Doyle: surname meaning, origin, and popularity explained

This week we are looking into the popular Irish surname Doyle, one of the most ancient names in Ireland. What you probably didn’t know was that this Irish surname actually comes from the Vikings. We’ll explain more about that later on.

The name is very popular not just in Ireland but worldwide. It is the 419th most popular name in the US with over 67,000 people with the name. Meanwhile, in Canada, it is the 284th most popular name with just over 15,000 people with the surname Doyle.

So, what is the story behind this well-known and loved Irish name? Every name has a story after all. Read below to find out more about the famous surname Doyle.

Meaning – tall, dark, and handsome … stranger?

The surname Doyle originates from the Viking era, meaning "dark" and "foreigner".

Now, what is the meaning behind the surname Doyle, you ask? The surname comes from the Irish name O’Dubhghaill, meaning ‘descendant of Dubhghall’.

The word “Dubhghall” contains the words meaning “dark” (hair colour) and “stranger” or “foreigner”, roughly “dark foreigner”.

In the Viking era, the word “Dubhghoill” was used to describe the Vikings and more specifically the Danish Vikings as they normally had darker hair compared to the Norwegian Vikings who were referred to as “Fionnghoill”.

This meant “fair stranger” or “fair foreigner” as they usually had lighter coloured hair. These two different words were used to distinguish between them.

As well as having Viking origins, there is a Scottish form and variations of the surname including MacDowell, McDowell, MacDougall, and McDougall. The Doyle clan is definitely well spread out around the world it would seem.

It is also theorised that the name originated in reference to the Black Irish – a derogatory term for the Norman invaders of Ireland.

Today, the surname Doyle is most prominent in Counties Dublin, Wicklow, Carlow, Kerry, and Wexford. The motto written on the Doyle family coat of arms is ‘Fortitudine Vincit’, which translates to the words ‘He conquers by strength’.

The stag portrayed in the coat of arms acts as a symbol of permanence and endurance.

History and origin ­– battle of the Doyles

In 1014, tensions were rising among Brian Brou, the High King of Ireland at the time and the King of Leinster. With the support of the Dublin Vikings, the King of Leinster went to battle with Boru. This was known as the Battle of Clontarf.

As previously mentioned, the surname Doyle actually comes from the Vikings and is steeped in Irish history. If you need a bit of refreshing on your Viking history, the Vikings first invaded Ireland in 795 AD.

They raided many monasteries and villages searching for gold and silver during their time here. However, they built many impressive cities that we still have today such as Waterford, Dublin, and Limerick.

The surname Doyle originates from the Vikings in Ireland.
Credit: Flickr / Hans Splinter

In 1014, tensions were rising among Brian Brou, the High King of Ireland at the time and the King of Leinster. With the support of the Dublin Vikings, the King of Leinster went to battle with Boru. This was known as the Battle of Clontarf.

This battle eventually saw the defeat of the Vikings by Brian Boru and his army. Unfortunately, Boru was killed in battle but his army regained control of Ireland.

The Vikings, the original nameholders of the Doyle surname, eventually adopted the customs and rituals of the Irish and even intermarried with the locals and spoke the language.

Popularity – not just Doyles in Ireland

The Doyle surname is one of the most popular in Ireland, and is popular in the US and Canada.

Doyle is a very popular surname in Ireland today. In fact, it is the 12th most common surname on this island. It is found mostly in the province of Leinster.

With the devastation that the famine brought in the 1800s, many Irish moved to places like the US, UK, and Australia, which is why the name is now popular worldwide.

The US has the most people with the surname Doyle, followed by Ireland. Surprisingly, the name Doyle is found in South Africa and Yemen. Did the Vikings visit there too?

Famous people with the surname Doyle – tea, anybody?

Arthur Conan Doyle and Roddy Doyle are both accomplished writers.

Arthur Conan Doyle was a British writer and physician who came from an Irish Catholic family. He is best known for his work as a writer.

Ever heard of Sherlock Holmes? Well, this is the man who brought the iconic character to life. He also wrote science fiction and historical fiction.

Geraldine Doyle was an American model whom you’ve definitely seen her face and her bicep. She was the poster girl for the “We can do it!” World War II campaign posters that have become synonymous with women’s rights movements ever since.

Geraldine wasn’t actually aware that she was on this poster until 1982 when she was flicking through a magazine and spotted the picture.

Roddy Doyle is a well-known Irish novelist and screenwriter from Dublin. Some of his highly successful work includes The Commitments, The Snapper, The Van, and The Giggler Treatment. He was awarded the Booker Prize in 1993 for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.

Mrs Doyle is a famous fictional TV character from Father Ted.
Credit: Flickr / Mike Licht

Jack Doyle was a famous Irish boxer and Hollywood star in the 1930s. He was known as ‘The Gorgeous Gael’. He starred in movies such as Navy Spy and The Belles of St Trinians.

Anne Doyle is a household name around this country. She presented the news on RTÉ for many years. Her soothing voice and calm demeanour could make even the worst news stories sound not too bad.

Mrs Doyle is the fictional character from the cult classic show Father Ted. Played by Pauline McLynn, Mrs Doyle is one of the funniest characters to grace our screens.

From her insistence on making everyone tea to keeping law and order in a house full of priests, she’s truly iconic.

Notable mentions

Other notable mentions with the Doyle surname.

Kevin Doyle: Irish soccer player who played internationally for Ireland and starred for Reading in the Premier League.

Craig Doyle: Irish TV presenter, who has also worked for the BBC, ITV, and BT Sport.

Maria Doyle Kennedy: Irish singer-songwriter, whose career has lasted an incredible three decades.

John Doyle: An Irish painter and political cartoonist, whose pen name was H.B.

FAQs about the Doyle surname

Are all Irish surnames in Irish?

Not anymore. Many Irish surnames have been anglicised.

Do you take your husband’s surname when you get married in Ireland?

It is tradition, but you don’t have to.

Are there other famous people with the surname Doyle? 

Yes. There is John Doyle, the Irish rock bassist. There is Mary Doyle, the ‘Heroine of New Ross’, Edward Doyle, an early NFL player, and United States MLB player James Doyle. 

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