Thanks to Lis for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The Gaelic Murchadh coems from muir – sea – and cath – battle.
So the baby name Murphy means “sea warrior.” Depending on your vibe, that might mean Murphy grows up and joins the navy … or maybe Murphy ends up being a champion surfer.
The given name led to a surname, Ó Murchadha, meaning descendant of Murchadh.
It became the most common surname in Ireland.
Given the large percentage of Americans of Irish descent, that makes it quite common in the US, too.
OH SO IRISH
While some Irish surnames fly under the radar – think Brown, Moore, or Lynch – Murphy is the opposite. Maybe because it’s the most common family name, it feels immediately Irish.
Celtic punk band the Dropkick Murphys were founded in 1996 in the Boston suburbs. They took their name from John “Dropkick” Murphy. A former professional wrestler, he retired and established an alcohol rehabilitation center outside of Boston in 1941. It operated into the early 1970s, and while it was named the Bellows Farms Sanatorium, the press referred to it as Dropkick Murphy’s.
The fledgling band liked the name and went with it.
Even if you’re not a fan of Celtic punk, you might know their work. Their 2004 recording of “Tessie” – originally from a 1902 Broadway musical – is the Boston Red Sox’s unofficial anthem.
In 1996, The Boondock Saints told the story of twin brothers Murphy and Connor MacManus. They’re Irish Boston boys who tangle with the Russian mob. While the movie wasn’t a smash hit, it’s since developed a cult following.
As for the characters’ names? The US was approaching peak Connor when the world met the MacManus twins. But Murphy was in style limbo – and stayed there.
Dozens and dozens of notables answer to the surname Murphy.
It’s found on the map, too, thanks to the many Murphys who inspired place names, in America and elsewhere.
Murphy’s law is an ages-old concept: anything that can go wrong, will. (And at the worst possible time.) It’s been around for ages, expressed in various catchy phrases. It became Murphy’s Law in the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. He worked on safety systems for many aircraft, including the Apache helicopter.
As for the Murphy bed, a bed that folds up into the wall? It was invented by William Lawrence Murphy, an Irish immigrant to New York. He found his apartment entirely too small, and struck upon this innovation to solve his space crunch.
Among the most famous bearers of the name at the moment: television’s Ryan Murphy, who made his name with hits like Glee and American Horror Story. Comedian Eddie Murphy might also come to mind, along with dozens of others.
Irish pubs are found across the world; many of them are called Murphy’s.
That last fact might be part of the reason fictional television character Murphy Brown got her name. Candice Bergen first played the character in 1988 on the eponymous CBS series.
Besides being a celebrated, tough-as-nails journalist, her character was a recovering alcoholic, back on the air after a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic.
The show ran eleven seasons – the original ten, plus a one-season revival in 2018.
The first name Murphy spiked in use for girls during the series’ original run, but it wasn’t enough to put the name into the US Top 1000 for girls.
Avery, on the other hand, the name of Murphy’s mother – and later, her son – would get a boost thanks to the series.
BY the NUMBERS
But back to the numbers for the baby name Murphy.
From the late 1800s through the 1950s, Murphy routinely appeared on the fringes of the boys’ US Top 1000. It never cracked the Top 500, but it was steadily in use – just like many a common surname.
As of 2021, 212 boys received the name.
But when it comes to girls? The 2018/19 revival of Murphy Brown helped send this name soaring – but it was already on the rise for our daughters. By 2020, it had debuted in the girls’ Top 1000 at #978.
By 2021, it reached #716. That works out to 398 girls receiving the name – nearly double the number of boys.
While the television character doubtless deserves some credit, we are simply in the golden age of surname names. If Harper, Madison, Taylor, and Quinn are mainstream favorites, why shouldn’t Murphy catch on, too?
SCRAPPY and SPIRITED
There’s an undeniable strength to this name. After all, the meaning of Murphy is warrior.
And Brown isn’t the only strong female character to wear the name. In 2014’s Interstellar, Jessica Chastain plays Murphy Cooper, who answers to the nickname Murph – just like the television character.
It’s spirited and scrappy, a name that feels casual-cool and capable at the same time. It’s surprisingly versatile for an uncommon choice, maybe because as a surname, it is so popular and widely used.
And while it’s rising in use quickly for girls, it remains very much a boy’s name, too.
If you’re after an unconventional name with plenty of adventurous spirit, Murphy fits. And while it’s distinctive, it’s also immediately familiar and easy to wear.
What do you think of the baby name Murphy?
Originally published on August 11, 2011, this post was revised and re-published on May 10, 2023.