Distinctive Irish first names are gaining tremendous popularity not only in Ireland but all over the world, especially in America. This may be due to the success of people like Saoirse Ronan, Fionnghuala Manon —Fionnula Flanagan, Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy and others on the world stage. In this feature, journalist Ger Leddin looks at some of the less common Irish first names that are gaining or in some cases losing popularity both at home in Ireland and across the world.
A given name or a first name or forename or Christian name, call it what you will, is nearly always decided upon by a child’s parents and stays with the child through to adulthood and into old age. In Ireland in particular, it is quite common to name children after parents or grandparents, and sometimes a diminutive version of the name is used for the child as in Johnny as opposed to John or Noely instead of Noel.
According to the Central Statistics Office, the five most popular names given to newborns in Ireland during 2017 were: Jack, James, Daniel, Conor, and Sean for boys with Emily, Emma, Amelia, Grace and Sophie the most popular for girls.
Interestingly and as a comparison, The CSO reports that in 1967 the most famous names for boys were: John, Michael, Patrick, James and Paul, while for girls it was Mary, Margaret, Catherine, Ann and Anne.
If you follow social media and statistical sites in America, over the past two years, you will notice that family and child orientated publications and blogs are reporting more and more on the popularity of distinctive Irish first names for children. Perhaps it is the romanticism or maybe the meanings behind the names, but names like Saoirse and Bradan are becoming trendy on the other side of the pond. Let’s have a look at some of these — in no particular order — and what they actually mean.
Saoirse is the Irish word for freedom. The name became popular in Ireland during the 1920’s — I wonder why — but in a way drifted out of popularity to a certain degree during the forties and fifties. A slight resurgence has occurred in this decade, and the CSO ranked it the fifteenth most popular Irish girls name given during 2017.
Although being derived from the old Gaelic word meaning dream or vision the given name Aisling didn’t come into widespread usage as a girl’s name in Ireland until well into the 20th century. During 2017, Aisling was the 86th most popular name for new-born girls in Ireland and coming in at between 140 and 200 for popularity in the United States over the past decade.
Kayla is another Gaelic girl’s first name that is gaining popularity across the Atlantic. Kayla in the Gaelic language means slender. The name its self also has Greek, Hebrew and Arabic roots where it generally means pure-one or one of joy. While considered a relatively recent addition as a given name to the Irish it is gaining in popularity and ranked 70th in the choice of female first names given in Ireland during 2017. The variant spelling Kaylee was ranked as the 35th most popular girl’s name in the USA also during 2017.
Erin is the poetic Irish language name for Ireland, not really very popular over the past decades but shows sign of gaining immense popularity in recent years not only in Ireland but also throughout North America. The name was ranked the 58th most-popular by the CSO for 2017.
Interestingly you would think that the given name Tara which is closely associated to Ireland would be quite common here, but in fact, it is actually not that popular on the Island; being excluded from the top 100 girl’s chosen names during 2017.
Tara — the ritual site of the High Kings of Ireland — actually means a high-tower or crag, The name was ranked as the 982nd most popular in the United States for 2017, and its usage has been on a steady decline since its highest popularity in 1967 when it reached 5000 babies per million.
Both Ireland and America are also seeing a rapid increase in Romantic and ancient Celtic male given names: let’s take a look at some of the most popular Irish boys names.
Liam was the 15th most popular boy’s given-name for new-borns in Ireland during 2017 and the most popular boy’s name in the United States. Liam has been the most popular boy’s name in Canada since 2013. Liam, meaning strong-willed warrior, it’s the shortened form of the first name Uilliam, which originated from the Frankish Willahelm, meaning helmet of will.
Logan is a name which can be given to both male and females. It is derived from the Gaelic word lagan which means a hollow. As a boys name, Logan is the 41st most common name chosen in Ireland during 2017 while in the same year it was the fifth most popular boy’s name in America. In America, the popularity of the name has risen dramatically from 124 babies per million in 1977 to a high of 7,388 babies per million in 2007 and has remained in and about at that level for the past decade.
Callum is both a Scottish and Irish Gaelic name that is derived from the Latin name Columba. It is believed that the name means Dove King — the dove being an early Christian symbol of purity, peace and the Holy Spirit. The name in Ireland was the 43rd most popular choice for male babies while in the United States it was 611th. The popularity of the name for American babies seems to be on the rise from 45 babies per million in 2001 to 229 in 2017.
Micheál is the Irish language version of Michael. Irish parents often officially register a child using the English version of a name but will then refer to the child using the Irish language version, which stays with the child from later on.
This might explain the absence of the name Micheál from the CSO list of the one-hundred most popular given names for 2017 in Ireland. Micheál derived from the Gaelic name for Michael and meaning Godlike is Hebrew in origin and was the 886th choice for American parents during 2017.
Ryan is a prevalent surname in Ireland and surprisingly also very popular as a first name for boys, being the 24th most popular chosen name in 2017. Across the Atlantic the name is also trendy for new-born babies, 40th in the top one-hundred picked by parents during 2017. In Gaelic, it means descendant of the king. Interestingly it became very popular in America during the mid-seventies — where it averaged at 16,000 babies per million around the time of the release of the movie Love Story starring actor Ryan O Neill of Irish descent.
There you have it, with 130 million babies born through the world each year; chances are that many of them will be gifted with a trendy Irish first name. So if you are likely to become a parent soon perhaps, it’s time you started thinking about names.