What Are the “Approved” Irish Names in Your Family?

One thing I notice is that some first names that have traditionally stayed in certain families - often quite unusual names. So, let's take a tour around the island - and drop off to examine these names in some of the illustrious families of Ireland.

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What Are the “Approved” Irish Names in Your Family?

Many Irish families seem to feature multiple instances of the same forenames e.g you might find dozens of Johns, Marys or Richards – but very few Joans, Timothys or Michaels. This cumulative effect is often down to “Irish naming patterns” – but sometimes families have a special place for some given names.

Last week, I received the following from one Mary Stout:

“I am looking for my ancestor – John Ryan from north Tipperary who immigrated about 1856. It is so frustrating trying to track down a person with the first name John and last name of Ryan in Tipperary – there are thousands of them – and often dozens in the same extended family.”

There are indeed Mary! In fact, Ryan is the most numerous name in County Tipperary – as for John! Don’t get me started. But, it got me thinking. I know we mostly focus on Irish surnames in this Letter – the counties and stories behind them. Have you ever noticed, though, how certain FIRST names seem very popular with particular surnames?

Saints and Ancestors. 

As maybe you know already, most Irish surnames came about as a derivative of a first name. We have O’Brien meaning “descendants of Brian” or O’Connor meaning “descendants of Connor”.

Over time, many Irish first names were given after saints – and not too large a pool of saints either! We seem to have plenty of Bridgets, Patricks, Johns and Marys to go around – these names often “sticking” to a family because of Irish family naming patterns.

One thing I notice, even today, is that there are some first names that have traditionally stayed in certain families – often quite unusual names. So, let’s take a tour around the island – and drop off to examine these names in some of the illustrious families of Ireland. For now, we’ll stick with the male names for the simple reason that these are the ones on record for the past thousand years.

COLLINS – Starting off with my own surname in Cork and Limerick, it seems that half the male Collins’s are called MICHAEL. This is not as result of “The Big Fella” who was martyred in 1922 – but Michael just seemed to stick with this family through the centuries.

Staying down south in Cork and Kerry – McCARTHY is a name that has ruled Munster for many the year. Three names that you hear associated with McCARTHY – even today – are CORMAC, TADHG (pronounced Tie-g) and Florence (often turned into Florrie).


In Munster we also had the Norman families of FITZGERALDS and BARRYS. Even today, I know a few GARRETs, MAURICEs and BARRYs in the FITZGERALD clan. For the BARRYs – one of the first Barrys in Ireland was named GERALD – and there are plenty of GERALD and GERARD BARRYs today.

Into West Cork and Kerry, we find the O’SULLIVANS – probably the most numerous first name down through the centuries in this clan was DÓNAL/DOMHNALL (pronounced Doe-nal). This is often considered the equivalent of the English DANIEL – which was associated with another Kerry family, the O’CONNELLs.

Moving up to County Clare we come to the O’BRIENS. I have lost count of the number of CONOR O’BRIENS I know – and they are also very happy to use BRIAN on occasion. Over the years, JEREMIAH has risen up the ranks in this family also.

Into Connaught, we visit the O’CONNORS – and come across the names RORY and BRIAN in quantity. The local Norman family of BURKE were very fond of the first names WILLIAM/LIAM and RICHARD.


First Names of the O’Donnell Kings

Into the land of O’DONNELL in Donegal, we come across many HUGHs and RORYs – with the more unusual CAHIR attaching itself to the O’DOHERTYS in quantity along with DAVID.

Just beside them, the O’NEILLS also liked the sound of the Irish names HUGH and RORY – along with one of their originals, OWEN/EOGHAN.

A little further down again in County Leitrim, one of the original O’ROURKE names was TIERNAN.

Into the midlands, and that famous poetic family of O’DALYS seem happy to keep their original famous first name of CEARBHALL alive.

We finish off back down south in Kilkenny, where the Norman BUTLERS like their JAMESs, PIERCEs and WALTERs. Beside them we had the POWER family who had a fancy for the first name RICHARD.

