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Category: Irish names for girls

Irish baby names

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

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Irish Names Now: What’s doing in Dublin?

Irish Baby Names

We’ve been scrutinizing your responses to our recent survey, in particular the question that asked what you’d like to see more of on nameberry, with an eye to accommodating your suggestions.  Quite a few responders put in requests for more ethnic names— with pronunciations—and a couple took note of our blog on birth announcements in the London Times, interested in seeing similar subjects, which Pam will be updating soon.

So, since we aim to please, this time we are taking a look at announcements in the Irish Times over the past few months–the ethnic and not-so-ethnic names found there–with pronunciations when needed.

The current batch of newborn names in Ireland shows a typical mix of Anglo-Saxon classics (especially for boys), modern Irish standards , and the old Gaelic names that have been revived and become fashionable in recent years, as well as some internationally trendy choices.  Below are some of the more interesting, with pronunciations where useful–bearing  in mind that they change from region to region (and reference book to reference book).


Among the currently most popular girls’ names are Emily, Lucy, Isabel (and Isabelle, Isabella and Isobel), and Grace, with several appearances of Hazel and Sophia/Sofia , Rose and Ruby.  Leading middle names in this sampling appear to be Elizabeth, Grace, Rose, Louise, May and Maeve.

Here, some of the more unusual choices–including some interesting combos:


ANNA Catriona (kat-REE-na) Monica


ARABELLA Elizabeth

ASHLING Elizabeth

AVA Maeve




CAOIMHE (KEEV-eh) Nadine

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Baby Name Timeline


When we were preparing the article “Bizarre Baby Names: A Growing Trend?” for the July issue of  Reader’s Digest magazine that’s just hit the stands, we put together a lonnnnnng timeline of the key markers in American name history–much longer than they could possibly use with the story.  So here we offer you some of the dates and events that you won’t find in the magazine.

1620.  The Mayflower arrives bearing 102 passengers, mostly with classic English names, but also one Degory, one Resolved, one Remember, one Wrestling, and one Oceanus, who was born mid-voyage.

1750s. Enter classical names (Homer, Horace), chivalrous names (Arthur, Elaine), and romantic girls (Lavinia, Rosalind).  More boys are being called Junior.

1768. Birth of Dolley Madison, one of the increasing number of babies with nicknames on their birth certificates.

1825. John Quincy Adams is the first President to have a middle name, a rarity at this time, when it becomes fashionable to use the mother’s maiden name.

1845. The Irish famine sends masses of Bridgets and Patricks to America.

1925. Girls’ names ending in ‘s’ are fashionable–Gladys, Doris, Phyllis, Lois; also those ending in een (Kathleen) and ette (Paulette).

1946. Publication of Dr. Benjamin Spock’s The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care encourages parents to be more relaxed, confident and collaborative: husbands participate more in child care–and baby naming.

1950.  Linda unseats the seemingly unseatable Mary as the number one name for girls.

1959. First Gidget movie released; surfer dude names like Gary, Scott, Dwayne and Bruce catch the wave.

1959.  Mattel introduces the Barbie doll; other nickname names like Lori, Cindy, Sherry and Terri are hot.

1966. Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. renounces his “slave name” to become Muhammed Ali; other celebrities follow suit, influencing African-American baby naming.

1967.  Frank Zappa names his first child Moon Unit,  a seminal ‘kooky’ baby name.  Son Dweezil will follow two years later.

1968. TV westerns like Here Come the Brides, featuring brothers Jason, Jeremy and Joshua, signal a return of old cowboy names.

1974. The first issue of People magazine accelerates fascination with celebrity culture, parents start to be increasingly influenced by names stars give their babies.

1987. Movie Wall Street proclaims “Greed is good,” summing up the Go-Go 80s and inspiring Waspy surnames for boys (Carter, Parker) and androgynous exec names for all (Kyle, Blake, Blair).

1998. Parents continue to get more and more kreeatif with spellings like Adan, Austyn and Alivia all in the year’s Top 700.

2000. The Internet inspires parents to search genealogy sites for old family names.

2003. Extreme starbaby names grow more extreme–this year alone sees the arrival of Pilot Inspektor, Audio Science and Banjo.

2008. Reason returns: With economic downturn, parents look back to solid, traditional girls’ names like Ella, Grace, Olivia, and biblical boys Jacob, Ethan, Benjamin.

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The Mary Month of May


May, as any Catholic schoolchild can tell you, is the official month of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God.  Which might make Mary an appropriate name for a girl born this month, except after a 400 year run, Mary is more than ready for semi-retirement.

