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Irish name

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A formal Irish name consists of a given name and a surname. In the Irish language, most surnames are patronymic surnames, distinct from patronyms, which are seen in Icelandic names, for example. The form of a surname varies according to whether its bearer is a man, a woman, or a woman married to a man, who adopts his 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 generalized in Gaeltachtaí (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 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 parent and child, like "senior" and "junior" are used in English, but are placed between the given name and the surname, e.g. Seán Óg Ó Súilleabháin corresponds to "John O'Sullivan Jr." (anglicised surnames often omit ⟨O'⟩, leaving no trace of original Ó).

The word Beag ("little") can be used in place of Óg. This does not necessarily indicate that the younger person is smaller in stature, merely younger than their parent or in some cases to imply a baby was small, possibly premature, at birth.

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

Traditional Gaeltacht names


Colloquially in Gaeltachtaí (Irish-speaking areas) and some other areas it remains customary to use a name formed by the first name (or nickname), followed by the father and the paternal grandfather's name, both in the genitive case, e.g. Seán Ó Cathasaigh (Seán 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. If the mother's name is used, then the maternal grandfather or grandmother may follow it, e.g. Máire Sally Eoghain.

This system can be particularly useful for distinguishing people who live in the same area and who share a common surname but are not closely related, e.g. two people named John McEldowney might be known as "John Patsy Dan" 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.



Ó and Mac surnames


A man's surname is generally formed by Ó ("descendant"; historically Ua) or Mac ("son") followed by a name or definite noun (often a profession) in the genitive case, e.g. Ó Dónaill (literally "descendant of Dónall") and Mac Siúrtáin (literally "son of Jordan"). When Ó is followed by a vowel, a (lowercase) ⟨h⟩ is attached to the vowel, e.g. Ó hUiginn (O'Higgins) or Ó hAodha (Hughes).

A woman's surname replaces Ó with (reduction of Iníon Uí "descendant's daughter") and Mac with Nic (reduction of Iníon Mhic "son's daughter"). In both cases the following name undergoes lenition, except for when Nic is followed by ⟨c⟩ or ⟨g⟩. Thus the daughter of Seán Ó Dónaill has the surname Ní Dhónaill and the daughter of a Pól Mac Siúrtáin has the surname Nic Shiúrtáin. In Ulster it is common for a woman who adopts her husband name to just use or Nic rather than the forms seen below.

If a woman marries a man, she may choose to take his surname. In this case, Ó is replaced by Bean Uí ("descendant's wife") and Mac by Bean Mhic ("son's wife"). In both cases Bean may be omitted, which results in or Mhic. In both cases the following name undergoes lenition, except for when Mhic is followed by ⟨c⟩ or ⟨g⟩. Thus a woman marrying Seán Ó Dónaill may choose to adopt Bean Uí Dhónaill or Uí Dhónaill as her surname and a woman marrying Pól Mac Siúrtáin may choose to adopt Bean Mhic Siúrtáin or Mhic Siúrtáin as her surname.

Mag, Nig, and Mhig are sometimes used instead of Mac, Nic, and Mhic before a vowel or ⟨fh⟩ (which is silent) followed by a vowel.

Other surnames


Norman surnames formed by de (always lowercase; "of") followed by a name, e.g. de Búrca (Burke), de Paor (Power), or de hÍde (Hide, Hyde).

Some names consist of Mac Giolla ("servant's son") or Ó Maoil ("follower's descendent") followed by a name in the genitive case, e.g. Mac Giolla Phádraig, Ó Maoil Eoin.