And back to Mary Stout and her RYAN family from Tipperary – I have noticed that the RYANs seem particularly fond of the names MICHAEL and THOMAS. What do you think, Mary?

So, that’s it – a lightning tour around Ireland looking at just a few of the first names that seem particularly attached to certain surnames. How about your Irish families – are there any names that are particularly numerous compared to other families?

Slán for this week,

Mike and Carina.

  • Shannon says:

    This was interesting to read. I do not know whom this mary person is but we’re probably related as the John or james ryan she mentioned is my 3x great grandfather . And yes you are spot on with the names.

    • Mike says:

      There are a lot of James and John Ryans in Tipperary!

    • kathy helms says:

      That was interesting to read as my family maiden name is Ryan from Tipperary county. We have James and John in the family and wonder if we are related. Is there a way to get in touch with either Mary Stout or Shannon to see if there is any relation there?

  • Edward Cavanaugh says:

    Edward is the most first name in my family. My family hails from Balleydock, Campile, County Wexford. I can go back to at least the early 1800’s that there was a Edward Kavanagh that lived here. My Grandfather John Cavanaugh changed the name from Kavanagh to Cavanaugh. I do not know why. And the name Balleydock means the town of Edward

    • Mike says:

      That change from Kavanagh happened quite a lot Edward – losing the K must have been appealing at the time! Mike

  • Melodie says:


  • Kathleen McGrath Talkie says:

    Thank you, Mike, for the your weekly jaunts through Ireland’s countryside and peoples.


  • Margaret McMahon says:

    Denis seems to be the name we have from Co Limerick McMahons. Also Denis with Edward used as a second name, but don’t know the origin for this. Any ideas, please?

  • Mary Elizabeth says:

    My maiden name is POGUE. I’ve traced it back to 1836. Samuel H. Pogue born 1836 married Jane Nailor born 1837. They immigrated to Canada before 1861 when their first sone William was born in Ontario.

  • Donna Swaby says:

    My grandpa was a Dhority (Doherty) and my grandma was an O’Conner, her mother was a Spencer…..

    We cannot find out how our last name of Dhority got this spelling. It is pronounced the same as Doherty.

    • Sandra says:

      My grandfather’s name was Daugherty. We’re probably related. Look up the website for O’Dochartaigh clan; they may be able to help you.

  • Gloria says:

    My maiden name is Pyne and I believe the Pynes are still farming where my forefather and his wife and children came from as bounty immigrants in the 1860s to NSW Australia for WCWenthworth who they were employed with for 7 years . I think the county was Cork or Clsre and I believe we have ties to Kildare and Kilkenny . I have a forefather called Richard Pyne who was a government official .Originally the Pyne came across from England and previously Europe ?? Has anyone hears of this surname

  • Was looking for information on the Robinson clan. My wife and I are planning a trip to Irland next summer. My wife Quinta IS FROM The Clan OF Wells.

  • kathy helms says:

    I have the name of Thomas ans Michael in my family of Ryan’s. There is also James,John. I have my great grandmother’s maiden name on the Ryan side as Hedderman. Is that an Irish name? If it is, from what county? I can’t find anything on that name.

  • Jane Fasone says:

    Edward seems very prominent on my Spillane/Spellane Tiipperary/Offaly family. There were mostly boys and the names kept repeating-Edward,Patrick, James, John, Thomas and William. On the Lingford Kenny line Andrew and Patrick, Bernard seemed to be popular. On my husband’s, Sicilian side, Mateo or Matthew seemed to be first. These reusing names make finding Ancestors a little difficult but fun

  • Leila barnes(woods) maiden says:

    Yes my families names are O’Brien Stanley gleeson

  • Ray Cruise says:

    on the Cruise side of my family (Dublin, Meath, West meat Offlay & Galway – Peter, Robert &John (Jack)

  • Tom Shortell says:

    I am descended from the SHORTALL family of County Kilkenny. A few generations back it was anglicized to Shortell, but the first name of Thomas continues to prevail.

