A Letter from Ireland:
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What’s Your Name in Irish?

Do you know your name in Irish? Many people have family nicknames, or shortened names, from their more formal forenames. In this letter we will examine Irish first names, to see how they match up with your own forename.

Céad Míle Failte from County Cork – and I hope you are keeping well wherever you are. The weather is “calm as a dove” here at the moment. How are things in your part of the world today? Earlier this week, one of our Green Room members posted a picture from her native South Dakota – it showed a cow and calf buried up to their heads in snow and was taken just before being rescued! I think I’ll welcome the “soft rain” of Ireland for a little while longer! I hope the weather is treating you well wherever you are.

I’m writing later than normal this morning – and on my fourth cup of Barry’s tea. I hope you’ll join me with a cup of whatever you fancy as we start into today’s letter. Today, we’ll spend a little time on your name – so, we’ll keep it nice and personal!

Do you know your given name in Irish? Many popular names have an Irish equivalent – names like Seán for John, Máire for Mary and so on. And then there are some slightly more challenging ones.

More About Your Name in Irish.

Not so long ago, the following question popped up in conversation over in the Green Room:

“If you were looking for an Irish-related first name for your new baby (or wanted to gently hint about one for your grandchild)? What would it be?”

I provided some of my own favourites … and then … I spent a number of days replying to wonderful suggestions, stories, regrets and questions! It got me thinking, maybe we should have a shot today at “given names”.

Five Sisters and One Baby.

My own mother, whose anniversary occurs at this time of year, was brought up in east  County Galway. She was one of ten children (five sisters and five brothers) on a small farm her father having died when the eldest was only eleven.

Her given name was Margaret – but no one called her that, she was always called by her middle name – Philomena. This also led to the unusual situation later in life where one of my parents was called Phil Collins and the other Jackie Collins.

I find that this is often typical in Irish families – a person’s used name is not always the one mentioned on the records, just to make your ancestry research a little more difficult! Maybe you have an Irish ancestor who was always known by their middle name?

Right, back to my mother’s family. Her eldest sister was Pauline. The eldest girl in an Irish 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 got older. Next down was Bridie which is short for Bridget. In my mother’s time – both boys and girls adopted the names of various saints as given names. It was only in my generation that many of the older Irish names started to come back into vogue.

And then along came the youngest girl – whom everybody called “Baby” when she was born – but they kept calling her “Baby” long after younger children came along. I remember my mother calling us kids together to go visit “Baby’s house” – even when Baby was a forty-year old mother of four! And so a nickname sneaks into everyday use. Through the 1950s, nine of these ten siblings emigrated all over the world – to the UK, Canada and the USA – while the eldest boy stayed at home with the farm.

So, today – let’s now have a look at some familiar “English” names – and share some old Irish equivalents. Now, note some of these names are “equivalents” as opposed to direct translations. Many of the Irish names mentioned existed before the equivalent English ones.

English  Names and Irish Equilavents.

Let’s start with some girls names:

  • English: Jane/Janet – Equivalent Irish: Sinéad (pronounced “Shin-ade”).
  • English: Barbara – Equivalent Irish: Gormladh (pronounced “Gurm-la”).
  • English: Joan/Joanna – Equivalent Irish: Siobhán (pronounced “Shiv-awn”).
  • English: Margaret – Equivalent Irish: Mairéad (pronounced “Mire-ade”).
  • English: Elizabeth – Equivalent Irish: Sibeal (pronounced “Sybil”).
  • English: Grace – Equivalent Irish: Gráinne (pronounced “Grawn-ya”).

And on to the boys:

  • English: Charles – Equivalent Irish: Cathal (pronounced “Caw-hal”). This also gives us the surname Cahill. As you may be aware, most Irish surnames are derived from first names.
  • English: Terrence/Terry – Equivalent Irish: Turlough (pronounced “Tur-lock”)
  • English: James – Equivalent Irish: Séamus (pronounced “Shay-mus”) – often Shay for short.
  • English: Daniel – Equivalent Irish: Domhnall/Dónal (pronounced “Dough-nal”). This also gives us the surnames McDonnell and O’Donnell. Think of “Daniel O’Donnell”.
  • English: Timothy – Equivalent Irish: Tadhg (pronounced “tie-g”).
  • English: Dermot – Equivalent Irish: Diarmuid (pronounced “dear-mid”).

What about all the “Patricks” and “Patricias” out there? In Ireland, the actual Irish for Patrick is often used – it is “Pádraig” and pronounced “Paw-drig”. HOWEVER, in Munster especially, most Pádraigs are pronounced “Paw-rick” and often the shorter version of that is used – “Paudie” (pronounced “Paw-dy”). So, you Patricks might want to try on these alternatives for a change!

Well, that’s it on “given names” for a while. How about you – do feel free to reply below and share the Irish names in your family!

Slan for now, Mike and Carina.

  • Patricia says:

    In my family we have, Michael, Timothy, Shannon, Colleen and Patricia.

  • Alexis says:

    Dia duit! My name is Alexis. Are there any Irish translations for that Go? Probably not, however, I figured I would ask. 🙂 Thank you for sharing your family name traditions! I love learning about Irish traditions, well anything Irish to be honest. 💚 I never realized how hard it would really be finding my ancestors in Ireland!! I’m currently searching for my birth family (through Ancestry), and it has been a challenge! Go raibh maith agaibh! (I am currently learning Irish 😥🙄🙏 It’s challenging, yet addictve all at once!!) Slán agat! 💚🤗

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