A Letter from Ireland:

Do you have an Irish Viking Surname?


Do you have an Irish Viking Surname? Sharing the Atlantic Ocean with the wandering Viking race, means there is sure to be many interactions. Throughout history the Norse visited and settled the coasts of Ireland, and even built inland cities. The surnames of Ireland reflect this history.

Céad Míle Fáilte – and you are very welcome to this week’s Letter from Ireland.

A few weeks back, it was the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. I remembered that I was lying in bed late at night listening to Radio Luxembourg when I heard the news. It really was a global event at the time. Do you remember where you were when you heard the news? The occasion also reminded me of a very interesting story we uncovered last year. A story linking the Presleys to a small village in County Wicklow.

Vikings and County Wicklow.

Speaking of County Wicklow, did you know that Wicklow comes from the Norse “Vykyngelo” – meaning a “Viking meadow”? Let’s stay on that subject of Vikings for the rest of today’s letter. One of the most frequent enquiries I receive goes something like:

“I just got my DNA tested and it turned up as 12% Scandinavian. I wonder if that is the Viking blood coming out in my Irish ancestry? Also, do you know a typical Irish Viking surname?”

Just last year, we were on an Irish Homelands trip to County Wicklow. County Wicklow received its name after the local Viking-named town of Wicklow/Vykyngelo. The port was a hive of activity as longboats were prepared for filming the next series of the TV show “Vikings.” Have you seen this show following the adventures of the Norse King Ragnar and his crew? There was also an open casting call for extras for the next season – we were tempted, but I’d probably have to hide the razor for couple of months!

Viking Boats in Wicklow Town

Irish Surnames of Viking Origin.

So, do you have any Irish surnames of Viking origin in your family tree? Well, John Grenham makes the following very good point in an article on that very subject:

“There is no such thing as a Viking surname. True hereditary surnames were introduced in Scandinavia in the late 18th century, more than 700 years after the heyday of Viking expansion.”

However, he does go on to acknowledge that we Irish took to the surname system with great gusto – eager to demonstrate our extended family allegiances. So, it is believed that we had the earliest surname system in Europe with the specific surname of O’Cleary from about the 10th century.

By that time, the age of the great Viking expansion was coming to an end. In Ireland, we first experienced the Vikings during a raid on Lambay island (off the coast of present County Dublin) in 795AD and over the following years, the raiding parties started to settle around harbours about the east and south coast of Ireland. These settlements grew into the modern towns and cities of Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Cork and Limerick.

Over the following 200 years, the inhabitants of those towns had being trading, mixing and marrying with the local native Irish for many generations. Certain Irish families, like the O’Donovan chieftains, made a habit of intermarrying with the nobles of the Norse town of Limerick. By this time, we were looking at the residents of those original Viking towns as “Hiberno-Norse”.

Hiberno-Norse surnames. 

Many given first names of Norse origin became popular with Irish Gaelic families. Names like: OtirLochlan, Ivor, Olaf, Sitric and so on. So, a little like we do today – someone saw a name they liked and adopted it for one of their children – and this name then carried down in a family through the generations, increasing in popularity and frequency.

As you may know, the Irish system of surnames usually structures a name as either “son of a given name” (Mac) or “descendant of a given name (O). Many of the given names of Norse origin worked their way into a number of surnames that we consider Irish today. Names like:

  • McAuliffe – “son of Olaf”.
  • O’Rourke/Groarke – “descendent/son of Ruarc”
  • McCotter – “son of Otir”
  • McManus – “son of Magnus”
  • McGettrick – “son of Sitric”
  • McIver – “son of Ivor”
  • O’Loughlin/McLoughlin – “son of Lochlann”

Other Irish surnames that have similar roots in a given Norse name include:

Arthur, O’Beirne, McBirney, Bligh, Boland, Broder, Broderick, O’Gohery/ Godfrey, Harold, O’Henrick, O’Hever, Reynolds, Sugrue, Sweetman, Toner, Tormey and many more.

Like to add your Viking 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.

We also have the general descriptive name for a person of Danish origin: “Dubhghaill” – meaning “dark foreigner.” It was also anglicised as “Doyle” and sometimes “McDowell”.