  • Edward Stuart Barrett Jr says:

    Edward is repeated in my Barrett family. My first known ancestor was Edward Barrett from Ireland (Mayo or Dublin, not sure). His grandson was Edward H; my grandfather was Edward Stuart, my dad was Edward Stuart Sr, I’m Edward Stuart Jr, my son is Edward Stuart III and my grandson is Edward Stuart IV. There are also several James, John, Joseph, Andrew and Samuels in the family

  • Carol Sparks says:

    I am descended from Michael Carroll. I’m wondering you didn’t mention the Carrolls who I’ve read have a strong family history in the midlands. Would be very interested in knowing any tidbits on that family as we have not been able to trace our Michael back to a specific town. All his papers say “Ireland” but strongly suspecting it was southwest Ireland.

  • Julie OConnor Patrick says:

    Mike, I love these Sunday morning letters, it connects me to Ireland a beautiful place I finally was able to visit last October. The people are so friendly. I will be back.
    I will be joining the Green Room.

    • Ann O'Connor Morrow says:

      Julie I notice you are an O’Connor. I visited Ireland last August with two of my daughters and we loved every minute. My gg grandfather named John O’Connor came to Canada and settled in Nova Scotia before 1821. His brother Patrick came ( and possibly with two half sisters who went to the US) in 1824 and I have been told he was born in 1806 in French Park, Roscommon County. Their parents were Bernard O’Connor and Catherine Waters. Any possible connection to you?

  • Joan says:

    My mother was Creaby and my father was Higgins. They were both from Swineford, CO. Mayo.

    Creaby is a very hard name to find. My mother was raised by Malloy. Her step brother was always Malloy until his death and they put Mulloy on his headstone.

    The first names get so confusing as well everyone is Thomas, John, Bridget, It get confusing as to which generation I am in.

    I enjoy getting your newsletter. Thank you.


  • Bonnie says:

    MY Hanthorn families use ROBERT, JOHN and JAMES continually through the generations. Makes them difficult to trace. As for the female names I have no idea….Mary to be sure but since my GG Grandmother seems to have died without a trace….no idea what her name was. I only have some interesting middle names that may or may not be someone’s maiden name carrying on. Trotter & Balmer.
    I am sitting at the foot of a large brick wall!!
    Love you newsletter!

  • Linda Dolan says:

    My lines are Dolan and Shields but no idea from where. There are many James, John, Arthur, Edward, Francis.
    My McKittrick>Butler> Curley are from Kildare . Also James, Patrick, Lawrence and Luke. And Keenan and Doran from West Meath. Daniel carries through James, John.
    Most papers just say Ireland.

  • Dale says:

    We have a lot of Robert and James in our Carmody family.I’m told our ancestors were from Cork.

  • Ellen Myers says:

    My O’Hagerty”s are from county Kerry and the names that prevail are William, Michael and James down through the centuries. The first over here in the U S was William who had Michael and then William and then James . most deemed to carry the middle name of Henry. Wish I could find a sure lead on my ancestors.

  • Marilyn Blomquist (nee Major) says:

    My family surname is MAJOR and they came from Co Armagh in the late 1820’s to Canada. The oldest son was called Oliver and the second son’s name was Mathew which I believe came from the maternal grandfather Mathew Collins. In later generations William became the name bestowed upon the first son. I really enjoy your weekly letter & will join the Green Room next year.

  • Bob Mccue says:

    Mccue, originally McHugh used James, John, Thomas, Harry, Henry William a lot, from Fermanagh , 1775

  • Dianne Britt says:

    My Britt ancestors were all named Patrick, John and Michael but I have hit a brick wall as to where they are from as J Britt married E Tierney in Portaw, Waterford in 1836 but having to deal with the 3 borders(Waterford, Tipperary and Kilkenny) I have had no luck finding their whereabouts.

    • carol says:

      My great-grandmother, from Galway, was listed as Honoria on her marriage license. As a widow in the US, she listed MaryAnne as her name on a subsequent marriage license, to a John Madden. Were those names interchsngeable. Or might I have the wrong Galway lady as my great-grand.other.

