press

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Every now and then we like to take a look at the most recent  British and Irish newspaper birth announcements, to see what parents in those countries are naming their babies at this particular moment in time. 

What we see right now in Ireland is a mix of old and revived Gaelic/Celtic names, classic Anglo names, nickname names similar to those popular in the UK, and more internationally trendy modern names.

The most widely used recorded Emerald Isle favorites of the last two months include Alice, Florence, Grace, Lily and Molly for girls; Henry, Hugo, Liam and Oscar for boys, as well as several varieties of Fin-starting  names. ( One trivia note—if you’re surprised by the unusual geographical middle name Abyssinia, you should know that little Luke was actually born in Ethiopia.)

And if you need some pronunciation help for one of the Gaelic names, you can hear the way many of these actually sound as recorded by the late Irish writer Frank McCourt on the website babynamesof

Here are some of the most interesting examples, with sibling names in parentheses.


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Since there has been so much interest in (and confusion about) the pronunciation of Irish names, we turned to someone with some real expertise–Norah Burch, who runs the long-running website —and who has lived in Ireland and made a study of the Irish Gaelic language.

Irish names seem to be all the rage these days, and one of the most recent trends among Americans with Irish ancestry is using Irish Gaelic names for their kids, rather than the anglicized versions.  For example, in the past few years I’ve met little girls with the names Aislinn /ASH-lin; Sorcha /SUR-uh kha/ and Saoirse /SEER-sha.  Ditto for Liam and Cillian, which are becoming increasingly popular, as they are fairly easy to pronounce in English.  However, Irish is a language all its own, and many names are very difficult to pronounce for foreigners—names like Toirdhealbhach, Maelshechlainn, and Fionnbharr, for example.

When the British took over Ireland, they spelled out names phonetically, and thus the three names above became Turlough, Malachy and Finbar. In Irish they are pronounced something like TUR-uh -lokh, MAIL-ukh-lan and F’YUN-uh-var/. Or, they gave (sometimes puzzling) already-existing English names as “translations” of the Irish names based on sound alone. Thus Sorcha became Sarah, Donnchadh/DUNN-uh-kha became Dionysus, and Feardorcha /far-DUR-uh-kha/ became Frederick.

The problem comes when people take Irish Gaelic names and pronounce them as one would in English. This is how Caitlin became Kate-lynn, when in Irish, it is pronounced more like KOT leen or KOYT leen. It’s difficult to write these out phonetically, because, like other foreign languages, Irish contains sounds that English does not have. To pronounce Caitlin like Katelynn would be a bit like calling a Spanish person named José  “Josie.”

Here are some Irish Gaelic names that you may find easy to pronounce (keeping in mind that the letter “r” is rolled much as in Spanish and Italian), given first using the Gaelic alphabet, followed by the authentic pronunciation.

It may be easier for an English-speaking child, however, to just be given the anglicized version when applicable , which is given in parentheses:


 Áine /AWN yeh (Anya)

Aisling /ASH ling (Ashling)

Aoife /EE fa

Béibhinn /BAY vin (Bevin)

Brónach /BRO nakh (Brona, Bronagh)

Brid /BREEJ (Brigid)

Caitriona /kah TREE uh na (Catrina)

Caoimhe /KEE va, KWEE va (Keavy, Keeva)

Ciar /KEE ur (Keir)

Ciara /KEE uh ra (Keira)

Cliona /CLEE uh na (Cliona)

Dearbhail /DJAR vil (Dervil)

Derbhile /DJER vill  (Dervla, Dervila)

Eibhilin /EH leen (Eileen)

Éilis /AY leesh (Eilish)

Gráinne /GRAWN yeh (Grania)

Grian /GREE-un

Íde /EE-da (Eda)

Laoise /LEE-sha

Máirín /MAW-reen (Maureen)

Máire /MO-YA or MAW-ra (Moya, Maura)

Méadhbh /MAVE (Maeve)

Neasa /NESS-a (Nessa)

Niamh /NEEV or NEE-uv (Neve)

Nuala /NOO-uh-la

Órla, Órlaith /OR-la (Orla)

Riona, Rionach /REE-uh-na, REE uh nakh (Riona)

Róisín /ROE- sheen (Rosheen, Rosaleen)

Sadhbh /SIVE

Saorla /SAIR-la

Saraid /SAR- id

Síle /SHEE-la (Sheila)

Sinéad /shih-NADE (Sinaid)

Siobhán (sh’VAWN (Shivaun )

Siomha, Siomath /SHEE-va

Treasa /TRASS-a

Úna /OO-na (Oona, Una)


 Árdal /AWR-dul (Ardal)

Barra /BAR-ra (Barry)

Brógán /BRO-gawn (Brogan)

Cathal /CAH-hul (Cahill)

Cian /KEE-un (Kian)

Ciarán /KEE-uh-rawn (Kieran)

Cillian /KILL-ee-un (Kilian)

Colm /CULL-um

Conor /CUN-ur (Conor)

Cormac /CUR-a-muk (Cormac)

Cúan /COO-awn

Dáire /DAW-ra (Darra, Darragh)

Dónal /DOE-nul (Donal, Donnell)

Éamon /AY-mun (Eamon)

Eoghan, Eoin /OH-in (two separate names, but pronounced pretty much the same)

Fial /FE- ul

Lochlann /LAWKH-lun

Lorcán /LUR-uh-khan (Lorcan)

Marcán /MAR-u- khawn

Naoise /NEE-sha Neesha )

Niall /NEE-ul (Neil)

Oisin /USH-een (Osheen )

Pádraig /PAW-rick (Patrick)

Ruadhri, Ruari /ROO-uh-re (Rory)

Tadhg /TYG (Teague)

Tóla/T?la /TOE-la

Norah Burch received her first name book at age seven, and has been obsessed with origins and meanings of names ever since. She studied anthropology, linguistics and archaeology while living in Ireland. She currently lives in Boston with 2 cats, 2 frogs, a snail and a turtle, all of whom have exquisite names (at least by her standards). She created her site in 1998.

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heidi klum 220608

Parents in search of names emblematic of a new masculine image for their sons are also looking toward ethnic choices unknown in the U.S. just a few years ago.

The inspiration?  To some extent, it’s celebrities, from actors like Joaquin Phoenix to star dog trainer Cesar Millan to Heidi Klum’s son Johan, Jennifer Connelly’s Stellan, and Madonna’s Rocco.

And then there’s simply our widening global sensibility, taking in more and more images and cultural cues from around the world.  When it comes to boys’ names, these names may symbolize a more enlightened masculine image, or at least a fresh one.  Whether the name is Irish or Latino, African or French, we may see that exotic guy as being more stylish and more sophisticated and definitely more worldly than our regular old Bills and Jims.

Here, a selection of new ethnic choices for boys on the U.S. popularity list.  And don’t forget to take our poll on the new masculine names at the end of the column!



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