Irish Baby Names: The new most popular

The new most popular Irish baby names were just announced, with the Top 10 dominated by — non-Irish names.

The new Top 10 for girls contains not a single Irish choice:

  1. Emily
  2. Sophie
  3. Emma
  4. Grace
  5. Lily
  6. Sarah
  7. Lucy
  8. Ava
  9. Chloe
  10. Katie

The new boys’ list includes three Irish baby names, compared with just one Irish choice — Aiden — on the U.S. popular names list.  The new Irish Top 10 for boys are:

  1. Jack
  2. James
  3. Sean
  4. Daniel
  5. Conor
  6. Ryan
  7. Adam
  8. Harry
  9. Michael
  10. Alex

But further down in the Top 100, the Irish popularity list includes several Irish names.  We relied on the excellent audio by the late author Frank McCourt at Baby Names of Ireland for the pronunciations.  The Irish girls’ names in the Top 100, in order of popularity, are:

Aoife — Pronounced ee-fa, Aoife was a legendary woman warrior in Irish mythology.  Once near the top of the Irish charts, this name is starting to move down in popularity.

Caoimhe — From the same root as Kevin, this name is pronounced kee-va.

Saoirse — Popularized by the lovely young actress Saoirse Ronan, Saoirse means liberty and is pronounced sare(rhyming with hair)-sha.

CiaraCiara is the authentic Irish spelling of the name better known in the U.S. as Keira, the most popular American spelling thanks to Ms. Knightley, or Kiera, which relates more directly to the male Kieran (or in Irish, Ciaran).  The name means dark or black-haired.  Kyra may be pronounced the same but is a variation on Cyrus.

NiamhNiamh of the Golden Hair was the mythical daughter of a sea god.  The name is pronounced neev and sometimes spelled phonetically as Neve.

RoisinRoisin, pronounced ro-sheen, is an Irish diminutive of Rose.  Singer Sinead O’Connor used this for one of her daughters.

Aisling — Pronounced ash-ling, this name derives from a poetic genre.

Clodagh — The o is long and the gh is silent.  The name Clodagh is derived from a river and a related female deity.

Erin — A place name denoting Ireland itself, Erin is now moving up the charts in its native land but down in the U.S., where it’s been used for decades.

SadhbhSadhbh, which rhymes with five, was the mythical lover of Finn McCool and mother of Oisin; she was turned into a deer.

AineAine sounds like Anya.  The mythical Aine was queen of the fairies and lucky in all ways.

Aoibhinn and Aoibheann — Pronounced as even, this is a saint’s name.

Eabha and Aoibhe — Pronounced like Eva, these are Irish forms of Eve.

OrlaOrla means “golden princess” and was the name of both a sister and daughter of High King Brian Boru.

Tara — Another longtime Irish-American favorite fading in the U.S., this mythical name is now popular in Ireland.

EimearEimear, pronounced ee-mer, was a mythical figure who possessed the “Six Gifts of Womanhood” — Six Gifts of Womanhood” – beauty, a gentle voice, sweet words, wisdom, needlework and chastity.

Muireann — The pronunciation of this name is a bit difficult for the English-speaking tongue: It’s mweer-in.  Muireann was a mythical mermaid who was turned into a woman by a saint.

Meabh — The Irish spelling of Maeve, this ancient queen’s name is on the rise in the Ireland as well as the U.S.

SineadOne Irish name whose pronunciation — shin-aid — is familiar to Americans via singer Sinead O’Connor, this is the Irishization of Janet.

And for boys:

CianListed at Number 13, Cian–pronounced key-in–is one of the highest ranking Irish names on the Irish boys’ list, but it’s one that’s never emigrated to the US.

OisinPronounced osh-een, and also known as Ossian, Oisin is an important name in Irish legend, as the son of Finn Mac Cool.

LiamNo need for pronunciation clues here, as Liam is actually two points higher (at Number 15)  in the US than it is in Ireland.  This short form of William is a particular celeb favorite.

Darragh and DaraDarragh, pronounced somewhere between di-re and da-ra, and slimmed-down version Dara, are both on the Irish boys’ list, but sound too feminine for plausible use in the US.