      • Anne says:

        Lots of Honora’s in my Power family. In the US, they became: Nora, Annie and Anna, even though they were christened Honora.

  • Robert Keyes says:

    Thanks for this, Mike. You didn’t include County Laois where my ancestors originated. In that area, St. Kieran apparently was very popular and his name repeats in many generations of my family, as do William, John, and Michael. Not many other Roberts, though!

    I look forward to your discussion of women’s names soon! I’m interested in how their names have so many variants. Bridget can be Bride or Bridie or Bried or Bessie or even Kate! Ellen can be Nel or Nellie. Catherine can be Kitty. Anna can be Nan, Nanette, and Nancy. Joanne can be Julia or Judy. And sometimes these variants can be applied to the same person in different records! Makes genealogy such fun, doesn’t it?

    • Jacqui says:

      Know what you mean !
      We have a Sarah/ Sheila/ Cecilia – all the same person.
      Makes researching fun I agree.

  • Anna Baker says:

    I’m looking for any Lanes in Cork. My husbands great grandfather about 3 or 4 generations ago , came from Cork. He ended up in Hawaii, married a Hawaiian chiefess and now there are many descendants from hom. His name was William Carey Lane. I haven’t had much luck finding out about his life in County Cork. Maybe you might know something?

    • Renee Fitzpatrick says:

      Hi Anna,
      I have Lane’s in my tree from Newmarket Cork. I go as far back as 1809. Let me know if you have a specific person and I can see if I have a match!

      • Anna Baker says:

        Hi Renee! Thanks for your reply. His name was William Carey Lane. Would appreciate any help.

  • Katherine Byrne says:

    My family name is Byrne. The notable repeating name is Edmund. My father was Edmund, and the name repeats back through the generations. I often see a death notice for yet another Edmund Byrne. A tour guide at Glendalough once told me that the name was “bestowed” on the clan by the British, as a reward for one of the O”Byrnes ins Wicklow giving vital information to Dublin Castle before a raid. I don’t know if this story is fanciful, but we were looking at graves of Edmund Byrnes aplenty at the time. She said that from that time ( date unknown), the first son in a Byrne family was usually called Edmund. My eldest son’s second name is Edmund- after my father. Two of my siblings have given the name as a second name to their sons. Any information about this supposed custom.?

    • Katherine Byrne says:

      I should say often rather than usually, but it is certainly frequent enough to ben notable, at least in Australia. Family research show that my great-grandfather, who arrived in Australia at the time of the gold rush, was also Edmund.

  • Fran Ludwig says:

    Having repeating names over generations can help to confirm family connections ,, but can also be confusing, as in baptismal info on my great great grandmother, Johannah Harrington from Eyeries on the Beara Penninsula in Cork. There were 2 Johannas baptized in the same church in 1846. The father’s name, Cornelius, was also passed down but again there were several.

  • Kathy McCann says:

    My husband’s grandfather told us his family came from County Kilkenny over to California during the Gold Rush, however, another family member says they came from Cork. We don’t know if that means they sailed from Cork or resided there. He was a child in San Francisco during the earthquake of 1906 and we have not been able to easily find records, believing they were destroyed during the fires in the city after the quake. We would love some help with this if anyone has some information.

  • Penny says:

    My grandmother family was from Cork, Dennis McAuluffe , several Dennis. , his father was Florence McAuluffe. Wife and daughters named Mabel R.
    Can anyone tell me about the McAuluffe in Cork?
    Came to San Franciso Calufornia in or about 1880-85.
    Mcauliffe or McAuliffe spelled two different ways.

    • Renee Fitzpatrick says:

      Hi Penny,
      I have 12 McAuliffe’s in my tree. I’ve researched and researched. There are thousands of them, I am not exaggerating. I have even researched on Google. I have yet to see a match.

      It is quite frustrating and I have to admit I gave up!

      Good luck!!

