Irish Names (Updated 2021)
Written by: Caitlin
Published: 8th September 2020
Irish names have a reputation around the world, for sounding beautiful and having beautiful meanings… Provided you can work out their pronunciation from their unusual spellings!
If you have an Irish name or know someone with a moniker heralding from the Emerald Isle, maybe you’ve stumbled across this article whilst trying to find out the meaning or origin of it. Or maybe you are lucky enough to be expecting a new baby and are interested in Irish names to reflect your own heritage. Or maybe you are just trying to get to the bottom of how to pronounce Siobhan- without a B apparently!
In you are interested in Irish ancestry and surnames, you might find our article about Irish Clans interesting.
Whatever brought you here, we hope you enjoy our round up of some of the most popular Irish names and their origins, and if we’ve left your favourite off, please let us know!
Irish Names: Girls
Aoife is a name which has a huge popularity both in and out of Ireland. It is derived from the word ‘aoibh’ which means ‘beauty’. In Irish mythology, Aoife was a warrior princess, known as the greatest woman warrior in the world, the daughter of a king, and she also gave birth to the hero Cuchulainn’s only son, Connlach.
Caoimhe (kwee-va or kee-va)
This fairly common and incredibly pretty Irish name derives from the Gaelic word ‘caomh’, and it means gentle, beautiful or precious. It is also the name of an Irish saint and has been constantly featured in the Top 20 baby names for Ireland for a long while. The male version of Caiomhe is Caoimhín, of which the anglicised version is Kevin.
The name Saoirse rose to popularity in the 1920’s, possibly in response to the Irish independence movement, as it’s meaning is ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’. In the present day, Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan has helped the world to recognise and pronounce this beautiful name.
Ciara is the feminine form of Ciaran, both of which come from the Gaelic word ‘ciar’, which means ‘dark’, implying dark features, like hair or eyes. Historically, St. Ciara was a distinguished figure who established a monastery in Co. Tipperary during the seventh century.
Niamh (neev or nee-iv)
Niamh is an Irish Gaelic name, derived from the Old Irish Niam, which means radiance, luster or brightness. It was originally a term for a goddess, after the daughter of Manannan, the god of the sea, who was known as ‘Niamh of the Golden Hair’.
Niamh is one of the most commonly recognised Irish names outside of the country, and it’s popularity has inspired several more anglicised versions of the same pronunciation.
Roisin is a beautiful Irish name which has been in use since the sixteenth century, and which means ‘little rose’.When Irish patriotic poetry and song was outlawed in Ireland, Irish bands would disguise their nationalistic verses and love songs, and sing about Roisin Dubh (“Dark Rosaleen”) as the poetic symbol for their country.
A popular choice in Ireland, Clodagh was the name of a river and later a saint. There are a couple of famous namesakes, namely singer Clodagh Rodgers and chef Clodagh McKenna.
The River Clodagh which runs through Co. Tipperary and Co. Wexford, is also known as Clody River, and it may be this association with the word ‘clody’ which has stopped Clodagh from spreading as far out of Ireland as many other Irish girls’ names have.
Aisling (ash-ling or ash-lin)
Aisling comes from the Gaelic word ‘aislinge’, which previously referred to a genre of Irish poetry from the late 17th century, and when used as a name is thought to mean ‘dream’ or ‘vision’. This feminie name has a high popularity both in and out of Ireland, and has inspired several more phonetically spelled versions such as Ashlyn through the UK and US.
Fiadh is a gorgeous Gaelic name which has not reached such acclaim as it deserves outside of Ireland, probably due to it’s unusual spelling, although an anglicised version, Fia, has seen a surge in popularity. The name is thought to mean ‘wild’ and is derived from the word for wildlife, ‘fiadhúrla’.
The name Aoibhe is one of the Irish names for girls, which may be considered a form of either Aoife meaning ‘beauty’, or Eve, which means ‘life’. Either way, this is a popular Irish girls name, though outside of Ireland few would guess the pronunciation.
This classic Gaelic name means ‘swift’. In the Irish legend, Eimear was the wife of warrior legend Cuchulainn, and was said to have possessed the six gifts of womanhood, which are beauty, a gentle voice, sweet words, wisdom, needlework, and chastity.
Orlaith is the Gaelic spelling, although the version Orla is recognised in Ireland too and is more common across the UK. In early pre-Norman Ireland this name was borne by both the sister and the niece of high King Brian Boru. The name can mean either ‘golden princess’ or ‘golden sovereign’.
