Irish name

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A formal Irish-language personal name consists of a given name and a surname. Surnames in Irish are generally patronymic in etymology, although they are no longer literal patronyms, as Icelandic names are. The form of a surname varies according to whether its bearer is male or female, and in the case of a married woman, whether she chooses to adopt her husband's surname.

An alternative traditional naming convention consists of the first name followed by a double patronym, usually with the father and grandfather's names. This convention is not used for official purposes but is generalised in Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking areas, and also survives in some rural non-Gaeltacht areas. Sometimes the name of the mother or grandmother may be used instead of that of the father or grandfather.


A first name may be modified by an adjective to distinguish its bearer from other people with the same name. Mór ("big") and Óg ("young") are used to distinguish father and son, like English junior and senior, but are placed between the given name and the surname: Seán Óg Ó Súilleabháin corresponds to "John O'Sullivan Jr." (although anglicised versions of the name often drop the "O'" from the name).

The word Beag/Beg, meaning "little", can be used in place of Óg. This did not necessarily indicate that the younger person was small in stature, merely younger than his father. Sometimes beag would be used to imply a baby was small at birth, possibly premature.

Adjectives denoting hair colour may also be used, especially informally: Pádraig Rua ("red-haired Patrick"), Máire Bhán ("fair-haired Mary").

Surnames and prefixes[edit]

A male's surname generally takes the form Ó/Ua (meaning "descendant") or Mac ("son") followed by the genitive case of a name, as in Ó Dónaill ("descendant of Dónall") or Mac Gearailt ("son of Gerald").

A son has the same surname as his father. A female's surname replaces Ó with (reduced from Iníon Uí - "daughter of descendant of") and Mac with Nic (reduced from Iníon Mhic - "daughter of the son of"); in both cases the following name undergoes lenition. However, if the second part of the surname begins with the letter C or G, it is not lenited after Nic[citation needed]. Thus the daughter of a man named Ó Dónaill has the surname Ní Dhónaill and the daughter of a man named Mac Gearailt has the surname Nic Gearailt. When anglicised, the name can remain O' or Mac, regardless of gender.

If a woman marries, she may choose to take her husband's surname. In this case, Ó is replaced by Bean Uí ("wife of descendant of") and Mac by Bean Mhic ("wife of the son of"). In both cases bean may be omitted, in which case the woman uses simply or Mhic. Again, the second part of the surname is lenited (unless it begins with C or "G", in which case it is only lenited after ). Thus a woman marrying a man named Ó Dónaill may choose to be use Bean Uí Dhónaill (Mrs. O'Donaill in English) or Uí Dhónaill as her surname; a woman marrying a man named Mac Gearailt may choose to use Bean Mhic Gearailt (Mrs Mac Gearailt) or Mhic Gearailt.

If the second part of the surname begins with a vowel, the form Ó attaches an h to it, as in Ó hUiginn (O'Higgins) or Ó hAodha (Hughes). The other forms effect no change: Ní Uiginn, (Bean) Uí Uiginn; Mac Aodha, Nic Aodha, Mhic Aodha, and so forth.

Mag is often used instead of Mac before a vowel or (sometimes) the silent fh. The single female form of "Mag" is "Nig". Ua is an alternative form of Ó.

Some names of Norman origin have the prefix Fitz, from Latin filius "son", such as Fitzwilliam, Fitzgerald, and so forth. Other Norman surnames may have the prefix "de", such as de Búrca, de Paor, or de Róiste.

Male Meaning Anglicised Daughter Wife Examples
Mac son (of) Mc/Mac/M' Nic Mhic Seán Mac Mathúna, Máire Mhic Mhathúna (wife of Seán), Aoife Nic Mhathúna (daughter of Seán)
Ó/Ua descendant of O' Pól Ó Murchú, Mairéad Uí Mhurchú (wife of Pól), Gráinne Ní Mhurchú (daughter of Pól)

Patronyms and other additives[edit]

Many Irish surnames are concentrated in particular parts of the country and there are areas where a single surname may account for a large proportion of the population. Examples include O'Reilly in County Cavan, Ryan in County Tipperary and East County Limerick, or O'Sullivan in the Beara peninsula of West Cork; or areas, such as Glenullin in the Sperrins, where there are several dominant surnames (in that instance O'Kane, Mullan, McNicholl and some others). In such cases, the surname may also acquire an additive in popular usage to differentiate one group bearing the same surname from another.