  • Malone, probably from Co.Clare we’re smitten with the names Martin, William, Thomas, as well as Annie and Louise.Less common but stil repeating are Marie and Teresa.

  • Jude Curtis Levine says:

    The combination that came down in our Y line, is James Francis Curtis. It was not the original emigrant’s name. That was John. So I’m assuming that James could possibly have been John’s father and older brother. But John named his first American-born son JF, and it was meaningful enough that the family continued to name the eldest male child James Francis down to the IVth, my brother, who sadly died young and so the line was broken. The surname is supposedly Norman. Does the choice of those names hint at any political position/sense of identity? There are many James in Gaelic origin families, but I’ve scarcely seen Francis. Is there any chance it could have come from an attachment to the the Franciscans . Was the order dominant in any particular area of Ireland. I’m desperately searching for any hints that would lead me to home county of origin, so any help at all would be seriously appreciated. Thanks.

  • My surname is McCrory. They are from Larga, Co Antrim, Ulster IR. They came over from Belfast Ulster IR to South Carolina USA about 1775. Common names that run through our family to this day are: John, Thomas, James & William. I have 2 brothers – one is named John and the other James.

  • Laura McGinley says:

    Patrick is a name in my family through the generations. My niece’s name is Kelli. Her parents had 2 names picked out and wanted to see which suited her. She has red hair.

  • Irene Power Worley says:

    My family surname is Power, from Kilkenny. I am also a decentant of the O’Loughlins from Co Clare and the Clear family from Tipperary. I was wondering if the Clear name would be a diritive of the Clearbhall clan?

  • Memarge says:

    My first name is the Spanish equivalent of my mother’s sister Margaret. The names Mary, Ann, Margaret, Louise, Jane, and Elizabeth prevail for female members of my mother’s Scots and Irish families. For the men Robert, James, Charles, Cornelius, Hugh, John, and Francis are the toppers.

    I determined not to have such plain names for my children–Kerin, Sandra (name not my choice), and Renny. Then after I was done bearing kids and my daughters had most of their kids, I finally realized my name was part of a chain of family history. I am a young great-grandmother but none of my greats has a variation of my name. One of my girls still wants a child and I said to her, “if you get pregnant and have boy, you could name him Garret. Or if you get a girl, some nice variation of Margaret would be nice.”

    • Renee Fitzpatrick says:

      I am so happy to see the name Cornelius! There are many in my family, both in Cronin and Morey. They were in County Cork.

  • Jacqueline Coulson Clements says:

    My second great grandfather, b. 1789 and d. 1875 in County Tyrone was John Coulson (have never discovered his birthplace but susoect it may have been Scotland). His wife’s name was Mary Caruthers or Struthers and their sons were John and David, John being my great grandfather who wed a Clara Carey. (There were many females doen the line called Clara Carey and I still do not have the full count.) My grandfather was Robert Coulson b. 1875 at County Tyrone, his elder brother was David. Grandfather Robert Coulson had but one child, my father, whose name was John who wed a Mary! Their first two children were girls … Helen and Mary. I, the third child, was hopefully the son they yearned for to be named John but, alas, yet a third daughter so they named me Jacqueline!

  • Colleen says:

    My Collins’s seem to have many James’s with it which ran in to my Hollands when the Collins married Hollands who have a lot of James’s too. James’s everywhere through the last 7 generations 🙂

  • Maureen says:

    My grandmother Mary Loretta O’Connells mother was Johanna Cullity. I cannot find ANYTHING on this surname. Any ideas?

  • Margaret Garguilo says:

    My mother’s father was Patrick Murphy, kind of like John Smith in America. We haven’t been able to find anything on him except he worked for Watkins-Cashman Express co. in NYC. He immigrated from Ireland but new can’t find out from where? CAshman was my grandmother’s surname. Can’t find anything on her family either. It is fascinating when something does appear. My father’s mother came from Tubernavine (spelling?) in Co. Mayo. Got a little on her.

