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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.

In recent years, Aoife has caught on in Ireland.  The Central Statistics Office reports that she was the ninth most popular given name for girls born in 2009.  The other members of the Irish Top Ten – Sophie, Emma, Chloe, Grace – would sound right at home in the US.  Besides Aoife, popular Gaelic options include Caoimhe and Saoirse.
It might have something to do with a few popular figures by the name:
  • 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!”

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. love love love this… i love the odd spelling, the meaning behind it and all that goes with it… i don’t mind the explanation for my daughter’s name already and everyone thinks its beautiful and she won’t be 1 of 4 in any class in her life :0 I hope! might use it with number 3?!?! we shall see?!

  2. Oh, I adore Aoife. It’s one of my favorite names. While I do have Irish ancestors, I wasn’t much interested in Irish names until I started learning the Irish language. Saoirse is another favorite of mine. Certainly not easy names for Americans, but I think they may catch on yet.

    On a note of pure trivia, I recently started learning Manx (another of the three Gaelic languages), and it’s been a challenge to see “Juan” in a text and pronounce it “Joo-an”, not like the Spanish name spelled the same way. (LOL)

  3. As a pure southern gal, I’m not going to lie – Irish appellations like Aoife, Saoirse are impossibly difficult for me to enunciate and spell. The sound is beautiful, but coming from a girl who only in the past couple of years has gotten the correct pronunciation of Sinead O’Connor’s name down – definitely not for my family.

  4. Pretty sound. But woo-doggy would you have to spell, say, spell, say, spell, say (repeat x infinity) in my neck of the woods…. Immy/Imogen requires repetitive explanation and the sound of it is much closer to the way it looks for Americans than Aoife is. (We are still working on getting one person who sees her on a DAILY basis to say Immy and not Emme or Emma, which is what she alternates between, despite being seeing the name written, being told it’s “Immy with an “i” and “short for Imogen” multiple times… she is the most stubborn, but I do have a coworker who asks me about EYE-me no and then three years on…) All that, plus my general lack of patience, would make me think twice about using Aoife – but bully for whomever does use it in the States – it is nice.

  5. I love the name Aoife. I considered using it for my last daughter but my husband couldn’t get past the spelling issue that would be sure to crop up here in the states.

    It’s still a lovely name.

  6. I’ve seen several Aoife and Niamh sibling sets here in NZ. While it’s uncommon still, it’s by no means unknown.