Undiscovered Irish Baby Names

From Emer to Ultan, Irish names you don't know....but should

Irish baby names

by Pamela Redmond Satran

The immigration of Irish baby names to the US has been going on for decades and just won’t quit, with the original Bridget and Patrick succeeded by Kathleen and Kevin, Kelly and Conor, who were followed by the current crop of babies named Aidan and Liam and Riley and Maeve.

So who’s left? Incredibly enough, there are still plenty of undiscovered Irish names ripe for import. The names here are all widely used in contemporary Ireland, are accessible in terms of spelling and pronunciation, yet are virtually unknown in the US.

BronaBrona or its Irish version Bronagh, a girls’ name that means sorrow, fell below the five-baby threshold in the US last year and so can be considered truly unique. The name of an ancient mystic, Brona is popular in Ireland and is also heard on television’s Penny Dreadful, which could broadcast its appeal.

CahirCahir, pronounced quite logically ka-heer, was used for no boys in the US last year, nor was its Irish form Cathair. It means “battle man.”

Cliona – The appeal of this ancient name increases dramatically when you learn that it’s pronounced as the rhythmic CLEE-uh-na and does NOT rhyme with Fiona. Meaning “shapely,” Cliona was used for no girls in the US last year.

Conal – Okay, there were 26 boys in the US named Conall and another 26 named Connell, but none called Conal. Meaning “strong as a wolf,” this name is prominent in Irish history and can make a great substitute for the flagging Conor.

Dara, Darach, Darragh, and Daire – All these names are pronounced Dara and all are popular for boys, while in the US there were 74 baby girls named Dara last year but only six boys, with another six called Daire, 12 named Darragh, and none given the Darach spelling. Darragh is a Top 50 boys’ name in Ireland. The name means “oak tree.”

Dervla – No girls in the US were given this ancient and still well-used Irish name last year, which means “daughter of the poet.” The Irish spelling is Dearbhla – and not surprisingly, that wasn’t used either.

Donnacha – This popular boys’ name in Ireland was given to zero boys in the US last year. Pronounced dunn-ah-ka, it means “brown-haired warrior”.

EmerEmer was a legendary wife who possessed the six gifts of womanhood: beauty, voice, speech, wisdom, chastity, and needlework. Used by Yeats, Emer – pronounced ee-mer – is widely used in modern Ireland. Yet in the US, plenty of girls are called Emery or Emerson but none are named Emer.

FiaFia and its Irish version Fiadh are among the fastest-rising girls’ names in Ireland yet are virtually unknown in the US, where there were only 21 girls named Fia and none called Fiadh last year. It means “wild deer” but might also be a short form for Sofia.

FintanFintan has a great meaning, or rather two great meanings – white fire or white bull – and a worthy ancient namesake: the legendary Fintan is said to be the only person to survive the Flood. A perfect long form for the stylish Finn, Fintan was used for only 22 boys in the US last year.

Lorcan – Despite its use in Harry Potter and its status as the name of the patron saint of Dublin, Lorcan was given to only 15 baby boys in the US in 2014. Meaning “little and fierce,” it’s the perfect successor to Logan.

Nuala – Girls’ name Nuala is a short form of Fionnuala, which means “white shoulders,” that is frequently used on its own. Nuala was given to 13 girls in the US last year.

Oran – Both Oran and its Irish version Odhran are in the Top 100 names for boys in Ireland, yet Oran was given to only 28 boys in the US last year and the more difficult Odhran to none. The name means “pale little green one.”

Orla – This accessible name that means “golden princess” was as popular in medieval Ireland as it is today. Associated with the famed high king Brian Boru, it’s in the Irish Top 100 yet was given to only 28 girls in the US last year.

Piran or PieranThis Irish name is unusual on both sides of the pond, though in the US neither spelling was used for any boys last year. Meaning prayer, Piran is the name of the patron saint of miners and of Cornwall.

Senan – Pronounced she-NAWN, Senan is one of the hottest boys’ names in Ireland, now standing among the Top 100. In the US, it was given to only eight boys last year though it makes a perfect substitute for Sean. Meaning “old and wise,” Senan was the name of an ancient founder of monasteries.

Ultan – It’s no surprise, given that this name means “man from Ulster,” that it’s most popular in Northern Ireland. While 18 saints were named Ultan, no babies in the US were given the name in 2014.

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8 Responses to “Undiscovered Irish Baby Names”

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southern.maple Says:

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.

aoife68 Says:

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.

indiefendi2 Says:

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.

teacupsandtiaras Says:

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.

Sweetchariot Says:

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).

Sweetchariot Says:

March 17th, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Anglicised* sorry typo

ashbee Says:

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.

Star_Girl Says:

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.

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