The good news is that you can hold onto Mary’s symbolic value by choosing one of her fresh, appealing variations.  And there are literally dozens of them, formal and breezily nicknameish, ultrafemme and down-to-earth.  Some of the options:

MADONNA – There’s only one Madonna – and it’s not the plaster one in the blue alcove at church.  The pop star has all but taken over this formerly holy name and rebranded it with a modern in-your-face sexuality.  Do you dare use it for your child?  Do you want to?  Maybe not yet, but with names like Elvis and Scarlett gaining widespread popularity a generation or two after the fame of their original bearers, we all might end up having grandchildren named Madonna.

MAE and MAY – A mere handful of years ago, Mae was a quintessential old-lady name, barely baby-appropriate, but today it feels as sweetly simple as a warm day in the sun.  Can be a short form for any of the Mary variations and also makes a good middle name.

MAISIEMaisie takes Daisy and raises it one.  An insouciant, charming name, Maisie can be given on its own or can be used as a short form for any of the Mary variations – or even for Margaret.

MAMIEMamie is sassier than either Mae or Maisie, though definitely in the same family.  An old-fashioned nickname that’s enjoying another day in the sun, Mamie was the name of President Eisenhower’s wife and is also the nickname of Meryl Streep’s actress daughter – both mother and daughter are properly named Mary Louise.

MANON – This French diminutive of Marie is very popular in its own right there and would make a distinctive and unusual choice here, but one with some genuine underpinnings.  Parents considering Manon should see the French film, Manon of the Spring.

MAREN – The Norwegian form of Mary has the emphasis on the first syllable, as opposed to Marin as in the lovely county north of San Francisco, pronounced ma-RIN.

MARIA – As common as Mary in Latin cultures, Maria often gets overlooked for its own intrinsic beauty.  But with the ascendance of Sophia and Olivia, it deserves the same appreciation as a womanly classic that carries considerable feminine charm and a touch of the exotic.  And it feels fresher now, too, than the overworked Mariah.

MARIANMarian the Librarian pretty much says it all: Marian (or the somehow less charming Marion) has been stuck with a plain-faced, sensible-shoed image for too long now.  But baby namers looking to move beyond resurrected classics like Violet and Clara would do well to consider Marian, a beauty in disguise.  Among the top 20 names a hundred years ago, Marian is actually the medieval French version of Mary.

MARIETTA – French diminutive of Marie that feels a little bit buttoned up…and a little bit naughty.  An appealing combination.

MARINE – Americans may be more familiar with Marina, name of the tennis star, but the simpler Marine, redolent of the sea, has been popular in recent years in France yet is still special here.

MARISKA – Actress Mariska Hargitay brought this Czech version of Mary to the world’s attention.

MARISOLMarissa and Marisa have been quietly but fashionably used over the past few decades, but we prefer Marisol, the more dramatic Latina version.  This name related to Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, one of the names for the Virgin Mary.

MAURYA – Irish variation that updates Maura and appears as the name of a character in literature as well as on the stage in J.M. Synge’s 1904 drama Riders to the Sea.

MINNIEMinnie is finally shaking off its mouse associations and finding new appreciation among modern parents.  A relic of the days when so many girls were named Mary that its nicknames were many and varied, Minnie is another short form with energy and charm.

MIRIAM – The oldest known form of Mary, the Old Testament Miriam was the older sister of Moses and Aaron, a prophetess who led the triumphal song and dance after the crossing of the Red Sea.  One Biblical choice that has not in recent years been overused.

PILAR – Spanish classic meaning “pillar” that honors the Virgin Mary yet feels more exotic than many of the Mary variations.  A name with an ideal combination of strength and style.

POLLYPolly, believe it or not, got its start as a nickname for Mary, though these days it would almost always be used on its own.  A variation to consider if every other female in your family is named Mary and you want to carry on tradition, but also want to call your daughter by a name distinctly her own.

SOCORRO – Another Spanish name relating to one of the Virgin Mother’s titles, this one is rarely heard on our shores but makes a good choice for the adventurous baby namer.

There are definitely other appealing Mary variations and short forms.  Tell us your favorites!

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Celebrities on both sides of the Atlantic, those with and without Hibernian roots, have long been partial to Irish names for their babies. Here are some of the coolest:

AOIFE (EE-fa) –  Ciarán Hinds
Popular name dating back to a fierce woman warrior in early myth, it as been anglicized as Eva and Ava.

BECKETTMalcolm MacDowell, Melissa Etheridge, Conan O’Brian, Stella McCartney
An appealing last-name name rich in literary associations, both to the play and film based on the life of Saint Thomas à B. and to the Irish playwright-novelist Samuel B., it’s red hot in Hollywood.