While many of our Irish surnames with a Norse-named root do not have any known direct link back to Viking families – a few are on record as being of Norse origin. One example is my County Galway Grandmother’s name of “Dolphin.” A Norse family that arrived in Galway about the 1200s from the northeast of England.

How about you – do you have an Irish “Viking Surname” in your family tree? What about DNA – do you carry any “Viking blood” in your family? Do leave your comments below and let me know.

That’s it for this week – and we do look forward to you joining us again next week.

Slán for now,

Mike & Carina.

  • Mary Jacq Easley says:

    I’ve always known my great grandparents came from Ireland and their name was Brislin (O’Breslin). So when I took my ancestry DNA test, I was not surprised to learn I was 45 percent Irish and 38 percent English/Scot (my father’s name was Watson). But I was mystified by the 11 percent Scandinavian— until I started reading about the Vikings settling in Ireland. I assume that’s where the 11 percent came from!

    • Mike Collins says:

      Often hard to avoid a little Scandinavian in Ireland, Mary! Mike.

      • Diane Colonnello says:

        I have a DNA called Alpha 1 and 10% of Irish have it. My gene is a Viking gene from Cork or Dublin thru my Collin ancestors..but the family name that is Viking is unclear. All Irish should get this free test go to Alpha net.com for home kit from the USA. We have a lot of information and many can save their lungs from deterioration. Contact me dianecolonnello@yahoo.com if you care to.

    • Bill Watson says:

      I’m a bit late in this conversation. Your father and I, and my English ancestors at least back to the 1700s, share our surname. I am 74% Scottish (Highlands & Borders), 24% English (Leicestershire & Kent) & NW European, 2% Welsh. My wife if 51% Scottish (Glasgow), 32% Irish, 17% English (Cornwall & Lincolnshire) & NW European. Her paternal grandmother, Mary Ann Storey, was born in Enniskillen in 1874 and migrated to Australia in 1897. She married Joseph Brown from Glasgow in Australia in 1906, and my wife’s surname was Brown. I migrated from Ayrshire in 1964 and we married in 1966 in Adelaide where we still live. I just thought the Watson connection was interesting.

  • Annie Malloy says:

    Malloy is my surname, and we suspect it was Molloy before my great-grandfather came over. My grandmother’s maiden name was Bulman

  • Dion Macale says:

    My surname is Macale. I’ve got a record as early as 1746 with the name spelt like that. The family was connected with the Ffrenches, Bourke’s and Eyre’s of east Galway but I suspect they were dispossessed from the Cromwellian era from Mayo. Mac being son of, any idea what the ‘ale’ part might be?

  • Jackie Kiley says:

    Thanks Mike, my DNA mix lists 19% Scandinavian. I have 2 paternal Doyle lines and my maternal Great Grandmother was an O’Beirne – which you mentioned both in your letter. My surname, Kiley/Kiely in from Munster as well.

  • ShelleyLennonMacDonald says:

    Yes my dna contains Scandinavian ancestors and my family last name was Lennon

  • Hope Morrow Vandale says:

    My family Morrow surname originate from County Donegal and not the County mentioned in your letter, apologies I did not note the County. My Great-grandmother x3 was a Hammond. They married in Donegal. Interesting….

  • Francine Canty says:

    I had my DNA done. 55% England
    16% Irish
    and some Norse, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German 19%
    What am I……

  • Marta Owens says:

    O’Rourke … my GGGrandfather Patrick O’Rourke b.1818 in Ireland.
    My DNA shows 13% Scandinavian and 17% Irish.

  • Martin Hodson says:

    I have been told by some Norwegian friends that my Surname ‘Hodson’ has a connection to Norway. Anyone know if this is true ?

    • Derek Hodson says:

      One interpretation is that Hodson is derived from the Scandinavian – Oddson, a common name in Denmark and Iceland. This in turn derived from Odo or Oddo the north germanic form of Otto. Let me know if you hear anything else. Derek Hodson

  • Dee McQuaide says:

    My surname was Gatchell. I’ve traced it to County Waterford, and other than a Gatchell’s Restauant in Waterford, I’ve never encountered it elsewhere, I thought perhaps it was of Viking origin. Have you encountered this name?

  • Linda Corwin-Graber says:

    My DNA indicates nearly as much Viking as Irish.

