by Linda Rosenkrantz
We all love Irish baby names—and even more for boys than for girls.
Just look at the US popularity list and you’ll see Liam at the top of the list, the highest Irish baby boy name ever. And yet though we’ve gone through the cycle of Ryan–Brian–Sean–Aidan/Aiden–Connor–Finn et al, that doesn’t mean there aren’t new discoveries to be made for both genders. And many with rich mythological backstories.
The celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day are upon us, and just coincidentally the Irish Most Popular list has recently been released. So I went fishing there and found twelve lively Irish baby names prospects. Names that have never quite made it across the ocean—though some have already been discovered by Berries. (And don’t be put off by pronunciation challenges—after all, we all know how to say Saoirse and Sinead now.)
Here they are, in order of their Irish popularity—note that many of the names have varied pronunciations in different parts of Ireland:
IRISH GIRL NAMES
#13 AOIFE (EE-fa)
A popular Irish name with the lovely meaning of ‘beautiful, radiant’, Aoife was prominent among the heroines of early Irish legend, including a daughter of Dermot, King of Leinster– in one tale she was the world’s fiercest female warrior. Actor Ciaran Hinds used it for his daughter in 1991, and Roddy Doyle named a character Aoife in The Guts. Aoife is #198 in England and 491 on Nameberry, where it was given to 107 girls in 2017.
#20 CAOIMHE (KWEE-va or KEE-va or QWEE-va)
Another name with the meaning of beautiful—as well as precious, beloved, gentle, kind and graceful. An Irish saint’s name, Caoimhe has reached the surprisingly high rank of 473 among the sophisticated baby namers of Nameberry. The male form has been anglicized as Kevin.
This lovely Irish version of Rose, meaning little Rose, actually began as a nickname for Ros/Rois and has been phoneticized in the past as Rosaleen. In a patriotic traditional poem, Roisin Dhu is seen as a poetic personification of Ireland itself. Singer Sinead O’Connor has a grown daughter named Roisin, as does Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter Courtney. Roisin has edged onto the NB list at #952.
35 FIADH (fee-a)
#42 NIAMH (neev, NYEE-uv)
This ancient Irish name, meaning ‘brightness, radiance’, was originally a term for a goddess. In legend, Niamh of the Golden Hair was the beautiful princess daughter of the sea god who falls in love with Oisin and goes with him to The Land of Promise, where they stayed for 300 years. Niamh is the heroine of the Christina Baker Kline bestseller Orphan Train. The name is #60 in Scotland, 111 in England and 316 on Nameberry. Actress Niamh Cusack is a distinguished bearer.
#50. CLODAGH (KLOH-dah)
This is the name of a river—actually Clodach in County Tipperary—which became the name of a saint. In the Celtic world it was common for rivers to be called after local goddesses of healing or fertility—supplicants would deposit precious objects in the water as a sacrifice to the deity. Its use was spread through the fame of Irish singer Clodagh Rodgers; Clodagh Pine is a character in Maeve Bichy’s novel Circle of Friends.
IRISH BOY NAMES
Oisin means ‘little deer’, referring to the story that this mythic son of Fionn Mac Cumhail was reared in the forest by his mother, who had been turned into a doe by the Dark Druid. Upon finding him, Fionn named him little deer and made him an important member of the Fianna band of chieftains, in which he earned a great reputation as a wise warrior and poet. The name of four Irish saints, its English form is Ossian, which can be spelled the phonetic (and shiny) Osheen. Oisin is #710 on NB.
#14 CIAN (KEE-an)
This fairly straightforward and usable Irish name is usually taken to mean ancient. In mythology Cian was the son of the god of medicine, father of Lugh, the sun god, and son-in-law of the high king Brian Boru. So extremely well-connected. Cian was a popular name for characters in early Irish mythology. Though it ranks at # 216 on Nameberry, and 336 in England, Cian doesn’t appear on the Social Security Top 1000. Geena Davis used the alternate Kian spelling for one of her sons in 2004.
Fionn, almost unknown in the US, is more popular in Ireland than the Finn version is. It’s associated with one of the greatest heroes in Irish mythology, Fionn MacCumhaill. Wise, brave, handsome, generous and famous for his cunning, he acquired divine wisdom by eating an enchanted Salmon of Knowledge. His popularity has endured for over a thousand years, inspiring writers like James Joyce and Flann O’Brien. Do you think this version that’s so close to the popular Finn (#167) could ever catch on here?
#21 DARRAGH (DAR-a)
The appealingly gentle Darragh comes from an Irish word meaning ‘oak tree’. It’s also an anglicized form of Daire (fertile), a name that featured prominently in ancient legend. In one epic tale, Daire mac Fiachna owned the magical bull that sparked off a war between Ulster and Connaught. Like many early Irish names, it was used for both boys and girls—a practice that could be revived.
#22 CILLIAN (KIL-yan)
Handsome Cillian derives from cill, meaning church, and so, not surprisingly, is linked to several saints. The best known was a 7th century Irish missionary in the Rhine area, becoming the patron saint of Wurtzburg, a city that celebrates a Kilianfest each year, when mystery plays are performed. Cillian is #167 on NB, and 324 in England—not ranking in the US– while the phonetic Killian is 249 in the US and climbing fast. Best known contemporary bearer is dynamic actor Cillian Murphy (who has siblings Paidi, Sile and Orla and sons Malachy and Aran).
#33 TADHG (TYEg or THYg or TAYg)
Meaning poet or storyteller, this was the name of several ancient kings and princes of Ireland, including Brian Boru’s son. Tadhg became so common at one point that it was used to represent a kind of Irish Gaelic everyman, or man in the street, as Paddy and Mick would later. Tadhg has seen a major resurgence in recent years and is also now ranked in England. It is sometimes used as the Irish equivalent of Timothy and is also anglicized as Teague and Thaddeus. Tadleigh and Thad are pet forms.
#47 EOIN (OH-in)
Eoin is an old Irish equivalent of John—it came directly into Irish from the Latin Iohannes, while the more familiar alternative Sean was via the French version Jean. It has been very popular in Ireland since the earliest days of Christianity. Eoin Colfer is the author of the Artemis Fowl books. It’s 475 on NB. Confusion could arise outside the Emerald Isle since the pronunciation is exactly like Owen.
Apologies that were were unable to include accent marks.
Do you think any of these names could find their way onto the US popularity list?