Saoirse: Baby Name of the DaySaoirse is a Gaelic import, rich with meaning.

Thanks to Marie for suggesting Saoirse as our Baby Name of the Day.

Saoirse: Pronunciation

Let’s begin with the inevitable question: how do you pronounce Saoirse?

It turns out that even the Irish disagree. There’s seer sha, sair sha, soar sha, and sir sha. I’ve heard seer sha most often. The first syllable rhymes with clear. It’s easy enough to say, even if it isn’t obvious.

The most famous bearer of the name tells us that it rhymes with inertia. She also admits that others say it differently, even in Ireland.

Saoirse: Ronan

English: Actress Saoirse Ronan at the premiere...

Saoirse Ronan was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her role as Briony in Atonement in 2007, at the age of just 13. More recently, she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in Brooklyn. This time, she was all of 21.

As she’s become more famous in the United States, the unusual name has caught on. In 2007, there were 38 newborn girls given the name. By 2014, that number was up to 110. Following the widespread success of Brooklyn, the name could climb even higher.

Saoirse: Freedom

Saoirse: Baby Name of the DayThe name comes from the Irish Gaelic word for freedom or liberty. It’s big in Ireland, ranking around the Top 25. But this is not a traditional Irish name – instead, it’s a twentieth century innovation.

The name traces its roots to the Irish War of Independence. Between 1921 and 1922, most of Ireland was completely independent, before part of the country became part of the United Kingdom.

The war is sometimes called Cogadh na Saoirse in Irish. So this isn’t just freedom in a general sense – it’s a very specific reference.  Republic Sinn Féin – a political party that still believes in a completely independent Ireland, and has ties to violence – calls their official publication Saoirse.  One of the names for the short-lived completely independent Ireland was Saorstát Éireann.

All of this makes the name especially patriotic, though I expect it feels much more mainstream today – especially as the name has increased in popularity.

Saoirse: Irish Heritage Choice

Many Americans of Irish descent left before Saoirse would have been considered a child’s name. But it still feels like a way to acknowledge your Irish heritage.

RFK and Ethel’s daughter Courtney Kennedy Hill named her daughter Saoirse Roisin. Dad is Courtney’s former husband, Paul Hill, who is Irish – in fact, he was one of the men wrongly accused of an IRA bombing in London, and imprisoned.  Their story was told in the 1994 film In the Name of the Father.

Thirty years later, Song of the Sea gave the name to an animated character. The 2014 fantasy film tells of siblings Ben and Saoirse, and their adventures following the disappearance of their mother, and their discovery that selkies, faeries, and all manner of Irish folklore is real.

Between the celebrated young actress and the animated film, chances are that more and more parents will discover this intriguing name. With a new generation of Irish heritage choices on the rise, this name could join Maeve in the US Top 1000.

What do you think of Saoirse? Is the spelling/pronunciation too much to handle in the US?

This post was originally published on December 10, 2010. It was substantially revised and reposted on March 17, 2016.

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. I first saw Saoirse as a little girl watching Song Of The Sea. It was my absolute favorite name when I was young!

  2. Love this name! Of course, I am biased because it is my daughter’s name thanks to Song of the Sea. My only problem now though is I have no clue what would be good choices for a future sibling if a girl!

  3. I aspired to hippie principles in 1971 when my daughter was born on Mayday, I’m Irish I named her Saoirse because I wanted an unique name, I felt times were changing? I had never heard of the word being used as a name before and am surprised to read that it had been used in the 1920’s as a name I would be fascinated to see actual evidence of that.

  4. I’m a reasonably well educated, literate person with an interest in names … but every single time I see this name I have to stop and remind myself how to pronounce it. It just isn’t intuitive to me at all.

  5. I have enough Irish heritage to be able to safely use this name, and I certainly would love to! It’s gorgeous, and one of my favorites!

  6. Saoirse is my 3 year old daughter Rosalie’s middle name. We pronounce it “SAIR-sha.” Authentic or not, my husband liked that sound best so we ran with it! Pairs well with our very Irish last name. I can’t say I’d personally use it or anything similar as a first name. Spelling it and explaining the pronunciation when asked are a headache even in the middle spot. Can’t imagine what a nightmare it’d be as a first, which is sad!

  7. I love this name , my 4 kids all have irish names caoimhe , oisin , pol og and odhran if I’m blessed with another daughter she’ll be named saoirse , my partner is from derry northern ireland

    1. Love your children’s names!! Caoimhe was our next and we have two girls Aoife and Saoirse 🙂

  8. Firstly I am afraid the Irish political history behind the name Saoirse as described here is confused at best.

    Yes it is common in Northern Ireland among the Irish nationalist community i.e those who aspire to secede from the UK and re-unite with the Republic of Ireland.

    Yes it may give rise to certain connotations among those of the Unionist community i.e those who maintain a strictly “Northern Irish” and British identity. However those same individuals would also have a certain distain for visitors from the Republic of Ireland and in particular of Irish-Americans in any case.

    It may help to understand that in Northern Ireland a particular culture of appellation applies.

    In the irish nationalist community, names in the Irish language are common along with those of the New Testament in the catholic tradition, while among the British Unionist community, Old Testament Biblical and English language names are more likely.

    Since the 1990s peace accords between these communities, expressions of Irish Gaelic culture and the peaceful aspiration to Irish unity are legitimate and to be given “parity of esteem”.

    Into this spectrum fits the name “Saoirse”.

    (Saoirse lists as 18th most popular in the R.O.I in 2010 up from 25 in 2005. Sophie, Emma and Emma are the most popular girls names in Ireland in 2010.)