Irish Names and their Meanings

Lots of readers have asked me about the meanings and spellings of some of the Irish names in my books. Some of you have even called your children after characters, which is such an honour for me! Here’s a list of the main Irish names I’ve used. I’ve also tried to give you the closest English pronounciation possible, although as with all names in a different language, it’s hard to be exact.

Darragh
Although this looks like the Irish spelling, it’s actually spelled Dáire in the Irish version. You’ll often see it as Dara too, and with that spelling, it can also be a girl’s name. Dáire was a big figure in Irish legend as he owned a famous bull, the Brown Bull of Cooley (the Donn Cúailgne) and refused to sell it to Queen Maeve of Connacht, which caused a feud between the provinces of Ulster and Connacht when Maeve decided to take the bull by force – the famous Táin Bó Cúailnge.

Dermot
Diarmuid is the Irish spelling and, as I mention in the meaning of Gráinne’s name, their story is one of the big Irish legends. Somewhat inappropriately, given the legend, the name means ‘without enemy’. You can read the legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne here.

Hugh
This comes from the Irish name Aodh, and means fire. There are lots of famous Hughs (or Aodhs) in Irish history, the most well-known of whom are Hugh O’Neill, the Earl of Tyrone and Red Hugh (Aodh Ruadh) O’Donnell, the Earl of Tyrconnell who led a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth I. Although they were victorious at the Battle of Yellow Ford, the two were ultimately defeated and which led to the completion of the Tudor conquest of Ireland.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the most famous Hugh of them all is my godson!

Clodagh
This name, which is now very popular outside Ireland too, comes from the river Clody, in Tippearary. In ancient times rivers in Ireland were given the names of local deities and children were named after them.

Conor
The Irish name Conchobhar, it means ‘lover of hounds’. The most famous Conor in Irish history is Conor MacNessa, who was the son of a beautiful and ambitious woman (Nessa – see HE’S GOT TO GO). She managed to have him placed on the throne temporarily but he was seen to be such a wise and good king that the people asked him to remain in power. Of course this might have also been because Nessa gave him money to distribute to potential supporters – a vote buying tactic that lives on today!

Patrick
A quintessentially Irish name which doesn’t really need an explanation. The name of Ireland’s patron saint whose feast day is more or less celebrated around the world with green beer! Equally well known is the irish spelling versions of Padraig/Padraic. St Patrick came to Ireland as a slave and was a shepherd for six years until he apparently had a vision telling him to convert the natives to Christianity. He escaped to France, trained as a priest and returned to Ireland. He’s credited with driving the snakes out of the country.

Keelin

This is from the Irish Caoilfhionn which is an amalgamation of Caol, which means slender, and fionn, which means fair. It’s another of my favourite Irish names. Sometimes you’ll see it spelled as Caoilinn but I thought it would be easier on readers if I used the Anglicised spelling!

Ronan
This means ‘little seal’ in Irish and was a popular saint’s name. These days the most famous Irish Ronans are probably Ronan Keating (from Boyzone) and Ronan O’Gara (rugby).

Orla

The Irish spelling of this name is either Orlaith or Orlagh. It means ‘Golden Lady’, which I think is lovely!

Nessa
In Irish legend, Nessa was the mother of Conor McNessa. She managed to have her son placed on the throne, supposedly for a year, although ultimately, he remained as ruler. She did this, apparently, through using her womanly wiles on her late husband’s half-brother, Fergus, who was heir – agreeing to marry him only if Conor could rule temporarily. Not for the first time a King made a big mistake because of a beautiful woman…

Bree
Bree is generally accepted as a diminutitive of Bridget even though it’s given as a name in its own right. Bridget (Brigid/Brighid) is one of Ireland’s patron saints, and the name means ‘exalted one’. She founded monasteries and is associated with a number of miracles. One of the most well known is that she was trying to get some land to build a convent and eventually asked the King of Leinster to give her as much as her cloak would cover. Naturally he said yes to this but when she put down her cloak, it grew in size until it covered a vast area. The King converted to Christianty as a result. Bridget is one of my names too!

Declan
Declan is another Irish saint who supposedly predates our patron saint, Patrick. He founded a monastery in Ardmore, Co Waterford. It’s from Dag and Lán which means ‘full’ and ‘goodness’. It’s a fairly common name outside Ireland now – my own cousin, Declan, lives in England.

Finn
I explain a little about the origin of this name in the book itself and you can read more about the legend of Fionn MacCuhaill in the Legends section. Fionn was a much loved warrior – brave, wise and good-looking. A real catch!

Aisling
Another lovely Irish name, this means ‘dream’ or ‘vision. It’s original spelling was Aislinn which you’ll still see in Ireland quite a bit, though when it’s used outside Ireland, you’ll often see it spelled as Ashling, which is how it’s pronounced.

