Irish Baby Names: Rare in the US
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
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
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”.
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”.
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.
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 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.
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”.
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
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.
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”.
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).
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.
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”.
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”).
Many non-Irish speakers are familiar with Ruairí and Ruaidrí – the Gaelic spellings of Rory. They derive from Irish ruadh “red” + rí “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.
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 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.
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on March 16th, 2016 at 11:37 pm
Piran isn’t an Irish name. It’s a cognate of Kieran, an Irish name, but Piran itself is not Irish.
on March 17th, 2016 at 7:05 am
I hate the way the names are anglicised here. What is wrong with the original names? They obviously, don’t follow the English alphabet, and so have a different pronunciation than would be expected by an English speaker. But why should that mean that the original names aren’t good enough? In Ireland I have never met a Brona, Dervla, Emer, Oran or Fia. Instead, they are called Bronagh/Bronach, Dearbhla, Eimear, Odhran and Fiadh. In my experience, if someone is going to choose an Irish name, one of the reasons is because it is Irish, so why would you change the very thing that makes it so? I don’t think that changing the spelling to pander to the general population is respectful to the original culture. If someone wants a name that is “accessible”, then choose a name that people know how to pronounce.
on March 17th, 2016 at 10:18 am
Speaking of Cahir, I found Cahira on a website yesterday and I fell in LOVE. Definitely putting it on my list. It’s awesome.
on March 17th, 2016 at 11:09 am
I have a friend named Eihmear and I think it’s such a lovely name! She goes by Emer, too.
on March 17th, 2016 at 1:58 pm
I love this list! I wonder if the first commenter feels the same way about my daughter’s name, Oona. Though it is Úna in Ireland, we went with the Anglised spelling for lots of reasons including blending with our other heritages (Scandinavian and English).
on March 17th, 2016 at 1:59 pm
Anglicised* sorry typo
on March 17th, 2016 at 3:40 pm
I live Eimear! Nuala is also very pretty. In fact, I have a soft spot for all Irish names, but I’m not Irish at all. :'( That’s why Saoirse is probably my #1 guilty pleasure name.
on March 17th, 2016 at 7:02 pm
I’m part Irish, and I could use names like Ian and Cory for my future son if I have one, but if not, I could use Kelly, which is a unisex name if I have a daughter.
on October 16th, 2020 at 12:54 am
I love all of these names! 🙂
on October 17th, 2020 at 3:37 pm
A lovely list, though I agree with Aoife about anglicisation. Whilst I recognise people worry about misspellings, I don’t see how continuing the colonial practice of ignoring the root language and converting them (often at the loss of specific nuances of pronunciation) helps anyone? Surely that isn’t something we need to continue in 2020 & esp not if wanting to honour one’s heritage. I also note I’ve only heard Iseult pronounced as ees-ult in Eastern Europe – usually it’s is-ult (same as the is in Isobel) – and that I’m used to Fianna as fee-na (though that may be down to dialect). Nice to see lesser known ones like Turlough getting a mention though! Personally would love to see Naoise and Nuadha make it onto a list one day ❤️
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