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Irish Baby Names: Rare in the US

October 15, 2020 Emma Waterhouse
Irish baby names

The immigration of Irish baby names to the US has been ongoing for decades and shows no signs of slowing. And why should it, when there’s such a wealth of beautiful Irish names still to discover!

From 19th century choices Bridget and Patrick, through mid-century favorites Kathleen and Kevin, to today’s popular picks like Liam and Aiden, Riley and Quinn – many Irish names are now so familiar to the American ear, that they don’t even really register as “Irish” anymore.

So if you want to honor your Irish heritage more overtly – or if you just prefer uncommon baby names – it’s time to dig deeper!

18 Simple Yet Rare Irish Baby Names

We’ve trawled the latest Irish and Northern Irish baby names data to uncover 18 intriguing Irish names that are well used on the Emerald Isle, but little known in the US.

All are relatively straightforward for the uninitiated English speaker to pronounce – no Aoibheann or Caoimhe here! And all were given to at least three babies in Ireland and/or Northern Ireland last year.

Baby-Girl-Names”>Rare Irish Girl Names

Cliona (CLEE-uh-nah)

In Irish mythology, Clíodhna was a beautiful queen of the sidhe (faeries) who fell in love with a mortal and was swept out to sea. The tide in the harbor of Glandore in County Cork is still known as Tonn Chlíodhna, “Cliona‘s Wave”.

Eriu (EH-ryu)

The Old Irish name for Ireland, now Éire, which is the source of Erin (via its genitive form Éireann “of Ireland”). In Irish mythology, Ériu is the mother goddess of Ireland, whose name may derive from a Proto-Celtic word meaning “full, abundant” – i.e. “land of abundance”.

Fianna (FEE-uh-nah)

In Irish mythology, the Fianna are small bands of warriors, led most famously by the hero Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn MacCool). The singular form fiann is cognate with modern Irish fine “family group” and Old English wine “friend”. It may also be used as an elaboration on the hugely popular Irish name Fiadh (Fia), which was given to over 400 girls in Ireland last year.

Iseult (EE-sult)

An ancient name of uncertain origin – theories include Germanic is “ice” + hild “battle”; Welsh is “under” + allt “slope, hillside”; or a possible Brythonic name Adsiltia, meaning “she who is gazed upon”. In the legend of Tristan and Iseult (or Isolde), Iseult of Ireland is a beautiful Irish princess who falls in love with the knight Tristan, with tragic consequences.

Neala (NEE-la)

Neala derives from the Gaelic name Niall, whose origin is disputed. Possibilities include Old Irish niadh “champion” or nél “cloud”. The male form Neal has dropped off the charts in both Ireland and NI, but Neala was given to 11 baby girls in 2019.

Orla

Already well used throughout the British Isles, Orla is the most popular spelling of the Gaelic name Órlaith or Órfhlaith, borne by the sister of the 11th century Irish king Brian Boru. It means “golden princess”.

Sibeal (shi-BALE)

Part-Sinead, part-Sibyl, Sibéal is actually the Irish form of Isabel, adopted into the Gaelic language in the early Middle Ages.

Tuiren (TIR-en)

Another amazingly modern-sounding name from Irish mythology, Tuiren was the aunt of Finn MacCool, famed for her beauty. Tuiren is most popular in the Republic of Ireland, where it was given to 5 baby girls last year.

Baby-Names-for-Boys”>Rare Irish Boy Names

Art

No, it’s not a nickname for Arthur, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so! In Ireland Art is an ancient name, deriving from Proto-Celtic artos “bear” and figuratively meaning “hero, champion”. It has belonged to two legendary High Kings of Ireland, Art mac Cuinn and Art mac Lugdach.

Barra

An Anglicization of Bairre, now more popular in Ireland than the original, Barra is a short form of the Gaelic names Fionnbharr (Finbar) or Barrfhionn, meaning “fair head”. Gaelic barr means “head”, but also “height” or “hill”.

Cahir (CAH-hir)

Meaning “warrior”, from Old Irish cath “battle” and fer “man”, Cahir is an Anglicized form of Cathair or Cathaoir. It’s especially popular in Northern Ireland, given to 20 baby boys there in 2019 (plus 12 called Cathair/Cathaoir).

Eunan (YOO-nan)

A saint’s name, Anglicized from Ádhamhnán or Adomnán, which may derive either from Ádhamh (Adam) or from Gaelic adomnae “great fear”. St Eunan was a 7th century abbot of Iona best known for his “Law of Innocents”, which protected women, children and non-combatants.

Lorcan

Well loved here on Nameberry (currently at #376!) Lorcan has never been given to more than 20 babies a year in the US and is the perfect rare alternative to Liam or Logan. In Gaelic, Lorcán means “little fierce one”.

Malachy (MAL-uh-kee)

Influenced by, but not technically related to, the Biblical name Malachi, Malachy is an Irish saint’s name. It’s the Anglicized form of either Maeleachlainn (“disciple of St. Seachnall”) or Maelmhaedhoc (“disciple of St. Máedóc”).

Rua

Many non-Irish speakers are familiar with Ruairí and Ruaidrí – the Gaelic spellings of Rory. They derive from Irish ruadh “red” + “king”. But Ruadh or Rua is also given as a name in its own right: 13 Ruas and ten Ruadhs were born in Ireland and NI last year.

Senan (SEN-an or SHEN-an)

Considering that Senan or Seanán is one of the origins of the surname turned popular first name Shannon, it’s surprising that this saint’s name remains so little known outside of Ireland. Senan is thought to derive from Old Irish sen “old”, but parallels have also been drawn with the name of the goddess of the River Shannon, Sinann. It’s possible that the figure of St Senan may actually be a Christianization of a Celtic river goddess.

Turlough (TUR-lock)

A popular name during the Middle Ages, Toirdelbach (Anglicized as Turlough or Turlach) is the name of two High Kings of Ireland. It means “abettor, instigator”, from Gaelic toirdhealbh “prompting”. Often given in honor of 17th century harpist Turlough O’Carolan, considered by many to be Ireland’s national composer.

Ultan

Ultan or Ultán means “Ulsterman”, referring to the second-largest of the four traditional Irish provinces, which straddles Northern Ireland and the Republic. If unique baby names are your thing, you can’t get much more unusual than the U initial, and Ultan itself has never ranked in the US.

To read next…

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Top Cornish Names in Cornwall

Best Baby Names Below the Top 1000

About the author

Emma Waterhouse

Emma Waterhouse — better known as @katinka around these parts — joined the team in 2017, writing about everything from where to find a cool vintage boy name to why some names become popular memes. As Nameberry's head moderator, she also helps to keep our active Forums community ticking. A linguist by background, Emma speaks six languages and lives in England's smallest county with her husband and three young children. You can reach her at emma@nameberry.com.

View all of Emma Waterhouse's articles

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