Doireann
This is another Irish name I really like. I was recently contacted by a Doireann to say that she usually tells people to prounce it Dirren (rhyming with the surname of Helen Mirren). That’s a pretty good approximation for what’s a really lovely name. There’s some debate as to whether it’s a corruption of Der Finn (which would mean daughter of Fionn) or whether it’s simply translated from the word meaning ‘sullen’. I can’t imagine a sullen Doireann – though I always imagine a dark haired person when I hear the name!

Áine
This is the Irish form of Anne and it’s pronounced Awn-nyeh. It means ‘brightness’ or ‘splendour’ and most of the girls that I know who are named Áine are blondes! It was also the name of one of the ubiquitous Fionn’s wives, and Áines are supposed to be lucky in both money and love – so if you’re going gambling, bring one with you!

Kevin
This is a well-known name throughout the world now, but its origin is Irish. It means ‘gentle child’ and was the name of another of our most loved saints. St Kevin founded the magnificent monastery at Glendalough (worth a visit if you’re a tourist as it’s in a truly stunning setting).

Cian
This Irish name is pronounced Keen – or probably more accurate Kee-uhn, with the stress at the beginning. It means ‘ancient’ and was the name of the son-in-law of one of Ireland’s best known High Kings, Brian Boru. Unfortunately, both Brian and Cian were killed fighting the Vikings in the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. Given that I now live in Clontarf I felt that Cian had to make an appearance in one of my novels!

Jin
OK – obviously Jin is very much not an Irish name. But a few people have asked me where it came from. The answer is that her name is Virginia but when she took up modelling she called herself Jin. This was explained in one of the early drafts but eventually got edited out. Hopefully this puts your minds at rest.

Eavan
This is another name where I’ve decided to use the Anglicised version because in Irish it’s spelled Aoibhinn. It means ‘radiant beauty’ and was a popular name for Irish princesses. To be honest, I like the Irish spelling of the name more – it looks prettier!

Sive
Another Anglicised spelling here. The Irish spelling is Sadhbh and it means ‘goodness’ or ‘sweetness’. Sive has folklore links to Fionn – she was his lover but was turned into a deer. Years later Fionn found a child in the woods who had been raised by a dear and realised that the child must have been his by Sadhbh. He named the child Oisin (little deer). I have a nephew named Oisin and he’s very dear to me! By the way, you pronounce Oisin as Usheen, and Sive rhymes with Dive!!

Siobhán
Siobhán is the Irish equivalent of Joan and it’s a hugely popular name around the world. Most people are fairly familiar with the pronunciation Shiv-awn, and in lots of countries you’ll now see it spelled in a variety of ways to reflect that.

Gráinne
I think this name has become more popular outside Ireland in recent years. Pronounced Graw-neyh it’s another name connected with the great Fionn. Gráinne had been promised to him in marriage but reckoned he was too old for her and so put a spell on his nephew, Diarmiud (see Dermot in SOMEONE SPECIAL) instead and ran off with him. The legend of Diarmuid and Gráinne was compulsory reading in schools for a long time. Perhaps it was meant to warn us off running away with boys…. you can read the legend in the legends section.

Iona
I’m not sure that Iona is stricly an Irish name, but the Irish saint, Colmcille, founded a famous monastery on the island of Iona, and the name means ‘blessed’.

Nieve
I received a lot of mail from Irish readers complaining about the spelling of Nieve, as the Irish spelling is Niamh. However, I felt that Niamh was very much the sort of person who’d change her name when she went to the States and that’s why (as well as making it easier for my overseas readers) I went with the Anglicised version. I’ve also seen it spelled Neave in the US. Lots of people pronounce it as Neeve, but it should really be said as Nee-uv. Niamh was a very important woman in Irish legend as she was the daughter of the sea-god Manannan, fell in love with Oisin and went to live with him in Tir na nog (the land of the young). Time passed slowly there relative to the rest of the world which was why anyone who left Tir na nOg seemed not to have aged. Niamh and Oisin have a long story which you can read in the legends section. Niamh means ‘radiance’ or ‘brightness’ and although in legend she was known as Niamh of the Golden Hair, I decided to make her a brunette!

Brendan
A very popular Irish name, possibly due to the fact that it was the name of lots of different Irish saints! St Brendan the Navigator is probably the best known, as it’s alleged he sailed to America about a thousand years ahead of Christopher Columbus. As a result, he’s the patron saint of seafarers and travellers.

FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER

SIGN UP TO MY NEWSLETTER

Keep in touch with the world of Sheila O’Flanagan. Sign up here to receive regular updates and exclusive content.

FIND ME ON FACEBOOK