  • Janet Carey says:

    Hello! Enjoy your letters when they arrive in my email.
    Question…I’m very Irish! On my Father’s side of I received the Carey surname. His Mother (my Grandmother) used Rourke but I’ve seen “O” added in her surname as well. Where would these families originated in Ireland? Thank you. Janet

  • Kathleen says:

    My grandmother, Delia Lee, was from Derrigimlagh, Galway and my Grandfather, Patrick J. Murphy was from Feakle, Clare. Also have Mongon, Heanue, Sweeney, King, Markham, Folan surnames (so far) in my Irish Tree.

  • Carolyn Burke says:

    Have 8% Scandinavian

  • Charlene says:

    I am totally lost on any of this done, that came. Back not what we thought. But yes viking was there.

  • Ros mcknight says:

    I want to know about sir henry browne hayes, my great great great grandfather

  • Robyn Deerchaser says:

    Dear Mike, my Irish family came to Jamestown VA in 1650, the O’Fandhagain’s an Anderson’s, I found my Anderson people but the O’Fandhagain’s have been a challenge, they come from John O’Fandhagain of County Cork. I don’t know what ship, it started from Dublin, or why the whole families came over, usually only the criminals we’re sent to work. My O’Fandhagan’s married the Powhatan Indians and went all over the states, they changed their name to Feagin,, hard for an Indian to say O’Fandvagan,,,, do you have any resources to help me in my adventure, I am also Viking. Thanks for this article, it was a good read.

  • Tdowd says:

    my last name dowd. ive been raised being told that my family is primarily irish and british with a bit of germen , when I research it just tells me the stuff I already know like the extended form of the name O’Dubhda.

  • Jenn says:

    Thanks for this 🙂 When I read that Limerick was among the settlements my DNA made sense. Great grandparents and all before from there and area forever.. Surprised with 23% Scandinavian and only 8% Irish ? Go figure lol

  • Debra says:

    I recently learned I have 40% Scandinavian & 31% Irish heritage. I knew of Irish heritage but, thought I was less. Never before had I been told of any Scandinavian heritage. I know my great great grandfather was James Conley, his son Martin Conley came to America, his son George was my grandfather. Married to my grandmother Girty (Gertie) Weeks daughter of William Henry Weeks. I am very confused regarding Scandinavian bloodline.

  • Charles E. Toner says:

    I have been reviewing Viking History as I am 83% Scandinavian (Norse) per DNA. It has been interesting, especially the settlements in Ireland. In my travels with the military I have run into several Irish with my last name — Toner. Most were originally from PA or Maryland.

  • Kevin Freaney says:

    I had a DNA test kit for a present, sent to Dublin and it came back 85% Irish and 15% European. My surname is Freaney.

  • Leanne Long says:

    Per my DNA testing, I am 44.8% Irish, Scottish, Welsh; 24.8% Scandinavian; 23.3% English; 5.9% North & West European; 1.2% West Asian. I know that I have Irish ancestors from the 14th & 15th centuries. I have not gone further back at this time. That being said, I have not run across one, not one Scandinavian name. How can I determine how the Scandinavian came to be if I don’t have any actual roots/names in any Scandinavian country? Are there any books or websites that discuss this particular issue?

  • Marjorie Marsh Mudd says:

    Muldowney sounds Scottish to me. ?

  • Jody Regan says:

    My surname is Regan. DNA results said I am 85% Irish, 5% Scandinavian and the rest “Great Britain” and “western Europe”. There are also the surnames McCarthy, Drew and Coohey in my family. I’d like to know which areas of Ireland those.names come from.

  • it is big very interesting such as full blew my minds and im Norwegian and Italian and British Wales and Irish and French and German and Egyptian and Arabic and western Asia the first 17 thousand years ago of Frist high Chef of Black Forrest Indians of Montana in American also 0.02 % of black of Northern African also Leventians. I just founds outs by the Ancentry/23:me. Very far as the high of the “Top Priority ” of secret history. As very famously outlaws of ” Jesse James” my great great great great uncle his last baby youngest sister that was suppose to be my 1850′ s 7th greats grandmother of my real mothers side as yhe family tree but im an adoption when I was two weeks olds baby to the ” Buono” adopted last name however, my mothers madien name is “Bjorklund” of Norwegian. Thats is the whole truthful of the Ancentry historical. From, Mr. Brian Nicholas Buono.

