Top 10 Irish surnames nobody can pronounce

If you are one of the lucky ones to have inherited a traditional Irish surname, then there is no doubt that you will relate to this article. Here are the top ten Irish surnames nobody can pronounce.

It is common knowledge that when an Irish person with a typically Irish name travels abroad, they become almost accustomed to correcting the pronunciation of their names as if both go hand in hand.

First names such as Sinéad, Caoimhe, Domhnaill, or even Cathal are among the most mispronounced Irish names. But what about surnames, surely they’re just as important?

Irish surnames may seem quite familiar to us living here in Ireland, as we have been brought up hearing and saying them daily. But what about when you travel abroad, and suddenly you hear your name being called out in ways you never imagined possible.

You’re not alone, because it’s true that many of us can relate. So, we are here to put an end to the madness and finally set the record straight with the top ten Irish surnames nobody can pronounce – and how to actually say them the right way!

10. Mac Gabhann – or Smith in English

Mac Gabhann is a difficult Irish name to pronounce.

First up on our list of Irish surnames nobody can pronounce is Mac Gabhann. Let’s begin by learning that any name with Mac or Ó before it generally means ‘son of’.

This will generally make these name easier to understand and therefore easier to pronounce going forward. In Mac Gabhann, we say the ‘bh’ as if it is a ‘w’ and we get Mac Gawann.

9.  McLoughlin – it has ‘lough’ in the middle

McLoughlin is one of those Irish surnames nobody can pronounce.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Loughlann, traditionally a name used for Scandinavia and meaning ‘full of lakes’ or ‘loughs’, is one of the most common and most mispronounced Irish names.

Imagine the ‘gh’ is a ‘ck’, and you’ve got it. Try saying Mac-Lock-Linn.

8. Ó Domhnaill – or O’Donnell

Ó Domhnaill is a difficult Irish name.
Credit: Facebook / @DanielODonnellOfficial

Most of us have probably heard of Donegal singer Daniel O’Donnell or American comedian Rosie O’Donnell, but imagine if their name was spelt the Irish way.

Do you think many people around the world would be saying it right? Hmm, perhaps not!

Let’s take the ‘mh’ as an ‘oh’ sound, and we’re sorted: O-Doh-Nall

7. Meagher – or Maher in English

Irish surnames nobody can pronounce includes Meagher.
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It’s understandable that when a word has a ‘g’ in it, you automatically want to use it but when it comes to the Irish language, rules change.

Here let’s pretend the ‘g’ doesn’t exist and there we have it. Easy…ish. Ma-Her

6. Ó Buachalla – or Buckley in English

Ó Buachalla is a difficult Irish name to pronounce.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Next up on our list of Irish surnames nobody can pronounce is Ó Buachalla.

Interestingly, ‘buchaill’ meaning ‘boy’ in recent times used to mean ‘herdsman’ in old Ireland.

When saying this name, think ‘boo-kalla’, and you’re on a roll.

5. Ó Laoghaire – or O’Leary in English

Ó Laoghaire is one of those Irish surnames nobody can pronounce.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Just like the commonly mispronounced town in Dublin, Dún Laoghaire, this surname is no different.

It may look like a muddled up mouth full, but once you’ve got this one down, you’re a pro. Try saying O-Leery

4. Ó Mathùna – or O’Mahony in English

GAA player Aiden O’Mahony.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Next up on our list of Irish surnames nobody can pronounce is Ó Mathùna.

Now, what if we told you this was spoken as O Mahoona. Would you believe me?

Let’s just say that most Irish names sound nothing like they look.

3. Caomhánach – or Kavanagh

Irish surnames nobody can pronounce includes Caomhánach.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Funny enough, a few letters are missing in an Irish alphabet, and one of them is ‘v’. That is why we use ‘mh’ or ‘bh’ to substitute. With that in mind, can you take a guess how to say this mouthful?

2. Ó Donnabhain – or Donovan

Jason Donovan has an Irish name.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Taking the rule of number three, this one should be pretty easy by now.

It is pronounced Don-oh-van.

1. Ó hÉalaighthe – or Healy

Ó hÉalaighthe is one of the Irish surnames nobody can pronounce.
Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Our number one spot for ten Irish surnames nobody can pronounce goes to this beauty!

Looking at this name may give you heart palpitations, but there’s no reason we can’t all nail this one.

Let’s just say there are way more letters to confuse you than we actually use when speaking it. Another thing that makes Irish spelling and pronunciation rules even more complicated!

Try saying O-Heel-aha and bingo!

It’s apparent from looking at these ten Irish names that nobody can pronounce that anyone finding it rather challenging to get it right first time can be forgiven, and anyone who’s had their surname mispronounced on a regular occasion can equally understand why.

You see, us Irish have a way with words, but when it comes to spelling and speaking as Gaeilge (in Irish), we are on a whole other level.

Next time you see or hear somebody mispronouncing one of these surnames – or any Irish surname for that matter – use these tips to point them in the right direction. You will sound like an Irish language professional in no time!

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