Sinead is one of the Irish names whose pronunciation seems to be the most widely known. Perhaps this is in part due to famous Sinead’s such as Sinead O’Connor making it popular around the world. Whilst Sinead still features in the Irish Top 100 names, it is definitely falling out of fashion in favour of some of the newer Irish names, but it seems like this classic will still stand the test of time.
Grainne is believed to hail from the Irish word ‘gran’, which means grain or corn. In ancient Ireland, Grainne was the goddess of the grain or harvest. There is also a famous legendary Irish narrative about Grainne, the fiancee of mythological hero Finn McCool and lover of Dermot, who was a heroine of the seas.
Siobhan is one of the loveliest Irish names, whose perplexing spelling has inspired many phonetic variations, but the original form is the one most commonly seen across Ireland. Siobhan is another form of the name ‘Joan’, and means ‘God has been gracious’ or ‘God’s grace’. It can also mean ‘full of charm’.
This feminine name is the Irish variation of the given name Margaret, which is believed to mean ‘pearl’. Mairead became popular around the time of the 14th century and was also the name of a famous Irish saint. Lending itself to lots of nickname varieties, it is no wonder that this name is a popular choice in Ireland.
The name Sorcha is one of the Irish names for girls, meaning ‘bright’ or ‘shining’. The pronunciation is difficult to explain to those without an Irish accent, basically SOR-ca, but with a little hiccup between the ‘r’ and the ‘c’ that’s near-impossible for the English accent to reproduce, but it sounds beautiful when spoken properly!
The name Nuala is a girl’s name of Irish origin meaning ‘fair shoulders’. It is officially a shortening of the traditional and tricky Gaelic Fionnghuala or Fionnuala, but Nuala makes a lovely choice all on its own. Nuala is well-used in Ireland, but less well known outside of the Emerald isle, probably due to its unusual spelling.
Oonagh is a beautiful sounding name, often seen in alternative spellings such as Oona or Úna. It may be derived from the Irish word ‘uan’ which means lamb. Although, the name Una might also mean “the personification of truth, beauty, and unity”. As well as being popular in Ireland, it is also popular in Finland.
This name comes from the older Gaelic form ‘Derdriu’. The meaning is possibly derived from the Celtic word for woman. In Irish legend, Dierdre was the name of a tragic character who died of a broken heart after Conchobar, the King of Ulster, killed her lover Naoise.
Irish Names: Boys
One of the most popular names to have originated from Ireland, Conor is usually translated as “lover of hounds.” It can also mean “high desire,” as derived from the Irish word “coachuhhar.” Conchobhar MacNessa was the king of Ulster; according to the legend, he was born on the same day as Christ. Conor is often also seen by it’s alternative spelling Connor.
Sean is the Irish version of the name John, and means ‘God is gracious’. It can also mean ‘wise’ or ‘old’. Sean has been a top choice boys name in Ireland, the UK and the US for many generations. Seanan and Senan may be thought of either Sean diminutives too ,and Sean itself is actually a unisex name, although it is rarely seen on girls these days.
Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, and possibly the most quintessential boys name to have come out of Ireland. Whilst the name has always managed to escape overuse, it is a classic that is having somewhat of a revival this century.
Patrick is the Anglicized form of the Irish names Padraig, from the latin Patricius which means “nobly born.” The origin of Patrick may be technically latin, but nobody can hear Patrick or it’s diminutive Paddy without picturing the Irish!
This handsome sounding boy’s name is often seen spelt as Kian outside of Ireland, and has the meaning ‘ancient’. In the Irish legend, Cian Mac Mael Muad was the son-in-law of Brian Boru, both of whom were killed in the Battle of Clontarf, and there was also a Cian, son of the god of medicine.
Liam means a strong-willed warrior and protector. It is the short form of the more Irish sounding Irish name Uilliam, which is in fact a version of the name William. Liam is no longer considered just a diminutive and is now a strong sounding name of its own accord, no doubt helped by the rise in fame of many famous Liam’s, such as Liam Neeson, Liam Gallagher and Liam Payne.
Darragh has in fact been used for both girls and boys in Ireland, although is a lot more popular as an Irish boy’s name. There are a couple of possible meanings of this name, some translate Darragh into ‘fruitful’ or ‘fertile’, and some translate the name into ‘dark oak’ or ‘oak tree’. The anglicised version Dara is also used, although less frequently.