  • Lotte says:

    Hi im as danish as can be. In old times surnames were not usual in Scandinavia but as in most places we were called son of…or daughter of…
    Then about 1800they decided to freeze the current name at the time to thereafter become surnames for the family. But some nobleties had familyname before and Some farmers especially bigger Richter ones were named after the location or farm. If you came from a different place you might be named after this. My name Sørensen mean Sørens son. It was my forfather at the time it was fixed by law…søren

  • Mary Barnes Price says:

    I know I have Viking ancestry , some Irish, Welsh. But I am not sure about my name. John Roger Barnes was the name passed down on my paternal side which I traced back to county Tyrone in Ireland in the 1700s and then they moved to England then to the US where I believe they claimed to be English. I am not sure.

  • Alisha Dyess says:

    Does Norway and Sweden count as Viking? My DNA showed up with 5% of each.

    • Alisha Dyess says:

      My surname is Kelley. I just check my DNA results again…I’m 36% English, 34% Scottish, 10% each Irish and Swedish, 5% each Norwegian and Welsh.

  • Susanna says:

    I have a number of Scottish ancestors in my father’s family, from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides , Scotland. He did his dna testing and it was recently updated : 48 percent Great Britain, 26 percent Ireland, 21 percent Central Europe, and 5 percent Scandinavian.
    When I looked up one of his Lewis surnames, MacAskill, found a posting that said : “ The story goes , that one Askell Torquillson, King of Danes, in Danelaw, Dublin, Ireland, came to Scotland with his sons in 1169 after the Anglo-Normans invaded and defeated both the Irish and Norse.
    The history books say that Askell returned with an army in 1170, but was defeated and captured. He was “ defiant to the end and was beheaded on the orders of Miles De Cogan, and here ended almost 300 years is Viking rule over the Kingdom of Dublin”.”
    Also there is a related family from Lewis of the name MacIver. Maybe they are Irish also, I saw that surname mentioned on one of your lists.
    Sometime between 1841 ( Scotland Census) and 1851 ( Quebec, Canada Census) , my Lewis ancestors came across the pond, no reading, no writing, the older folks speaking only Gaelic.

  • Bethany says:

    I really don’t know much about my Irish ancestors other than my great grandmother was a Boland. I’m hoping to learn more. Thanks for your information!

    • SMB says:

      My surname is Boland or O’Beollain in the Irish.

      There are two prominent Boland families in Ireland, one located in County Sligo; the other in County Clare.

      My Boland lineage is from Ogonnelloe, County Clare, near Killaloe. This area was once known as Thomond.

      My male Boland sibling has the Irish III Y haplogroup R-L226 which is reportedly of the Dalcassian tribe descended from Cormac Cass circa 300 a.d and Brian Boru circa 900 a.d, both of Ireland.

      My ancestry profile at “23 and Me” shows 100 percent Irish with zero Scandinavian heritage.

      I’m not convinced the surname Boland (O’Beollain) is Norse or Scandinavian.

  • Chante' Kline says:

    My DNA came back with Irish & Viking heritage but my maiden name is Knight. I am not sure where the Irish & Viking come from – my mother’s side of my father’s side. After finding out about my Viking roots I joke that is where our aggression or go gettemness is from. My husband says that it is where our kids & myself get our good looks.

  • dennis gouldson says:

    I am an Englishman named Gouldson who’s ancestor was called either Goldson OR Goldswen in 1561 Wirral, which had been settled by Hiberno Vikings in 902 ad. My DNA shows I am 33% Irish and 22% Norwegian. As the family has been on the Wirral, near Liverpool for at least 500 years. What are the chances I am of Hiberno Irish descent?

  • dennis gouldson says:

    the last line of my email should read Hiberno Viking . Sorry. Dennis Gouldson

  • Stephen Walters says:

    I only started tracking my genealogy the past 6 months but have found it fascinating….I have always been an admirer of Viking history and once I discovered Ragnar Lodbrok and King Erik in my family lineage it made sense….I have been able to track my Grandma’s maiden name all the way back to the beginning….Its incredible seeing the history unfold as the name of so many such as Enoch, King Solomon, Noah as well as his sons show up but found it very interesting that Seths had son of Adam /The Heavenly Father but Cain, Abel and others showed up as Eliom Jr….I definitely want to do alot more researching….

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