Irish Baby Names You Can’t Say (But Sound Lovely When You Do)

Best Irish Baby names you can't say but sound lovely when you do

Baby names can have so many different meanings- either based in language, culture, or just personal meaning for the family.

Naming your baby is a deeply responsible process. Research has found that a person’s name often shapes people’s perception of them, especially when put in front of a group of candidates without faces attached to the names. However, many parents want to give their children a name that is meaningful to them. Sometimes this can mean using a family name and sometimes this means using a name based on their heritage and culture, even if that heritage or culture has been lost from years of assimilation.

These 20 different Irish baby names are adorable, meaningful, and lovely- once you figure out how to pronounce them. They all have a special meaning, many of them based on Irish folklore. Look below to see if anything strikes your fancy, Lassy, before your wee one makes their appearance.

For the Lasses

Aibhlinn (ave-leen)
Longed for, wished for. Aibhlinn is a one of the Gaelic names that Americans might be able to “get” after only a few encounters. There are quite a few similar names in English. You may like this name if you have been thinking of the names Eileen, Evelyn, Mabel, Abilene.  Though the name may have Norman roots, it doesn’t stop us from loving the ethereal and lovely sound of it. This is one of those names that works equally well for an infant as it does a child, adult, and old lady. There’s the possibility for many nice nicknames including: Ave, Avey, Leen, Leeny.

Saoirse (SEAR-sha)
Gaelic for freedom or liberty. Saoirse has been in use as a name since the 1920s.  The name has strong patriotic overtones and has been fairly popular in Ireland. You may be familiar with Saoirse Ronan, the actress from Brooklyn.  There is some debate among the Irish diaspora here in states over how it is pronounced. Some say “SAYR-sha,” some “SOR-sha,” and some agree with Frank McCourt and I in the “SEAR-sha” pronunciation. I’ve seen young women in Ireland posting in discussions about the name that their friends call them “SEERSH.” Our daughter is Saoirse, and when she doesn’t want to deal with the ignorant Sassenach she will write “Siri” on her name tag. Though saying Saoirse does sound a bit like Parseltongue, there is a nice power in the /r/ phoneme, wrapped in the softness of /s/ and /sh/. A solid choice for the modern girl. 

Niamh (NEE-iv)
Bright, radiant. Niamh was the golden-haired daughter of the sea god who rode a white horse. It’s a very popular name in Ireland.  Niamh (notice that the /h/ is often a /v/ sound?) is a strong name that conveys a bit of wit and cheekiness. A few imported television shows have characters named Niamh. 

Caoimhe (keeva)
Gentle, beautiful, precious. Caoimhe has the same root as Kevin, and is very popular in Ireland with this original Gaelic spelling. This name is not likely to ever be understood by an American girl’s community since there is nothing in the spelling to guide the English-speaker in pronunciation. Though a beautiful and powerful name, you have to be OK with either constantly correcting and spelling it out, or using an alternative spelling for the general population. Keyva, perhaps. 

Aoife (EE-fa)
Beautiful, radiant, joyful. Though it sounds waif-ish, the history of the name certainly is not. In Irish mythology, Aoife is the greatest woman warrior in the world, full of magic and power. This is the name to choose if you like Ava, Eva, Eve, Evie, or Alya but want something more Celtic. As with all of these names, you run the very high risk of mispronunciation. If uniqueness or meaning is more important to you than your child being called always by her rightful name, it is of little consequence that your sweet Aoife may often be called “ay-OH-eef” or “Aouf.” This name is often on the top of the charts in Ireland. 

Maebh (MAYV)
Cause of great joy. An Anglicized version is Maeve. The current Irish spelling, Maebh, is from the old Irish Madb.  One thing I’ve learned looking at Gaelic names for my children (and I imagine it’s the same with all names) is that there is little point in being purist about picking the ‘real’ or ‘original’ name. They have all changed. What is original or real in spellings and pronunciations depends on who you ask and who you are trying to impress. So just pick what you like best and best fits your child. Maebh is perhaps strongest of the girl names. She was a great warrior queen, star of the epic Cattle Raid of Cooley, a feminist heroine well before her time. 

