Category: Irish names for girls
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
Brónach /BRO nakh (Brona, Bronagh)
Brid /BREEJ (Brigid)
Cliona /CLEE uh na (Cliona)
Dearbhail /DJAR vil (Dervil)
Eibhilin /EH leen (Eileen)
Éilis /AY leesh (Eilish)
Gráinne /GRAWN yeh (Grania)
Íde /EE-da (Eda)
Máirín /MAW-reen (Maureen)
Neasa /NESS-a (Nessa)
Órla, Órlaith /OR-la (Orla)
Saraid /SAR- id
Síle /SHEE-la (Sheila)
Sinéad /shih-NADE (Sinaid)
Siobhán (sh’VAWN (Shivaun )
Siomha, Siomath /SHEE-va
Árdal /AWR-dul (Ardal)
Brógán /BRO-gawn (Brogan)
Cathal /CAH-hul (Cahill)
Éamon /AY-mun (Eamon)
Fial /FE- ul
Lorcán /LUR-uh-khan (Lorcan)
Naoise /NEE-sha ( Neesha )
Oisin /USH-een (Osheen )
Pádraig /PAW-rick (Patrick)
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 namenerds.com in 1998.
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:
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.
1845. The Irish famine sends masses of Bridgets and Patricks to America.
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.
1974. The first issue of People magazine accelerates fascination with celebrity culture, parents start to be increasingly influenced by names stars give their babies.
2000. The Internet inspires parents to search genealogy sites for old family names.
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.
MAMIE – Mamie 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.
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.
MARIAN – Marian 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.
MARISOL – Marissa 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.
MINNIE – Minnie 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.
POLLY – Polly, 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!
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:
BECKETT – Malcolm 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.
BRODY – Gabrielle 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.
DELANEY – Martina McBride
A solid surname that’s now used far more for girls than boys.
FINN – Christy 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.
JUNO – Will 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.
LENNON – Patsy 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.
RÓISIN (Roh-sheen) – Sinéad O’Connor
An authentic selection for a little Irish rose.
TALLULAH – Patrick Dempsey, Simon LeBon, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Damon Dash, Demi Moore & Bruce Willis
The 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.