CillianThis name of several saints is growing in US popularity in the phonetic spelling Killian, which is now Number 756.

Fionn and FinnBoth pronounced Finn and both mega-popular in Ireland, but Finn is clearly the one taking off in the States.  Finn–or FionnMac Cool is the brave and handsome central character of Irish myth.

Eoin and EoghanThese two names, believe it or not, are both versions of John that are pronounced as Owen, a red hot name in America.

Callum and CalumInterchangeable spellings of a name that actually has Scottish origins and means ‘dove.’  is a symbol of peace and purity.  The Callum spelling is the one that’s taken off here, now at Number 847.

TadhgA name with quite a tricky pronunciation — ti-gue–Tadhg, which means poet or philosopher, was the grandfather of Finn Mac Cool.  Somehow we don’t see it heading for the US pop list any time soon.

Rian–An offbeat version of Ryan that had a brief moment of US popularity in the late 1970s.  The original Ryan is still Number 25 here.

CathalWith the surprising pronunciation of ka-hal (some books say koh-hal), this was a popular name in the Middle Ages and is now popular again in England.

RonanThis strong and attractive name is climbing in US popularity; it was used by Daniel DayLewis and Rebecca Miller, and by Catherine Bell.

Rory and RuairiPronounced Rory, Ruairi is one of several versions of the name all current in the Emerald Isle.  In the US, Rory is ascending for both boys and girls.

CiaranPronounced keer-in, is a saint’s name popular in Ireland for over 1500 years, known here through Harry Potter actor Ciaran Hinds.

Senan-An anglicization of Seanian (shan-awn) which has had a long run of popularity in Ireland.

Donnacha–An unusual name to the American eye, it’s pronounced done-acka and belonged to a High King of Ireland.  Simpler version Donagh (done-a) might be more possible here.

OdhranPronounced o-ran or o-rin, a name of seventeen Irish saints.  The phonetic Oran is also on the Irish list, and Oran, Orin and Oren are all heard occasionally in the US.

NiallThis name of a fourth century King of Tara is pronounced as ny-all, and translated here as Neil or Neal–names that haven’t been heard much in the US in decades.

DaithiPronounced da-hee, Daithi was the name of the last pagan King of Ireland.

For the full list of top Irish names, go here.

The only Irish names on the U.S. Top 100 are, for girls, the surname names Riley and Kennedy.  For boys, the Irish names beyond Aiden and its variations in the Top 100 are Liam, Ryan, Connor, Kevin, Brody, and Nolan.

If you’d like to know more about Irish names, check out our book, Cool Irish Names for Babies.

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14 Responses to “Irish Baby Names: The new most popular”

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ErinLW Says:

July 11th, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I’m kind of happy my name is moving down in the charts… it makes me more unique!

ebenezer.scrouge Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 2:08 am

Niall may become better known through Niall Horan a member of British Boy Band One Direction. Niall is from Northern Ireland. I am not sure how well known they are in the US but in Australia they are huge.

evergreen Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 2:37 am

Ooo I love Oisin 🙂

pam Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 5:38 am

Hear you on Niall — read much more about it/him right here tomorrow!

sydnergy Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 7:36 am

How realistic in america are these?We have decided to use an irish name not on this list, but I am getting cold feet because of pronunciation and spelling issues. I guess if zai’yairiah can be pronounced Zaire I shouldnt worry so much?

augusta_lee Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 10:35 am

I’m usually not a proponent of changing original spellings…but 90% of these would only be usable in the US spelled phonetically.

OliviaSarah Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Aoife, Clodagh, Orla (or Orlaith), Tara and Eimear (I also like the phonetically spelt Emer) are favourites of mine. From the boys I like Oisin, Tadhg, Daithi and Odhran. I also REALLY love something about the spelling Ruairi, but I’m not overly fussed about Rory.

I think all of these are more usable in the UK (outside of Northern Ireland, I mean) than in the states, understandably, because they’re used far more commonly. For instance, Dara is well-recognised here thanks to the comedian Dara Ó Briain. I also know several non-Irish kids named Aoife, Ciara, Niamh, Orla, Tara, Cian, Ciaran, Finn and Niall.

