Irish name of the week: Saoirse

From pronunciation and meaning to fun facts and history, here’s a look at our Irish name of the week: Saoirse.

‘Sa-ors?’ ‘Sa-or-say?’ ‘Say-oh-ir-see?’ These attempts to pronounce the name Saoirse are not at all uncommon. People who are unfamiliar with Irish names usually find themselves quite baffled by this name at first glance. If this is you, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Read on to find out how to confidently pronounce Saoirse, and why this pretty Irish first name is considered a symbol of empowerment and celebration to the Irish people.

Pronunciation

Saoirse Ronan helps the audience pronounce her Irish name on the Ellen Show
Credit: The Ellen Degeneres Show / Instagram

Not to start on an overwhelming note, but the pronunciation of Saoirse is rather debatable. There are, in fact, four pronunciations, and which one you will hear will depend on where you find yourself on the Emerald Isle.

In the words of the very notable actress Saoirse Ronan, who spent her childhood in Dublin and Co. Carlow, her name is pronounced ‘Sur-sha’, like ‘inertia’. In Galway, however, you will likely hear ‘Sair-sha’, while in Northern Ireland, ‘Seer-sha’ is much more common. In another corner of Ireland, ‘Sor-sha’ might be the norm. It really is a matter of dialect.

Essentially, all those vowels allow plenty of room for variation, so take your pick!

Spellings and variants

A Starbucks barista has trouble spelling the Irish name Saoirse
Credit: @irishstarbucksnames / Instagram

If you have ever been a barista in a busy coffee shop, we bet that you have come across a customer with a name you have never heard of in your life. Perhaps you had no idea and no time to figure out how to spell it correctly, so you just went ahead and gave it your best shot (no pun intended).

The picture above shows an attempt at spelling Saoirse that started off well but veered off course towards the end. ‘Saoirse’ is the most common spelling, but, as seen in the 1988 fantasy movie Willow, the name can also be spelled ‘Sorsha’ on occasion. So baristas, when a lady with this name orders a latte to-go, you are now much more prepared.

Meaning

The Irish name Saoirse means freedom or liberty
Garden of Remembrance, Dublin (Credit: Kaihsu Tai)

Derived from the Irish word ‘saor’, which translates as ‘free’, ‘saoirse’ is literally the Irish noun for ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’. It’s no surprise that a name with such a lovely meaning is increasing in popularity nowadays (even outside of Ireland), but there is a meaning of much deeper significance behind the name Saoirse.

This feminine name emerged as a reference to the Irish people’s celebration of freedom after becoming independent from England on the 6th of December 1922. It therefore possesses a bold, republican connotation.

History

Commemorating the Irish War of Independence that was fought between 1919 and 1921, the above mural can be found just off the Falls Road in West Belfast. ‘Saoirse’ takes centre stage to highlight the significance and impact of Ireland’s independence from British rule.

Irish parents with a strong patriotic heart adopted the word as a first name for their daughters to represent their national and political pride. However, Saoirse apparently did not become an official name until 1960, so you certainly won’t find it in any of the older traditional Irish books!

Famous people and characters named Saoirse

Actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson in Derry Girls
Actress Saoirse-Monica Jackson in Derry Girls (Credit: Channel 4)

There are a handful of well-known Saoirses!

The incredibly talented Saoirse Ronan is very much proud of her name. However, during an appearance on Saturday Night Live, she joked that her first name is “…spelled wrong. It’s a full typo”.

On the daytime TV show This Morning, Ronan also shared that she used to get “annoyed” and “defensive” as a child when others had trouble pronouncing it, but now she finds people’s failed attempts “really funny”.

If you are a fan of the sitcom Derry Girls, you probably know that the actress who portrays Erin Quinn is another very gifted Saoirse. Hailing from Derry herself, Saoirse-Monica Jackson rose to international fame by starring in this hugely successful series.

This beautiful Irish name has also found its way into fiction. You may have seen the 2014 animated fantasy movie Song of the Sea, in which a girl named Saoirse is one of the main characters. The Irish television drama series Single-handed also features a Saoirse in its plot.

It might surprise you to know that one of Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughters was called Saoirse as well.

Although a recent name, our Irish name of the week, Saoirse, is no doubt making its mark in the world.

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Born and raised in Belfast, Esther Lewis is proud to call the Emerald Isle her home. She works at two of Belfast's top tourist attractions, Titanic Belfast and the Crumlin Road Gaol, where she has the wonderful privilege of meeting visitors from all around the world. As much as Esther loves the buzz of working in tourism, she also hopes to use her passion for writing to inspire people to experience Ireland's rich history and breathtaking beauty.