The Shamrock, a typical Irish clover.
The Shamrock, a typical Irish clover. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Irish names are the source of frequent requests at AppMtn.  I’m not even a scintilla Irish, so I tended to skip these sections in the baby name books.  Plus they were everywhere when I was a kid – Erin and Kelly and Megan were only slightly less epidemic than Jennifer and Amy and Heather.

What’s fascinating about Irish names today isn’t that parents are still embracing their heritage.  Instead, I’m delighted to find so many parents willing to consider authentically Irish appellations – names that are right at home in Dublin, but might be a surprise in Des Moines.

A few quick notes: as is often the case, diacritical marks are omitted.  Pronunciation is indicated, but in some cases, there’s more than one way to say Saoirse.  And this is definitely not the only list like this in the baby name ‘verse.  I’m particular fond of Nameberry’s What’s doing in Dublin, from which I borrowed the intriguing Sadhbh.

Ailis – One of my favorites, the Irish version of Alice.  Less Wonderland, more energy.  Pronounced roughly ay LISH or possibly ay LEESH, but first one feels more current.

Aine – The fairy queen in Celtic myth, and also sometimes an Irish spin on Anne.  I’m forever tempted to rhyme Aine with nine, but she’s actually pretty close to Anya, though she sounds more like AWN yeh.

AoifeEva’s Irish cousin, Aoife was a warrior princess and a looker, too.  Her name comes from the Gaelic word aoibh – beautiful.  She’s been big in Ireland in recent years, but is currently on the decline.  She’s pronounced EE fa.

Brenna – One of the most accessible of the imports, she’s also one of the names I almost axed from the list.  In addition to her status as feminine form of the kelly green Brennan, she’s also sometimes listed as Welsh or Norse.  Let’s just say that she’s Irish enough for many in the US, and follows nicely from Emma and Brianna.

BridgetBrighid and Brigid are the more authentic spellings, but this name drips Celtic heritage.  Thanks to a mythological fire goddess and a fifth century saint, Bridget’s roots in Ireland run deep and she’s instantly recognizable as a heritage choice.  Of course, the saint’s widespread popularity means that she’s long been used throughout Europe – Britta, Brigette, Birgitta

Cathal – Okay, this is a boys’ name with an aggressive meaning: battle.  Worn by saints and kings, he’s less common in recent centuries.  While the h is silent – he’s pronounced KA hahl, I often find myself looking at Cathal and thinking of it as a fresh alternative to Catherine – and a great way to get to Cate.

Caoimhe – Now that Alyson Hannigan has welcomed a new daughter called Keeva, this one could pop.  Keeva is the phonetic spelling of Caoimhe.  Articles have touted the name’s pleasant meaning – gentle or beautiful.

Ciara – A sixth century saint’s name, she’s perfectly legit – and yet likely to be misunderstood as a respelling of Sierra, or an modern invention along the lines of Kyra.  A good compromise for the parent seeking an on-trend name that stays true to Irish roots.

Cliodhna – Another goddess name, one I couldn’t resist, thanks to her similarity to Clio.  Simplified spelling Cliona is also used, and closer to her pronunciation – KLEE u nah.

Clodagh – Thanks to the claddagh ring, we all know the -gh is silent.  She’s pronounced CLO dah, and is borrowed from the name of a river – which may have been inspired by a goddess.

Deirdre – Like Bridget, she’s one of the earlier Irish imports, but still retains much of her charm.  A name borrowed from legend, Deirdre has been boosted by a few high-profile literary uses, combined with retellings of her original story.

Eithne – Another saint’s name, this time with a debated pronunciation.  Is it EN ya or ETH neh or something in between?

FinolaFionnuala spent 900 years as a swan.  Finola is the slimmed down version of the mythological moniker, and could be seen as a feminine form of the ever-so-stylish Finn.

Gráinne – A pirate queen – far better inspiration for a daughter than a Disney princess.

Maeve – One of the most accessible of the legitimately Irish appellations, a warrior queen whose name shares sounds with Ava and Mae.  No wonder she’s on the rise in the US.

Muriel – With her ties to the sea and that attractive -el ending, Muriel has possibilities.  She also has a long history of use – she’s found in Norman England.

NiamhConan O’Brien has a daughter called Neve, a possible phonetic respelling of the borrowed-from-legend Niamh.

Oona – There’s Una and Oonagh, too, but Oona brings to mind Oona O’Neill Chaplin, who infuses the name with Hollywood glamour.

Orla – Designer Orla Kiely puts this name on the fashion map.  She’s sometimes spelled Orlagh, which is still an edited version of the original: the golden Orfhlaith.

Róisín – An Irish name meaning little Rose, she’s botanical and boasts a connection to the Emerald Isle.

Sabhbh – Pronounced sive, and rhymes with five.  Fascinating, but probably a stumper in the US.

Saoirse – She’s a twentieth century darling with a great meaning – freedom – and used by a member of the Kennedy clan.

Enhanced by ZemantaSiobhan – One of the very first challenging spellings to be embraced by Americans, Siobhan is sometimes considered the Irish equivalent of Jane, though she has other roots, too.  Actress Siobhan McKenna gets credit for putting this one on parents’ radar, though her performances in several noteworthy 1960s flicks came nearly two decades before Shiobhan hit the US Top 1000.
Would you use a more complicated spelling in the name of celebrating Irish heritage?

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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  1. I don’t know why I didn’t mention before, but about three months before I commented the first time we adopted a cat and named her Mallaidh. It’s the Irish version of Molly and we chose it because her shelter name was Merry, so Merry –> Mary –> Molly –> Mallaidh. Coincidentally, today’s her 9th birthday! 😀