I really love Irish names, and I’d love to use one to honour my Irish heritage when I have kids.

R_J Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Interesting that Sarah and Tara are popular! Two names never suggested on nameberry. They’ve definitely had their day in the U.S.

Poppy528 Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 3:33 pm

This list was really exhausting to get though. Phonetic spellings would be the only way to go in the US.

littlebrownpony Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 7:25 pm

I always thought Niamh/Neve was pronounced “Nev” and not “Neev.” I like the sound of “Nev” so much better! Bummed.

I ADORE Callum but it’s already catching on in my little corner of the world. Last year I had not one but 2 Callums in one of my classes!

ebenezer.scrouge Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 9:34 pm

With the possibilities in Australia there are quite a few Niamh’s and Neve’s. Sinead and Ciara are also used. I know one Orla and her actual name is Orflaugh which she says is the proper Irish way to spell it. Callum and Rory are common here as is Ryan. Ciaran is more commonly spelt Kieran. Ronan Keating is an Irish singer-songwriter and a judge on our version of The X Factor. There are heaps of Finn’s and that ranks in our top 100 with Finlay and Finley following behind. Irish Australians seem to use the easier to pronounce Irish Names

peigin.leitir.moir Says:

July 13th, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Hi I’m Irish and I’m familiar with the vast majority of these names, my own name is included on the list! 🙂

I’d just like to correct some of the pronunciation as I am a fluent Irish speaker:

Caoimhe – more commonly pronounced as “qwee-va” in Ireland, but “kee-va” is not unheard of.

Saoirse – can also be pronounced as “seer-sha” but Saoirse Ronan herself uses the pronunciation “sare-sha”

Aisling – very popular in Ireland! It means vision or dream.

Aine – is pronounced “awn-ya” as in fawn or yawn.

Aoibhinn and Aoibheann — would NEVER be pronounced as “even” in Ireland hahaha!!! It’s “aye-veen” and it means lovely or beautiful.

In Irish speaking areas, known as Gaeltacht regions, certain names are pronounced slightly differently, for example Meave, ( Meadbh is the Irish spelling, with a “d”) would be pronounced “mee-ub” and Sinead would be pronounced “shin-ud”.

Siobhan – this is pronounced “shi-vawn” and is the Irish version of Joan.

Tadhg- like saying “tiger” but without the “er”

Ciaran – is actually pronounced “keer-awn”.

Fionn – pronounced “fee-yun”, not “finn” and it means fair, or fair-haired

Also Fionn “Mac Cool” is incorrect. The correct spelling is Fionn mac Cumhaill pronounced “Mac Cool”.

I also wouldn’t underestimate the potential for “Darragh” to catch on in the US- it’s an immensely popular boys name in Ireland and it has a very masculine meaning derived from “oak tree”.

Also @ebenezer.scrouge – Niall Horan from One Direction is not from Northern Ireland he’s from Mullingar, County Westmeath, Ireland.
Finally, some of these names are missing a fada- a fada is basically an accent over a vowel and it changes the pronounciation e.g. an “I” gets an “ee” sound when there is a fada.

Hope this comment was helpful!!

Namester1999 Says:

December 28th, 2012 at 11:16 pm

I’m curious how you define “Irish names” Nameberry. You must mean fake, Americanized Irish names. Have you ever heard of Grace O’Malley? Katie is an Irish name too. Jack, James, Sean, Daniel and Michael are all Irish. Conor and Ryan are Irish surnames adopted by Americans as first names that trickled back to Ireland as first names.

Eaffie Says:

August 18th, 2013 at 8:47 am

The first four Irish girl names all belong to my sisters and I; Aoife Sinead Orlaith, Saoirse Aisling Alannah , Ciara and Caoimhe. Eimear and Aoibhe, my other sisters are also there too. Although, I’ve been in an all irish school all my life and live in a gaeltacht area, your pronunciation of Caoimhe is wrong though some people do say it like that. KWEE-VA…

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