Irish Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • Irish names generally follow English-Western naming conventions. However, there may be slight variations in accordance with traditional Irish Gaelic naming customs.
  • English-Western naming conventions arrange names as follows: [first given name] [middle given name(s)] [FAMILY NAME]. For example, Patrick Daniel HIGGINS (male) or Emily Mary MURPHY (female).
  • One’s ‘first name’, known as a ‘personal name’ or ‘given name’, is chosen at birth as the individual’s personal identifier. It always comes before the family name.
  • The ‘family name’, known as a ‘surname’ or ‘last name’, is inherited from one’s parents and shared with other members of the individual’s immediate family.
  • Irish names are traditionally patrilineal, whereby children are given their father’s family name. 
  • Some parents may choose to give their children a hyphenated surname that contains the family name of both the mother and father (e.g. Patrick Daniel HIGGINS-MURPHY).
  • It is traditional for women to adopt their husband’s family name at marriage. However, this practice is declining.
  • The ‘middle name’, is a secondary personal name written between the person's first name and their family name. For example, Emily Mary MURPHY’s middle name is ‘Mary’. 
  • Middle names are optional and are rarely used in daily life. The use of middle names was not traditional practice in Ireland, having been introduced by the English. However, today it is most common for people to have one or multiple.


Names

  • Traditional Irish naming patterns used to see children be given the first name of a close relative depending on their gender and order of birth (e.g. first son named after the paternal grandfather, first daughter named after the maternal grandmother, etc.). However, this is no longer a common practice.
  • Today, most Irish parents choose their children’s personal names based on aesthetic appeal.
  • It is common for first names to honour an ancestor or Catholic saint (e.g. Patrick, Anthony, Peter, Mary, Anne, etc.).
  • More recently, parents are increasingly choosing to give their children first names in the Irish Gaelic language that reflect their heritage, e.g. Saoirse, Aoife, Ciara, Siobhán, Niamh (female) and Ciarán, Seán, Cillian, Eoin, Fionn (male).1 
  • Be aware many Irish Gaelic names have a different pronunciation to what their spelling can suggest in English. For example, Eoin is pronounced “Owen” and Niamh is pronounced “Neev”.
  • Some people may have an anglicised spelling of an Irish Gaelic name. For example, Ciarán becomes Kieran, Aoife becomes Ava.
  • In 2019, the most popular names in Ireland were Emily, Grace, Fiadh, Sophie, Hannah (female) and Jack, James, Noah, Conor, Daniel (male).2
  • Middle names are often chosen to honour a family member (e.g. a grandparent) or someone who is seen as an inspiration to the parents.
  • Many Irish surnames are patronymic, using the prefixes ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’ meaning “son of” and ‘O’ meaning “grandson of” (e.g. MACDONALD, MCCARTHY, O’NEILL, O’CONNOR).3 The meaning of these prefixes are no longer literal, and are simply passed down through generations – broadly understood to mean ‘ancestor of’.
  • Many Irish Gaelic family names have been anglicised under the influence of England over time. This often involved removing patronymic prefixes (O’/Mc/Mac).4 For example, Ó FOGHLÚ became FOLEY, Ó MURCHÚ became MURPHY.5
  • Many Irish names have multiple possible spellings. For example, the family name MCENEANEY may also be spelled MCANEANY, MCANENY, MCENANEY, MCENEANY.
  • Some of the most common family names in Ireland are MURPHY, KELLY, O’SULLIVAN, WALSH, SMITH.6


Addressing Others

  • People generally address one another verbally by the first name alone in most settings. 
  • In formal situations, people may use a person’s title (e.g. Mr., Mrs., Ms., Doctor, etc.) followed by their family name.
  • Middle names are almost never used to address a person, unless quoted on formal/legal documentation.
  • Friends may address one another by their last name alone to indicate familiarity and closeness (usually between men).


1 Hertz, 2021

2 Central Statistics Office, 2020 

3 Family Search, 2021

4 Family Search, 2021

5 Grenham, 2015

6 WLR, 2019

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