Summary of section contents
Irish Anglicisation Example
Base Person Case Meaning
nom. gen./voc.
Ó Man Ó descendent O' or omitted Pól Ó Murchú
Wife [Bean] Uí Bhean Uí descendent's [wife] Mairéad [Bean] Uí Mhurchú
Woman descendent's daughter Gráinne Ní Mhurchú
Mac Man Mac Mhic son Mc, Mac, M', Mag, or omitted Seán Mac Mathúna
Wife [Bean] Mhic Bhean Mhic son's [wife] Máire [Bean] Mhic Mhathúna
Woman Nic son's daughter Aoife Nic Mhathúna
de All de of de or omitted Séamus de Búrca

Examples of first names and surnames


Notable examples of first names and surnames


Many Irish people use English (or 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
Thomas Ashe Tomás Ághas Gaelic League member
Moya Brennan Máire Ní Bhraonáin[1] Irish-language spelling as birth name
Turlough O'Carolan Toirdhealbhach Ó Cearbhalláin Irish harpist and composer
Michael Collins Mícheál Ó Coileáin signed Anglo-Irish Treaty with Irish-language name
Patrick S. Dinneen Pádraig Ua Duinnín was an Irish lexicographer and historian, and a leading figure in the Gaelic revival
Enya (Enya Patricia Brennan) Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin Irish singer, songwriter and musician
Arthur Griffith Art Ó Gríobhtha Gaelic League member; Sinn Féin founder and leader; bilingual signature on Anglo-Irish Treaty
Michael D. Higgins Micheál Ó hUigínn 9th President of Ireland
Douglas Hyde Dubhghlas de hÍde 1st President of Ireland; CnaG founder
Mary McAleese Máire Mhic Ghiolla Íosa née Mary Leneghan/Máire Ní Lionnacháin
Liam Mellows Liam Ó Maoilíosa[2]
Kevin O'Higgins Caoimhín Ó hUiginn[3] Minister for Justice and Vice-President
Seán T. O'Kelly Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh[4] Vice-President, first Tánaiste, President of Ireland
Thomas Francis O'Rahilly Tomás Phroinsias Ó Rathaille[5] scholar of Celtic language and culture; sometimes also "Rahilly" or "Rahily"
Patrick Pearse Pádraig Mac Piarais CnaG; An Claidheamh Soluis editor; St. Enda's School founder
Joseph Plunkett Seosamh Máire Pluincéad[citation needed] Gaelic League member; an Easter Rising leader
Mary Robinson Máire Bean Mhic Róibín (née Máire de Búrca)
Gerard Toal Gearóid Ó Tuathail[6]

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

Irish 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 Golfer; three-time major winner
Pádraig Ó Riain Patrick Ryan
Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha Patrick O'Sugrue
Padraig Ó Síocháin P. A. Sheehan
Pádraig Ó Fiannachta Patrick Finnerty
Lorcán 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 Valera 2nd Taoiseach (1937–1948, 1951–1954, 1957–1959); 3rd President (1959–1973)
Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh Mairead Mooney "Margaret", another English equivalent of "Mairéad", is rarely used.

See also



  1. ^ Coyle, Colin (17 May 2009). "Surge in deed poll name changes". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  2. ^ "3. AN ROLLA", Dáil Debates - Díospóireachtaí Dála, vol. F, Dáil Éireann, 21 January 1919, archived from the original on 19 November 2007, retrieved 5 May 2010
  3. ^ "Limerick City and County Museum". museum.limerick.ie. Signature of Caoimhín Ó hUiginn. Retrieved 30 July 2019.
  4. ^ "Beathnaiséisí: Séan T O'Ceallaigh" (in Irish). Dublin: Áras an Uachtaráin/President of Ireland. Retrieved 5 May 2010.
  5. ^ MacMahon, Michael (1 July 2009). "James Delargy and the Storymen of North Clare". Ennis, County Clare: Clare County Library. Retrieved 5 May 2010. Originally from: MacMahon, Michael (2009). "James Delargy and the Storymen of North Clare". The Other Clare. 33. Shannon, County Clare: Shannon Archaeological & Historical Society: 63–70. ISSN 0332-088X.
  6. ^ Toal, Gerard (29 November 2006). "Faculty Page: Dr Gerard Toal, Virginia Tech". Archived from the original on 27 December 2021. Retrieved 6 May 2010.