Irish Baby Names: The new most popular

July 11, 2012 Pamela Redmond

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.

About the author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.

View all of Pamela Redmond's articles


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