The name Cillian is a boy’s name of Gaelic origin which has several known meanings, including ‘war’ ‘strife’ ‘bright-headed’ or ‘church’. There are several Saint Cillians, including one who was sent to Bavaria to convert the natives and was martyred for his trouble. This strong sounding name is rising in popularity and can also be seen in the more phonetic version of Killian.
Fionn comes from the older Irish ‘Finn’, meaning ‘fair’ or ‘white’. Other translations include “small blonde soldier” and “handsome.” The famous Fionn mac Cumhail was a legendary Irish hero who became all-wise by eating an enchanted salmon, and he was known for being brave, handsome, wise and generous, all traits I’m sure every parent aspired to upon naming their child Fionn.
The name Tadhg means ‘poet’, and at one point it was such a common name that it was used to represent a kind of Irish Gaelic everyman, in the way that Paddy would now.
It is also the name of several ancient kings and princes of Ireland, including the 11th century King of Connacht. It is sometimes used as the Irish equivalent of Timothy and is also anglicized as Teague and Thaddeus. Tadleigh and Thad are pet forms.
Rónán (anglicized as Ronan) is one of the easier to pronounce Irish names for boys, meaning little seal (Rón meaning the animal “seal”, and -án being a diminutive suffix) and was the given name of twelve saints throughout history. The name may derive from the Irish legend that tells of a mother seal who is warned never to stray too close to the land.
Cormac is a traditional Irish boys name that runs through Celtic mythology, yet has never made it into the top 1000 names outside of Ireland. This name is thought to mean ‘charioteer’, and was the name of a 3rd-century king of Ireland. Cormac McLaggen is from Harry Potter is perhaps the most famous Cormac in popular culture.
Although it was the name of twenty-six saints in Ireland, Ciaran is one of the Irish names that was not used as a secular name there until the 1950s. Now though, it is extremely popular in Ireland and also in England and is emerging in the US too, although there are a number of other spellings used. The name is believed to mean ‘little dark one’, as it is inspired by the Gaelic word ‘ciar’, which means black.
This name means high, noble and strong, and comes from the Gaelic ‘brigh.’ The name has been incredibly widespread in Ireland, in honor of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland. It is in fact so widespread outside of Ireland too that it may come as a surprise to you to learn that it is in fact of Irish origin.
This Irish names is rapidly rising in popularity and it can either mean ‘champion’, ‘passionate’, or’ vehement’ from the Gaelic word ‘niadh’, or else it could mean ‘cloud’ from the Gaelic word ‘neall’. This is an ancient name borne by several of the high kings of Tara, the most famous of whom was the powerful semi-mythological fifth century king known as Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Ruari is a name of Irish origin meaning ‘red king’, from the Gaelic ‘ruadh’ meaning red. It is a spirited Gaelic classic, which became popular in Ireland thanks to the 12th century king Rory O’Connor, which is now used for either sex, although predominantly for males. The anglicised spelling Rory is hugely popular outside of Ireland too.
Diarmuid means either ‘without enemy’ or ‘free man’. It has been the name of kings, heroes, and saints. In Irish legend, Diarmuid was the lover of Grainne, and the most beloved member of the warrior band the Fianna. Diarmuid has been anglicized to Dermot.
Lorcan is one of the fabulously strong sounding classic Irish names, which can mean either ‘silent’ or ‘fierce’. Lorcan was the name of Brian Boru’s grandfather as well as two kings of Leinster. It was likely used as the nickname for a “brave warrior.”
Daithi is the Irish equivalent of David, it has Gaelic origins and means either ‘beloved’ or ’swift’. The unusual pronunciation is perhaps why the name is seldom seen outside of Ireland. Daithi was the name of the last Pagan king of Ireland who ruled from 405-426 AD.
Oisin (uh-sheen or o-sheen)
Oisin is one of the most popular Irish names for boys within Ireland, but seems to be hardly heard elsewhere in the world. In Irish mythology, Oisin was a poet-hero, son of legendary warrior Fionn MacCool and the goddess Sive.
His mother was turned into a deer by the Dark Druid, and she raised him in the forest for seven years; when his father found him while hunting, he recognized the boy as his own son and gave him the name Oisin, which means ‘little deer’.
As you may have noticed from the rest of our list, there are many boys Irish names that have become so popular around the rest of the world that you may not have even been aware of their origin- Oscar being another one! Oscar was derived from the Gaelic elements ‘os’, meaning deer, and ‘car’ meaning “loving.” In Irish legend, Oscar was one of the mightiest warriors of his generation.