Eabha (ey-va)

This is the Irish form of Eve (Adam and Eve are Ádhamh agus Éabha in Irish). It means ‘life,’ but comes with all of the connotations of the name Eve, i.e. the mother of all the living.

Orla

Also spelled Orlaith, this name means “golden princess” or “golden sovereign” in Irish. Both the sister and daughter of Brian Boru were named Orla.

Emer (eemer)

This name means “swift.” In the Irish legend, Eimear was the wife of warrior legend Cuchulainn, and was said to have possessed the six gifts of womanhood, which are beauty, a gentle voice, sweet words, wisdom, needlework and chastity.

Fionnuala (fi-noola)

A variation of the name Finnguala, which means ‘fair shoulder’ or ‘white shoulder,’ from “fionn” meaning white and “guala” meaning shoulder.

Muireann (mweer-in)

This name means “sea white, sea fair.” In Irish mythology, this was the name of a 6th century mermaid caught by a fisherman in Lough Neagh. He brought her to St. Comghall, who baptized her, transforming her into a woman.

For the Lads

Cian (KEY-in)
Ancient, enduring. Cian is on the the top ten boy names in Ireland. You can safely use it here, even in the US where we are uncomfortable with unique boy names. People will be able to pronounce it after an encounter or two and there are no scratchy-throaty /gh/ or other slightly off sounds of many of the (especially male) Gaelic names. You can spell it Kian and still say KEY-in if you want even fewer issues. 

Ciaran (KEER-an, KEER-awn)
Little dark one. This is a very popular name, the name of many saints. There are a few ways to Anglicize it if you want it pronounceable in the US. Kieran or Kierran are common re-spellings. Both this and Cian have sounds much like Kevin, so they maintain masculinity in our society.   

Deaglan (DECK-lan)
Full of goodness. The name of a famous saint, here’s a great name for a man. Written in its full glory, Deaglan has no trouble holding his own at the top of a resume. Lots of boys names begin with D, so there’s the added benefit of familiar male-ness, if that matters to you. Best of all, Deaglan has the benefit of being easily shortened to the nickname “Deck” or “Dec,” great for family and best mates, it also removes day-to-day awkwardness around the glottal stop in the middle. 

Eoghan (O-in)
Born of the yew tree. Yes, this is the Irish Owen. The good news about this Gaelic name is also the bad news. People will be able to remember and say it right, but no one will ever spell or read it correctly. Baby Eoghans in Ireland are often given middle name Roe, in honor of Eoghan Roe, the great 17th century Irish patriot and warrior.

Oisin (osh-EEN)
Little deer. If I had another son and no in-laws, I would name him Oisin. I would at least use it as a middle name. Oisin was the son of legendary warrior Fionn Mac Cool and the goddess Sive. He was reared in the forest, and therefore awesome. The name is popular in modern Ireland.

Darragh (darra)

Some translate Darragh into “fruitful” or “fertile,” and some translate the name into “dark oak” or “oak tree.” According to the Irish legend, Daire Mac Fiachna owned the Brown Bull of Cooley, and his refusal to sell it to Queen Maebh was part of the cause for the fight between Ulster and Connacht.

Rian (ree-an)

This name means “little king” or “kingly.” Diminutive of the Irish word for “king,” which is “rí.”

Tadhg (tige)

This name means “poet” or “bard” in Irish. It was the name of an 11th century King of Connacht

Lorcan

This name can mean either “silent” or “fierce.” Lorcan was the name of Brian Boru’s grandfather as well as two kings of Leinster. It was likely used as the nickname for a “brave warrior

 

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5 thoughts on “Irish Baby Names You Can’t Say (But Sound Lovely When You Do)”

  1. I live in Ireland. For Caoimhe, which is the name of my neice as well as many others, we pronounce as qwee-vah. The same as you would pronounce the quee in the word queen. I have heard it said Key as you’ve written but very very rarely and in my city that is seen as very unusual.

  2. Interesting. We live in the states and our daughter is named Caoilfhionn, which we pronounce Keelin. Before her birth in 2009 I did a lot of research into the correct pronounciation and even got in touch with Caoilfhionn

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