This sometimes originates as a simple patronym – that is, a James whose father was Harry might be referred to as Harry's James – but may be passed to later generations, so that James' son Pat might be Harry's Pat. This can also occur if a person becomes well known by a nickname: his children may take his nickname as an additive. For example, if Seán O'Brien was often referred to as "Badger", his son Patrick might be referred to orally as Pat Badger and written as Patrick O'Brien (B).

In Tipperary, additives are particularly common among those bearing the Ryan surname. Examples include Ryan Lacken, Ryan Luke and Ryan Doc. A man christened Thomas Ryan might be known as Tommy Doc and his family might be referred as the Docs. While the additive is not part of a person's official name, it may be used in a postal address, on an election register or in newspaper reports. In this case, Tommy Doc might be written as Thomas Ryan (D).

Traditional Gaeltacht names[edit]

In Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) areas it remains customary to use a name composed of the first name, followed by the father's name in the genitive case, followed by the name of the paternal grandfather, also in the genitive. Thus Seán Ó Cathasaigh (Sean O'Casey), son of Pól, son of Séamus, would be known to his neighbours as Seán Phóil Shéamuis. Occasionally, if the mother or grandmother was a well-known person locally, her name may be used instead of that of the father or grandfather. If the mother's name is used, then that of the maternal grandfather (or potentially grandmother) follows it, for example, Máire Sally Eoghain.

These names are not used for official purposes. Often a nickname or English version of a name is used in their composition where the person would use a standard Irish form in formal circumstances. For example, the prominent sean-nós singer Seán Mac Dhonnchadha is perhaps better known as Johnny Mhairtín Learaí.

This naming system also survives to a certain extent in rural areas outside the existing Gaeltacht. The system can be particularly useful for distinguishing individuals who live in the same locale, and who share a common surname but are not closely related. For example, two individuals named John McEldowney might be known as "John Patsy Den" and "John Mary Philip" respectively. Even the Irish forms sometimes survive in parts of the Sperrins, so that among the principal families of Glenullin some branches are known by father/grandfather forms such as Pháidí Shéamais or Bhrian Dhónaill.

Examples of firstnames and surnames[edit]

Notable examples of firstnames and surnames[edit]

Many Irish people use English (or at least anglicised) forms of their names in English-language contexts and Irish forms in Irish-language contexts. The Irish names of some famous people include:

English/Anglicised name Irish name Notes
Bertie Ahern Parthalán Ó hEachthiarn Taoiseach from 1997 to 2008.
Thomas Ashe Tomás Ághas Gaelic League member
Harry Boland Éinrí Eoin Ó Beólláin[citation needed]
Moya Brennan Máire Ní Bhraonáin[1] Irish-language spelling as birth name
Turlough Carolan Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin Irish harpist and composer
Edward Carson Éamon Mac Arsúin Unionist leader
Erskine Childers Earchta Ó Slatiascaigh[citation needed] (Irish author and patriot, also his son - President of Ireland -, and grandson)
Michael Collins Mícheál Eoin Ó Coileáin signed Anglo-Irish Treaty with Irish-language name
Liam Cosgrave Liam Mac Cosgair William(?) Thomas Cosgrave (the son), Taoiseach
W. T. Cosgrave Liam Tomás Mac Cosgair[2] William Thomas Cosgrave (the father), President of the Executive Council
Garret FitzGerald Gearóid Mac Gearailt twice Taoiseach
Arthur Griffith Art Ó Gríobhtha Gaelic League member; Sinn Féin founder and leader; bilingual signature on Anglo-Irish Treaty
Patsy O'Hara Peatsaí Ó hEadhra[citation needed]
Charles Haughey Cathal Ó hEochaidh three times Taoiseach
Michael D. Higgins Micheál Ó hUiggin 9th President of Ireland
Douglas Hyde Dubhghlas de hÍde 1st President of Ireland; CnaG founder
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Seán Mac Gearailt Ó Cinnéide[3] 35th President of the United States
Kitty Kiernan Caitríona Nic Thiarnáin[citation needed] fiance of Michael Collins (Irish leader)
Jack Lynch Seán Ó Loingsigh twice Taoiseach
Mary McAleese Máire Mhic Ghiolla Íosa née Mary Leneghan/Máire Ní Lionnacháin
Johnny McDowell Seán Mac Dubhghaill Irish model in Tokyo, Japan
Liam Mellows Liam Ó Maoilíosa[4]
Thomas Mooney Tomás/Tomaltach Seosamh Ó'Maonaigh Labor Leader
Dr. Trevor Morrow Trebhar Mac Murchadha Former Presbyterian Church in Ireland Moderator
Richard Mulcahy Risteárd Ó Maolchatha[4]
Dennis O'Brien (policeman) Denis Ó Briain[citation needed]
Kevin O'Higgins Caoimhín Ó hUiginn[5] Minister of Justice and Vice-President; not to be confused with the more recent official also in the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform
Seán T. O'Kelly Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh[6] Vice-President, first Tánaiste, President of Ireland
Francis O'Neill Proinsias Ó Néill
Thomas Francis O'Rahilly Tomás Phroinsias Ó Rathaille[7] scholar of Celtic language and culture; sometimes also "Rahilly" or "Rahily"
Joseph O'Sullivan Seosamh Ó Súilleabháin[citation needed] (likely very common name)
Patrick Pearse Pádraig Mac Piarais CnaG; An Claidheamh Soluis editor; St. Enda's School founder
Joseph Mary Plunkett Seosamh Máire Pluincéad[citation needed] Gaelic League member; an Easter Uprising leader
John Edward Redmond Seán Éamonn Mac Réamainn[8]
Albert Reynolds Ailbhe Mac Raghnaill Taoiseach
Mary Robinson Máire Bean Mhic Róibín (née Máire de Búrca)
Robert Gerard Sands Roibeárd Gearóid Ó Seachnasaigh[citation needed]
Austin Stack Aibhistín de Staic[citation needed]
Gerard Toal Gearóid Ó Tuathail[9]

