First names in Irish Gaelic

There’s no doubt about it: Irish first names are hugely popular.

Chances are that, even if you don’t have an Irish first name yourself, you know quite a few people who do.

Some common first names that come from Irish

How many people do you know with the following names?

Kathleen or Cathleen, from the Irish Caitlín (pronounced KATCH-leen)

Katelynn, based on a mispronunciation of the above Caitlín

Katrina, from the Irish Caitríona (pronounced kat-TREE-uh-nuh)

Eileen, from the Irish Eibhlín (pronounced EV-leen or EYE-leen, depending on region)

Colleen, from the Irish word for “girl”: cailín (pronounced KAL-yeen or KOL-yeen, depending on region).

Sheila, from the Irish Síle (pronounced SHEE-leh)

And for the boys…

 Aidan, from the Irish Aodhán (pronounced EE-dahn or AY-dahn)

Brendan or Brandon, from the Irish Breandán (pronounced BRAN-dahn)

Kevin, from the Irish Caoimhín (pronounced K(w)EE-veen)

Patrick, from the Irish Pádraig (pronounced PAH-drig or PAH-rig)

Shawn or Shaun, from the Irish Seán (pronounced shahn)

Owen, from the Irish Eoin (pronounced OH-in)

And these are only the tip of the iceberg!

So, what’s my name in Irish?

Given the sheer number of Irish-derived names out there, you’d think that just about every name would have an Irish “translation,” wouldn’t you?

You would, but you’d be wrong, for two reasons:

Names don’t really “translate”

 

While certain names can take on different forms in different languages, those aren’t technically “translations.” What happens is that names take on special spellings and pronunciations, based on how speakers of one language hear names from another.

Take, for example, the Hebrew name Miryam.

In Latin (and later in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish), it became Maria.

In French, it became Marie.

In Russian, it became Marya.

In Irish, it became Máire (pronounced MY-ruh, MOY-ruh, or MOY-uh, depending on dialect).

And in English, of course, we know it as Mary.

Mary isn’t really a “translation” of Miryam. It simply reflects the changes the name has taken on as it’s been filtered through different languages and cultures.

Further, if your name is “Mary,” it doesn’t automatically get converted to the local form when you’re speaking another language. If you were introduced to a Spanish speaker, for example, you’d normally be introduced as “Mary,” not “Maria.”

Not all names have Irish forms

 

Typically, names only have recognized Irish forms if they came from Ireland to begin with, have been associated with Ireland for a fairly long time, or, in some cases, if they’re Biblical or saints’ names.

You might be surprised at just how many names don’t fall into any of those categories!

But what if I really, really, want my name in Irish?

The first thing I would suggest is that you bear in mind that a great many Irish people don’t have names with Irish forms. And, among those who do, not all of them use them. So there’s no harm in using your own name as it stands.

In fact, even if your name DOES have an Irish form, it’s perfectly fine to use it as it is. In fact, most Irish speakers will use your name as it is, unless you specifically ask them to do otherwise.

That said, if you really want your name to have a particularly Irish look and sound, there are a few options you can pursue.

Check out “Namenerds”

 

Namenerds.com has one of the most comprehensive lists of Irish names I’ve found, and their research is fairly sound. Even if you don’t think your name is of Irish origin, it’s worth checking it out there (you might be surprised!).

In fact, even if you DO think your name is of Irish origin, it’s worth checking out there. A surprising number of names that people think of as Irish (for example, Megan, Bridget, and Brenda) actually aren’t Irish at all.

Namenerds is pretty reliable, but in general I advise taking what baby name sites and books say about name origins and meanings with a HUGE grain of salt. Many of them are very, very, wrong.

If you’re just doing this for fun, there’s no harm, but if you’re looking to name a child, or even a character in a book, do get more learned input before choosing something from a baby name site!

Go for a “soundalike”

 

When the English schoolmasters did it to Irish kids in school it wasn’t very nice, but if you’re doing it voluntarily, it’s not so bad. There are quite a few Irish names that sound similar to names in other languages, even though they’re not related.

For example, girls with the Irish name Sorcha (pronounced SUR-uh-khuh) had their names changed to the similar-sounding, but unrelated, Sarah in the English national school system. If you’re a Sarah, you could get by with doing the same thing in reverse.

Go for an actual translation

 

If you know the meaning of your name, you might be able to find a word in Irish that would work for you. This isn’t how children are typically named in Ireland, at least not traditionally, but if you like the sound of it, there’s no harm in using it.

For example, if your name is Lucy, it comes from the Latin word for “light.” As it happens, the aforementioned Sorcha also means “light.” So you could probably justify using Sorcha. Namenerds actually has a page of names listed by meaning.

Do be aware, though, that you might get some funny looks. While times are changing everywhere, children with names such as “River” or “Ocean” or “Moonbeam” are still pretty rare in Ireland (even in Irish!).

Go phonetic

 

There is certainly a time-honored tradition of adopting names into Irish by giving them Irish phonetic spellings (in fact, the name Seán came from an Irish phonetic rendering of the Norman French name Jean).

Given that not all sounds in English exist in Irish (and vice versa), you may have to do some fiddling with pronunciation, and it won’t work with all names, but it’s another avenue to consider.

Do you have other name questions?

If you found this interesting, you might also want to check out our post on Irish Surnames. Bitesize members might also want to check out our lesson on Pronouncing Irish First Names.

Did you find this post helpful?

Did you know all this about Irish names already? Let us know your thoughts below!

Irish for Beginners free one-month course

Learn to introduce yourself in Ireland’s native language. Sent directly to your email inbox.

What you get for signing up:

  • Immediate download of our ebook “Learn Irish Gaelic Online – All you need to know” worth $19.
  • Exclusive weekly updates on all things Irish with the Bitesize Irish Gaelic newsletter.
  • One-month Irish Gaelic course sent to your inbox.

“We don’t sell or spam your details.” – Eoin Ó Conchùir, Founder, Bitesize Irish Gaelic.

Comments

  1. Féabar Mac Maoláin says:

    Alt an-suimiúil. GRMA

    • hi could you pronounce mcmaolain in ireish or how a irishspeaker would say our name thanks mike

      • Audrey says:

        Michael,

        In Irish, it would be spelled “Mac Maoláin” (note the fully spelled out “mac,” which means “son,” and the fada over the “á” in the name that follows it. Also, Irish surnames are always properly written as two words).

        Depending on region, it would be pronounced something like “Mock MWEE-lahn,” and it simply means “Son of [someone whose name or nickname was] Maolán.

        The female versions, if you’re curious, would be “Nic Mhaoláin” for a daughter (i.e., as a woman’s maiden name), or “Mhic Mhaoláin” for a spouse (i.e., someone who married into the name).

  2. Gearóid says:

    Audrey,

    What about if one wants to translate a surname like LaBastille into Irish?
    Would it be something like ‘An Caisleán’?

    Gearóid

    • Audrey Nickel says:

      I wouldn’t translate it at all Gearóid. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to translate surnames, to be honest.

  3. Richard says:

    I’m trying to translate my children’s names into Gaelic. I want it for a tattoo I’ll soon be getting. Can you help me out?

  4. Audrey Nickel says:

    We don’t do translations here, Richard, but if you go to http://www.irishlanguageforum.com, they’ll be happy to help you out. You have to register, but it’s free, and folks there are very helpful.

    Do read the above blog post first though. It’s possible that your children’s names don’t have legitimate Irish forms…many do not. Give that a read, then pop on over to ILF and see what, if anything, can be done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>