For years, American parents showed their Irish roots by naming their daughters Patricia or Kathleen. These days, many are searching for something a little less expected.

Thanks to Halei for suggesting one that fits the bill: Eithne.

Eithne is not easily pronounced. I’ve counted four variants: ET nah, EN yah, EN ah and ETH nah. Because the singer Enya was born Eithne, that’s probably the version in favor. But once upon a time, Eithne was commonly Anglicized as Edna. I’ll admit that I tend to read Etna, even though it isn’t the most appealing option.

She appears in Irish myth as a sort of Jocasta figure – an oracle predicts that her son will kill her father. Despite some bloodshed and convoluted attempts to fight fate, this comes to pass and her son Lugh eventually becomes king.

Eithne was a well-known figure, and many parents chose the name for their daughters. One of those girls grew up to become a saint – which only fueled Eithne’s popularity.

Saint Eithne’s story is probably pure legend. Born a princess, Eithne met St. Patrick and his disciples on their mission to convert Ireland. She and her sister both asked Patrick to baptize them. He agreed. Then they asked to see the face of God. Patrick explained it wasn’t quite that easy. But after taking their First Communion, both girls fainted – dead away. (Be careful what you wish for.) The sisters were buried in the spot where they fell and Patrick’s converts built a church over their final resting place.

Eithne’s precise meaning is just as elusive as her correct pronunciation. I’ve unearthed three options:

  • Most agree that Eithne comes from the word eithne, meaning kernel. It seems like a straightforward use of a nature name. Trouble is, the figure from myth and legend was probably called Ethliu originally, blurring the connection.
  • On another nature note, some have linked Eithne to aitten – a shrub, and an uncommon surname also spelled Aiten.
  • While it seems like a real stretch, some consider Eithne the feminization of Aidan – in which case, the name means “little fire” or “little fiery one.” She’s sometimes spelled Aithne, which looks a bit closer to Aidan – but the connection is still thin.

Neither Eithne nor Enya has ever ranked in the US Top 1000. Enya is heard sparingly in Norway, Sweden and Belgium. While it seems like the most straightforward spelling option, Enya could be confused with Anya. Anya’s not a common choice, either, but she ranked #366 in the US last year.

So while Enya might seem the kinder appellation to bestow on your daughter, Eithne has a lot of appeal, too. With choices like Niamh, Maeve and Ailis gaining favor, it isn’t quite as challenging as it might’ve been a generation back.

Yes, you’ll have to spell – and say – this one a few times before others catch on. But it is an authentic Irish heritage choice with considerable history – and a lot of charm.

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. Thank you for this. My name is Eithne and I have had a very similar experience to you re my name and how it should be pronounced; exactly as you have explained.
    Please say ‘Ethna’ ( spelling Eithne ). No more Ethneees or Edna’s and the like !!!

  2. My name on my birth certificate is eithne (pronounced eth-knee) I have english parents but born in Australia. But all my life i have been called enya, like the singer 🙂

  3. English and Dutch administrators got confused about my name and thought that the spelling was wrong, whenever they saw it on paper.
    When I got older I had it changed into the original spelling; E t h n a.
    I am very proud of my name whether people pronounce it right or wrong.
    Hope someone will organize an EITHNE/ETHNE/ETHNA/ETNA/ENA/ENYA/ENA ETC. meeting.
    Unite and keep the name going. Welcome to Amsterdam, Holland.

    Merry Christmas and Happy 2015, everybody.

  4. I’m an Eithne born in Ireland, brought up & living in England. I don’t like my name; it’s a pain in the nbeck having to explain and spell it to every new person. Especially on the phone.
    My parents pronounce it Ethna. I prefer Etna, but stick with the pronoynciation I was given.
    Many people call me Edna, especially the older generation. I also get Eth-nee. I’ll answer to anything.
    I called my own child a nice, familiar name that’s easy to spell.

  5. As another Eithne, born and bred in Ireland, but living in Asia and now Europe for most of my life, I have discovered that my name is a great conversation starter in various parts of the world. I completely don’t care if people who have known me for years still can’t spell it properly, and I marvel at the various ways it can be mispronounced. I use ‘Etne’ pronunciation myself, like to tell people it sounds kinda like the volcano (Mt. Etna) and that supposedly it means little fire. Conjures up all kinds of links between the Celts and the Sicilians of old ;-). Have to say that it has made me more conscious of other peoples’ names as well and I find myself commenting or questioning the bearer of a – to me – unusual name as to its provenance. What a rich source of folklore we have in each others’ names. By the way, when I lived in Japan, I started pronouncing my name as ‘Ethne’, with an emphasis on the ‘th’…purely because Japanese people go to such lengths to pronounce properly the totally foreign ‘th’ sound, and it seemed churlish of me to correct them. But back home in west of Ireland, we delightfully ignore the ‘th’ sound in everything…perfect practice for those of you unfamiliar with the sound ‘there are three trees there….’

    1. I am south american born woman, 73 old. Don´t ask me how come an indiginous baby was given an Irish name. But I like it and I have an Irish friend who´s name is Eithne.

  6. Hello from Melbourne Australia! I am an Irish born “Eithne”, and of course, pronounce my name as “Ethna”.
    I lecture at a university and often have a difficult time explaining my name to my law students, but I carefully give them the phonetic “Ethna”.
    They soon get the hang of it.
    I have always understood Eithne to mean Little Fire, but I have seen it
    as meaning Fiery Conqueror. Ah I do like that!

  7. I just named a fictional character Eithne. I like the Ethna / Etna pronunciation, and it seems that the Irish folks on the comments prefer it too.

  8. hi, my name is Eithne. I am Irish, grew up in Ireland and live in Ireland. Eithne is pronounced Eth-NA, NEVER eth-knee (only in England) and NEVER EVER etna, edna or enya …. the only Eithne known as Enya is the lovely singer of that name so it’s probably just a stage name, dating back to some very ancient Irish pronunciatioin. So stick with Eth-na and you won’t go wrong … but it’s a pain having to spell Eithne for people, be warned …

    1. I named my daughter Eithne here in America and pronounce it Eth-knee just to make it easier on folks. Also, Kate Hudson’s character on Four Feathers. But we call her Et-na as an affectionate version. She knows one is Anglicized and one is Irish. I am Pacian, pronounced so wrong…so I made sure my kids got named something that had history and they know origins. My son is Rhys.

      1. Like you my daughter Ethnee-Rae is pronounced Eth-knee… I actually first found the name Eithne, but knew no-one would know how to pronounce it,so used the spelling of Ethnee as all the variations just look so pretty. UK.