Other people are better known by their Irish name than by their English name:

Irish (Gaelic) name English/Anglicised form Notes
Dubhaltach Mac Fhirbhisigh Dudley Forbes though neither Dubhaltach or Fibrisigh correspond to the Anglicised forms
Ruaidhrí Ó Flaithbheartaigh Roderick O'Flaherty
Flaithrí Ó Maolconaire Florence Conry (1560–1629, Archbishop of Tuam)
Gráinne Ní Mháille Grace O'Malley many other Irish-language and English-language respellings of her name also exist
Seán Bán Breathnach "White" John Walsh
Séamus Ó Grianna James Greene though Grianna does not correspond etymologically to the English name "Green" or "Greene"
Gráinne Seoige Grace Joyce
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin Ellen Cullen
Antoine Ó Raifteiri Anthony Raftery
Proinsias De Rossa Frank Ross
Pádraig Harrington Patrick Harrington
Pádraig Ó Riain Patrick Ryan
Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha Patrick O'Sugrue
Padraig Ó Síocháin P. A. Sheehan
Pádraig Ó Fiannachta Patrick Finnerty
Lorcan Ua Tuathail Laurence O'Toole
Dara Ó Briain Darragh O'Brien
Doireann Ní Bhriain Doreen O'Brien
Cathal Brugha Charles William St. John Burgess
Éamon de Valera Edward De Valero

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Coyle, Colin (2009-05-17). "Surge in deed poll name changes". The Sunday Times (London). Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  2. ^ Autograph signature of Mac Cosgair, 1924
  3. ^ "Roll of the Honorary Burgesses of The City of Cork - Freedom of the City". Cork, Ireland: Cork City Council. 2010-04-09. Retrieved 2010-05-05. [dead link]
  4. ^ a b "An Rolla", Dáil Debates (Dáil Éireann) F, 1919-01-21, retrieved 2010-05-05  |chapter= ignored (help)
  5. ^ Signature of Caoimhín Ó hUiginn
  6. ^ "Beathnaiséisí: Séan T O'Ceallaigh" (in Irish). Dublin: Áras an Uachtaráin/President of Ireland. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  7. ^ MacMahon, Michael (2009-07-01). "James Delargy and the Storymen of North Clare". Ennis, County Clare: Clare County Library. Retrieved 2010-05-05.  Originally from: MacMahon, Michael (2009). "James Delargy and the Storymen of North Clare". The Other Clare (Shannon, County Clare: Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society) 33: 63–70. ISSN 0332-088X. 
  8. ^ [1] Department of the Taoiseach website, historical pages
  9. ^ Toal, Gerard (2006-11-29). "Faculty Page: Dr Gerard Toal, Virginia Tech.". Retrieved 2010-05-06. 

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