Top 10 Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce

There are some Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce. Did your name make the list?

The Gaelic Irish language has produced some of the most beautiful names around. But should you choose one of them to call your little one, there’s a chance you may be dooming your child to a lifetime of confused looks from foreigners while abroad.

No matter how many times they’re repeated, some people just can’t wrap their head around popular Gaelic Irish names such as Siobhan and Tadgh. Unfortunately, Irish surnames are no exception. 

Some Irish surnames trip up even the most seasoned American, Australian, or anyone not native to the Emerald Isle. And there are a few so difficult to pronounce (let alone spell) that even Irish folk struggle!

Here are the top ten Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce.

10. Cahill

Do you know how to pronounce Cahill?

The original Gaelic form of Cahill was “Mac Cathail” or “O’Cathail”. Eventually, it became popular as the first name ‘Cathal’, which is generally anglicized as Charles.

Whether as a first name or surname, Cahill has confused many foreigners and even some Irish folk. The common go-to seems to be “KAY-Hill”, much to the irritation of those who share this surname. 

The correct pronunciation is “CA-hill”.

9. O’Shea

O'Shea is another of the top mispronounced surnames.

This traditional Irish surname takes inspiration from the Gaelic word “séaghdha”, meaning “stately” or “hawklike”. Originating from County Kerry, you’ll still find many O’Shea’s still living there.

The common go-to mispronunciation for this one is “oh-SHAY”, for Irish and non-Irish alike. However, you should say this name “oh-SHEE”. 

8. Kinsella

Kinsella is a great Irish name you should learn how to say.

Irish kids with this last name will often experience some confusion from their classmates. Americans, Aussies, and New Zealanders seem to struggle with this one in particular. The trick with this name is on which syllable you place the emphasis.

While some say “Kin-SELL-A”, this Irish surname should be pronounced as “KIN-Sel-La”.

7. Moloughney

Moloughney is another frequently mispronounced name.

Although a rare Irish surname, Moloughney still trips people up when it makes an appearance. The name is said to originate from an ancient Gaelic sept name “O’Maoldhomhnaigh”, which means “servant of the Church of Ireland” or “servant of God.”

Originating in County Clare, this name has seen many variations across the Emerald Isle, including including “MacLoughney”, “Maloney”, and “O’Maloney”. Pronounce this one “mo-lock-ney”.

6. Tobin

Tobin is another of the top Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce.

This name trips people up a lot, but it actually has one of the simplest pronunciations on the list. Tobin derives from the Gaelic name “Tóibín”, which is the Irish version of St. Aubyn (of French-Norman roots).

While most people seem to hazard a guess “TOB-in” or “TUB-in”, this name is actually just pronounced phonetically as “TOE-bin”. It is also known by such variations of Torbyn or Tobyn, amongst others.

5. Gallagher

Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce has to include Gallagher.

To be fair, there is a fair share of locals who struggle with this Irish surname. If you’ve ever heard an interview with Oasis, you’ll know exactly what we mean.

The Irish are fond of the odd wee silent letter (or 5), and Gallagher is no exception. Say it like “GALL-Ah-Her”, not “GALL-Ag-Ger”.

4. O’Mahony

O'Mahony is another of the top Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce.

To the untrained eye, this looks just like any other Irish name. Yet somehow it seems to trip up Irish and non-Irish alike.

You’ll find that in Cork they manage to turn it into three syllables (Oh-Maaaaahny). Others pronounce it “Oh-Ma-HOE-Nee”.

Pronounce it “Oh-MAH-Ha-Nee” to be on the safe side.

3. Coughlan/Coughlin

Coughlan is another of the top Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce.

This has got to be one of the most contentious Irish surnames around. Despite the name reaching the spotlight recently with Derry Girls favourite Nicola Coughlan shooting to fame, some people are still none the wiser about how to pronounce this name.

No, it’s not pronounced “COFF-Lan”, “COCK-Lan”, or “COG-Lan”.

Try “CAWL-An”/”COR-Lan” instead.

2. O’Shaughnessy

Another of the top Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce is O'Shaughnessy.

While this name looks like it just has way too many S’s to be an actual word, it is, in fact, a common Irish surname.

While you might be tempted to pronounce it “Oh-Shaun-Nessy”, like many Americans have been known to do, you should give “Oh-Shock-Nessy” a go instead.

1. Keogh

Keogh is one of the top Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce.

Okay, so this has got to be one of the Irish surnames even Irish people struggle to pronounce.

Perhaps it’s those pesky silent letters again, or the fact that trying to pronounce a Gaelic name phonetically doesn’t really do much good.

One of the many attempts people usually make is “KEE-Oh”. It should be pronounced as “KYOH”.

Regardless of how difficult many of us seem to find pronouncing or spelling some of these traditional Irish surnames, there’s no denying that they’re some of the most beautiful family names about. And the best thing is, wherever you travel in the world with one of these names, you’ll never be mistaken as anything but Irish! 

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Born in County Down, Lewis Sloan is a writer who has a passion for Irish travel and history. While studying toward a Master's in English Literary Studies at Queen's University Belfast, he held the role of Features Editor for The Gown, Belfast's largest independent student newspaper. When not writing, he can be found practicing yoga or petting every cat he meets on the street.