  • Margaret Garguilo says:

    Her name was Catherine Haggerty

  • Margaret Garguilo says:

    Sorry I meant to add these: First names repeated many times in our family, John, Margaret, Catherine, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph,

  • Phyllis Cantwell says:

    thomas Cantwell, They were in Tipperary & Killkeny

    There was a castle that they lived in

  • Michele Krogh says:

    The male names repeated in my paternal grandmother’s line, (Stackpoles from Cork), are Michael, William and John. They all seem to marry women named Mary! Very difficult to sort out here in the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada area. Michael Stackpole and family arrived here in 1820s, followed by brother, William and family. Other females are named Bridget, Honorah and Catherine, in almost every family! I have not found the family in Ireland yet. They are listed as coming from Glanworth, Glanworth. Anyone else researching Stackpoles? Other surnames in my tree are Hayes, Buckley and Nelligan all from Cork. Thank you.

  • Edward Slattery says:

    Very interesting Mike. My family name is Slattery and it seems among the boys that the name Patrick (born in Ireland), John , Robert and Edward (in the states) were from the original immigrant Slattery family in NYC. As far as the female part of the family: my GG Grandmother was Margaret and her daughters were Mary, Annie (Anne ?) and Catherine. There was also a Catti, which I imagine was short for Catherine; please correct me if I am wrong. My question is from the male side, did family have an order of given names (was Patrick always the first son or was it the father’s name for the 1st son?), that would be an interesting topic – order of given names.

  • Juneen Fink says:

    Bailey ??

  • Charlotte Porter says:

    I enjoyed reading your emails about the Irish names. My GG Grandfather was born in Carrun County Kerry, but was raised in Cork. His name was Jeremiah P. O’Sullivan. He married a Johanna O’Sullivan (who had been married to another O’Sullivan before) and had 2 children, Kathleen and Daniel. Jeremiah & Johanna had 4 children born in Arne and Kenmare Kerry County (Cornelius, Jeremiah, Catherine and Eugene). I don’t know Johanna’s maiden name (thinking it might have been Walsh). We don’t know the Parish’s name to find out who Jeremiah P O’Sullivan parents were. All info was taken to Chicago, Illinois, USA with Johanna, Kathleen and Daniel, but we can’t find any of their children, grandchildren, etc. The rest of the kids were scattered all of the US.

  • Russell Raney says:

    We named our son Aidan. And he wasn’t named after Aidan Quinn, rather St. Aidan. Otherwise my father’s side of the family had numerous Williams, Margarets & Marys. They likely immigrated to the U.S. from County Armagh and/or Antrim.

  • Tania sweeney says:

    Dear mike my gg grandfathers first name was Bernard, his surname Sweeney from corhownagh Ballisodare Sligo. I would have thought Bernard was a very unusual name for an Irishman. He was a soldier who came to Australia guarding convicts and stayed. Regards Tania Sweeney

  • Jane Spellane Fasone says:

    I just reread this and a question has been answered. My maternal grandmother had a first sister named Bridget named for the father’s mother Bridget died just before Catherine (for the maternal grandmother) and then my grandmother-Mary. The fourth daughter was called Bessie and when she died, she was buried as Elizabeth which we all thought her name was. When Bessie’s daughter wrote to Ireland for a birth certificate, none was recorded but there was a Bridget whose birthday was a few days off. Her daughter was upset as she was trying to have her son’s births registered and give them dual citizenship. From reading the reply’s, I see Bessie was used as a name for Bridget. Shame on the Heritage Center for not telling the American family this. In America the name Polly is used when Mary is repeated in families but in my American family we explain that to non Americans

  • […] which means “Two people shorten the road” – and we do feel that having your company here on the Letter makes it a very enjoyable Irish Heritage Journey! Last week, I wrote a letter all about the “typical” first names in old Irish families (or as someone suggested, the “approved list”) – you can read that letter here. […]

  • Eleanore F Perry says:

    There are a lot of John’s and Thomas Joseph’s in my KENNY family tree. My great grandmother, Annie (Gallagher) Kenny had eleven children and she gave all her sons middle names after Saints.