She’s a chart-topping Irish choice with a lovely meaning – and a tricky spelling.
Thanks to Liz our Baby Name of the Day is Aoife.
Aoife looks complicated, but her pronunciation is pretty simple: EE fuh. The unrelated names Eva and Ava have sometimes been used as Anglicized versions over the years, but Aoife traces her roots back to the Gaelic word aoibh – beauty. (And technically, Éabha is the Gaelic version of Eva.)
A trio of namesakes includes two mythological Aoifes, as well as one real life princess.
The first Aoife is a Scottish warrior woman, also called Aífe. The Irish hero Cúchulain defeats her in battle. There’s a peace treaty, but more importantly, Aífe must agree to bear his son. Aífe agrees, and their child, Connla, has adventures of his own – though he meets with a tragic end.
Equally un-cheery is the legend of the Children of Lir. There are different versions of the tale, but most go something like this: brothers Aodh, Fiachra, and Conn, and their sister Fionnuala, lose their mother. Their father remarries, but the second wife is a wicked stepmother who turns the children into swans doomed to wander the earth for nine centuries. The exact ending varies, but most indicate they served their 900 years sentence and then died. The Aoife in this tale? Why, she’s the wicked stepmother.
Then there’s Aoife MacMurrough, also known as Eva of Leinster, daughter of Dermot, the King of Leinster, in the 1100s. It was her father who invited the Normans to invade Ireland, and dad gave his daughter to the commander of the Norman forces – Richard de Clare, better known to history as Strongbow. (That sounds rather traitorous; it was actually a calculated move to attempt to recover lands Dermot had lost some years earlier.)
Whether Aoife was gung-ho for the marriage or not is hard to say, but she dutifully bore two sons, and through her sons, Aoife appears on the family trees of many an English ruler, plus Robert the Bruce and the kings of Scotland.
- Known by her first name only, singer Aoife straddles the New Age/traditional Irish category, something like her fellow countrywoman Enya;
- Actress Aoife Holland made her name on the BBC reality show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Holland did not win the competition – ten women were vying for the lead role in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s West End production of The Sound of Music – but it did launch her career in musical theater.
In Dublin, Aoife might be so popular parents would turn away from the name. American parents might find it so unusual that they hesitate to use the name. But unlike some Gaelic imports – Eithne or Niamh, for example, there’s not an obvious respelling that makes Aoife more manageable.
She’s an attractive heritage pick, but only for those with patient natures who don’t mind introducing their daughter as “Aoife. I’ll spell it for you!”