The Irish language has a rich history, and although it’s not commonly spoken outside the Gaeltacht regions, it’s still frequently represented in its beautiful names. Some of these have spread around the world, but – from the more familiar to the unique, magical and timeless, including examples straight out of Irish legends and folktales – they all have an Irish-language origin. With St Patrick’s Day approaching, let’s look at the many names that hail from the Emerald Isle and the meaning behind each one. Here’s our list of the most beautiful names in the entirety of the Irish language.
Saoirse (pronounced seer-sha) is a feminine name that rose to popularity during the 1920s. Given its meaning, freedom, it may well have been in response to Irish independence, which had dominated the previous decade and the early ’20s. Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan, star of famous films including Brooklyn (2015), Atonement (2007) and The Lovely Bones (2009), has helped the world to recognise (and pronounce) the name.
A fairly common feminine name in Ireland, Caoimhe is pronounced kee-va and comes from the Irish caomh, meaning dear or noble. It originates from the same root as the masculine name Caoimhín (pronounced kee-veen).
Derived from aoibh, meaning beauty, Aoife (eefa) is another feminine name. It’s from the same root word as Aoibheann (ay-veen or eve-een), also a popular moniker. There are several figures named Aoife in Irish mythology, including the daughter of Airdgeimm, the sister of Scáthach, and the wife of King Lir.
Fionnoula (literally fair-shouldered, an unusual meaning) is a feminine name steeped in mythology, along with several other inclusions on this list. In the Children of Lir myth, Fionnoula was a child turned into a swan by her stepmother. Pronounced finn-oola, the shortened version, Nuala (noola), is also a common name, perhaps even more so than its antecedent.
This name is the first masculine one on the list, pronounced either dah-hee or daw-hee, and meaning agility or speed. During the 1960s, Dáithí Lacha was a rough equivalent of Donald Duck. An odd children’s television show, it took the format of a comic strip that was shown a frame at a time and narrated as Gaeilge (in Irish).
This one has a mercifully simple pronunciation, pronounced exactly as you would expect. In Irish, it means friend, but the moniker also evolved separately in several languages. It’s a popular name in its Latin form, which means beloved. In Spanish, the word means expensive; in Vietnamese, diamond; and in Hausa, to complain.
This masculine name means high valour, an impressive description. Like Cara, Ardál is fairly easy to pronounce (ardal or awr-dahl). The acute accent seen over a few of the letters on this list is known as a fada; it lengthens the pronunciation of the vowel. You might recognise the name Ardal O’Hanlon, Ireland’s national treasure who starred in Father Ted as bumbling priest Father Dougal McGuire.
Aisling is a common feminine name with many variants, including Aislin and Aislinn, as well as the anglicised versions of Ashlyn and Ashlynn. This variance extends to the moniker’s pronunciation, as it can range from ash-leen and ash-linn to ash-ling. The name comes from the word for dream or vision and previously referred to a genre of Irish-language poetry that flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Like Aisling, this one has several variants: Odran, Odrán, Odhran or Oran, the phonetic spelling. A masculine name meaning dark-haired, there are several saints in Irish history called Odhrán, including the first Irish Christian martyr, who was a companion of St Patrick.
This one doesn’t technically come from the Irish language, as it’s a Gaelicisation of Patrick, after Ireland’s patron saint. Pronounced pawd-rig, other versions include Padraic (pawd-ric) and Paraic (paw-ric).
Deirdre (deer-dra or deer-dree) is one of the most well-known figures in Irish mythology, also known as Deirdre an Bhróin, or Deirdre of the Sorrows. It might be a gloomy name, but it’s made our list nonetheless.