Category: Irish names for girls
When I was expecting my first child, I wanted a name with a lot of energy, for reasons that seem insane from the perspective of having raised three kids. But I didn’t anticipate that a high-energy toddler might run me ragged; I just knew I wanted my little boy or girl to be active, outgoing, not hobbled by the shyness and insecurities I felt had plagued my own childhood.
Well, I got my wish. Rory burst into the world, all 9 pounds, 5 ounces of her, with a shock of jet black hair and a voice that woke the whole maternity ward. At two weeks old, she was able to stand on my husband’s lap and sing along with him. As she grew, she starred in all the school plays and dominated on the lacrosse field.
The search for a high-energy name was part of the inspiration for our first name book. It was so difficult to sift through all the conventional name dictionaries on the market at the time and try to find names that sounded energetic (and Irish and that meant red, two of my other criteria). There should be a name book that put all the energetic-sounding names in one place, I thought, along with all the names that sounded smart and stylish, that were good for redheads or popular in the 1920s. That’s the thinking I brought to the first Beyond Jennifer & Jason (Linda, meanwhile, a friend and fellow writer, had conceived the same idea from a different direction), now grown up to Beyond Ava & Aiden.
Irish baby names are in the news this week, with the release of the official statistics on the top names of 2010. Leading the list: Sophie and Jack, holding onto their Number 1 crowns from last year. But there are lots of other changes and surprises in the statistics.
The first surprise, especially if you don’t live in Ireland, is how few of the top Irish baby names are actually Irish. Four of the top ten boys’ names — Sean, Conor, Ryan, and Dylan (Welsh, actually, with Dillon the Irish cognate) — are Irish; only one of the girls’ names — Aoife at Number 10 — is a native choice.
The top ten Irish baby names are:
The current popularity lists are full of Irish baby names that are also surname names—Ryan, Riley, Brody, Brady, Brennan, Connor, Keegan, and Quinn, to name just a few—and have been for quite some time. For the most part, they have been two- and occasionally one-syllable names; we’d like to suggest that the next wave will consist of the bouncier, even friendlier and more genial names with three syllables, and here are some of the best candidates.
Branigan—a possible update for Brandon; the name means the descendant of the son of the raven, the latter being a nickname for the first chief of the clan. Spelled Brannigan, it was a 1975 John Wayne movie, and Zapp Brannigan is the antihero of the satirical animated sitcom Futurama
Cullinan—not as familiar as some of the others but has a long and distinguished Irish history—and, for a bit of trivia, the Cullinan diamond was the largest rough diamond ever found (3,000+ carats) when discovered in 1905.
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 namenerds.com —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)
Aoife /EE fa
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: