A Letter from Ireland:

Irish Naming Patterns


Do Irish naming patterns work for you? Have you ever reached a stumbling block in your ancestry research? In this letter will will discuss a built in set of clues left by many of our Irish ancestors, hidden in the pattern of how they named their children.

Both Businesses and Names continue through generations.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to the Letter from Ireland for this week. How are things going in your part of the world today?

Before I go on, some readers were on wondering if I could share some photos from our recent trip to that most Irish of English cities, Liverpool. Did any of our Irish ancestors arrive in, or set sail from, Liverpool? So, here is a bonus letter from last year – The Arriving and Leaving of Liverpool – with some photos from our recent trip.

I do hope you enjoyed that mini-tour around a lovely place. I’m having a nice cup of Barry’s Tea – and I do hope you’ll join me with a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter.

Please Let Me Introduce Myself.

One of the most frequent questions I hear each week is a version of the following:

“My ancestor came to my country in the 1800s – but I have no idea where they came from in Ireland, or the names of their parents in Ireland. Is there some way I can find this information?”

How about you? Do you have a situation like this? Well, today – let’s have a look at a very useful way of going back a little further in time on your Irish family tree. We are going to chat about “Irish Naming Patterns”.

Like to add your Irish surname to our list?Just signup for your free weekly Letter from Ireland by clicking here.and we’ll let you know how to join in the fun.

 Let me start off by formally introducing myself:

My name is Michael Collins. I am the eldest son in my family and named after my Grandfather – also Michael Collins.

My Father’s name is John Collins – he is an eldest son and named after his Grandfather – also John Collins.

My father, John Collins has three siblings:

  • Patrick (second eldest son) – named after his paternal grandfather.
  • Michael (third eldest son) – named after his father.
  • Kathleen (eldest daughter) – named after her maternal grandmother.

Now, why am I sharing these random facts about my family? Well, there is a useful pattern hidden in the above naming of children. The “Irish Naming Pattern” is a real system of child-naming that was in use in Ireland for hundreds of years – and often continued to be used in the Irish immigrant’s new country for a couple of generations. I have found it to be in strong use in Ireland right up to the 1960s. The naming pattern is as follows:

  • 1st son was named after the father’s father
  • 2nd son was named after the mother’s father
  • 3rd son was named after the father
  • 4th son was named after the father’s eldest brother
  • 1st daughter was named after the mother’s mother
  • 2nd daughter was named after the father’s mother
  • 3rd daughter was named after the mother
  • 4th daughter was named after the mother’s eldest sister

So, if this system holds true in your family, it can be very useful in taking an educated guess as to the names of your unknown Irish ancestors. When someone asks me a question in The Green Room about how to trace unknown Irish ancestors, I often ask them to share the names of already known children – from eldest to youngest. Let’s take a simple example:

Patrick and Kathleen O’Mara emigrated to Australia in the mid 1800s. The names of their parents – who stayed in Ireland – are unknown. They had the following children after emigrating to Australia, from eldest to youngest:

  • Michael
  • Mary
  • John
  • Patrick
  • Bridget

If this family used the traditional Irish naming pattern, then we can guess the following:

  • Michael is the name of Patrick O’Mara’s father.
  • Mary is the name of Kathleen O’Mara’s mother.
  • John is the name of Kathleen O’Mara’s father.

One fact that confirms that they most likely used Irish naming patterns is the fact that the third son is called Patrick – the same as his father.

  • Bridget is the name of Patrick O’Mara’s mother.

Now, naming patterns were not always used – or the pattern may fall apart as you approach the younger children – but they are surprisingly accurate across both religions and regions in Ireland – and very useful when taking educated guesses for further research when tracing your Irish family back to Ireland.

How about you? Do the Irish naming patterns hold up as true in your Irish family tree? Do feel free to leave your comments and let me know.

That’s it for this week – as always do feel free to share your stories, comments and Irish surnames in your family.

Slán for now,

Mike & Carina.

  • Lel says:

    So does the naming pattern continue that the 5th son is named after the mothers eldest brother and the 5th daughter is named after the fathers eldest sister and so on

  • Cindy says:

    From what I know this far, the irish naming pattern was pretty much dropped once they got here. They lost their first born son. His first name was the same as his father’s middle name so I suppose it’s possible it could also be the father’s fathers’ name. But after that a daughter was born and her name was her father’s mothers name. The second son had his fathers first name but his middle name I have found is his mothers father name. I am hitting a brick wall finding out my great great grandfathers fathers’ name. But I do know his mothers name because census shows her living with them for abit.

  • Therese says:

    This is great! While my Irish ancestors didn’t follow this to the letter, they came very close to it. It gives me a clue as to the names of the generation before immigration. I just wish “John” and “Mary” weren’t so common!

  • Peter A. TONER says:

    My grandfather Terence Toner came from Cullyhanna Co. Armagh. I never thought of my parents as being anyway traditional. However they did sort of follow this pattern with slight variation. My eldest (1st born) brother is named Terence (my father’s father). Their second son was named James (variant after my father). I am the 3rd son, however I’m named after a friend of my mother, Peter. Getting back to tradition though, my middle name is Alexander, the name of my mother’s father [may I interject here that I am the only sibling with a middle name]. My sister (fourth child, but 1st female) is named Ann (sort of the same as my mother’s mother, Annie). Our last sibling, also a girl, was named Michele [there is no other so named in the family].

  • […] family is typically named after her maternal grandmother – this follows what is known as an Irish Naming Pattern. Next down was Noreen – except in typical Irish fashion that migrated from Noreen to Norah as she […]

  • Jim Regan says:

    If a person has lets say four sons would all four of them name their sons after his father( the son’s Grandfather) ?

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