BRODYGabrielle Reece & Lance Hamilton
This superstar athlete couple’s choice reflects the new trend towards using Irish surnames like Reagan/Regan and Riley for both sexes: this little Brody is a girl.

CASHEL (Kash-il) – Daniel Day-Lewis & Rebecca Miller
The Irish actor and his American wife chose an unusual Irish place name for their son; it’s also seen as Caisel.

CIARÁN (KEER-in) – Padraig Harrington
The golf star chose an authentic Irish name to match his own.

DARBYPatrick Dempsey
Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People made this spirited, light-hearted name seem more Irish than it actually is.

DELANEYMartina McBride
A solid surname that’s now used far more for girls than boys.

DONOVANCharisma Carpenter, Noel Gallagher
Another appealing surname, this one has long outgrown its “Mellow Yellow” associations.

FINLEYChris O’Donnell, Holly Marie Combs, Lisa Marie Presley
One of the newly popular Fin-family of names, also spelled Finlay (as used by Sadie Frost).

FINNChristy Turlington & Ed Burns, Jane Leeves, Andrea Catherwood
This is a name with enormous energy and charm, that of the greatest hero of Irish myth, Finn MacCool. Other related cool star-baby names: FLYNN (Elle Macpherson), and FINNIGAN (Eric McCormack of Will & Grace fame), not to mention Julia Roberts’ phabulous Phinnaeus.

FIONAJennie Garth
Although this name is a Scottish invention, it has an Irish feel and is commonly found among the Finolas and Fionnualas.

GULLIVERGary Oldman, Damian Lewis
This relatively rare Gaelic surname was known primarily through his literary Travels until actor Oldman transformed it into a lively baby-name option.

IRELANDKim Basinger & Alec Baldwin
If Ireland isn’t Irish, what is?

JAMES PADRAIG (PAW-drig) – Colin Farrell
Cool combination of classic New Testament name with one of the many authentic versions of the name of Ireland’s patron saint.

JUNOWill Champion (Coldplay)
The success of the eponymous little-movie-that-could was sure to establish Juno, with its lively image and classic roots, as a potential baby name–and it’s already started on its way.

KIERANJulianna Margulies
Irish ‘K’ names are a hot commodity for boys–a category that includes Kieran, Keegan, Keaton and Killian.

LENNONPatsy Kensit & Liam Gallagher
Naming a child after your cultural or other hero gives him two cool advantages: a name with real meaning and a positive image to reach towards. Another rocker, Zakk Wylde, chose Hendrix as his son’s musical hero name.

LIAMCalista Flockhart, Tori Spelling
Sprightly and richly textured classic that started as a short form of William.

MAEVEChris O’Donnell
An early Irish goddess and queen name, short but strong, now catching on across the pond. The O’Donnells named another of their five children Finley.

MALACHY (MAL-a-kee)  – Cillian Murphy
An Irish version of a biblical name, with an expansive, almost boisterous image.

MILORicki Lake, Camryn Manheim, Liv Tyler, Sherry Stringfield
Jaunty Irish spin on Miles.

QUINLINBen Stiller
A strong surname name usually spelled Quinlan that could make a child feel distinctive while still having the easy to handle nickname of Quinn.

QUINNSharon Stone
“The mighty Quinn” is a unisex name that’s strong for both genders.

RAFFERTYSadie Frost & Jude Law
One of the coolest of the Irish surnames, with a raffish quality all its own.

ROANSharon Stone
A strong, red-haired choice.

RÓISIN (Roh-sheen) – Sinéad O’Connor
An authentic selection for a little Irish rose.

RONANRebecca Miller & Daniel Day-Lewis
Compelling, legendary name of ten Celtic saints.

ROWANBrooke Shields
This friendly Irish surname was almost unheard of as a girl’s name before Brooke Shields made the gender switch; now it shows lots of potential as a likable, unisex choice.

SAOIRSE ROISIN (SEER-sha Roh-sheen) – Courtney Kennedy
Meaning “liberty,” Saoirse has been used since the 1920s as a statement of freedom.

SHEAKevin James
Common surname that projects spirit and substance; can also be seen as a short form of Seamus.

SULLIVANPatrick Dempsey
A jaunty Irish surname name with a real twinkle in its eye, used for the twin of Darby.

TALLULAHPatrick Dempsey, Simon LeBon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Damon Dash, Demi Moore & Bruce Willis
coolirishcoverThe then Willises almost single-handedly launched the cool starbaby name concept when they chose SCOUT and RUMER as well as the more user-friendly Tallulah for their girls. This Anglicization of Tuilelaith is now being picked up on by other celeb parents.

For more Irish celebrity baby names, plus Irish names of all flavors, check out our new book Cool Irish Names for Babies.

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