The Irish usually have very distinctive surnames. Almost all Irish surnames are recognisable as being from the Emerald Isle as soon as you hear them.
This article is a countdown of the most stereotypical Irish family names that you’ll hear.
12. O’Connor (ó Conchobhair)
Irish (Derry, Connacht, Munster): Anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Conchobhair ‘descendant of Conchobhar’, a personal name which is said to have begun as Cú Chobhair, from cú ‘hound’ (genitive con) + cobhar ‘desiring’, i.e. ‘hound of desire’. Present-day bearers of the surname claim descent from a 10th-century king of Connacht of this name. In Irish legend, Conchobhar was a king of Ulster who lived at around the time of Christ and who adopted the youthful Cú Chulainn.
11. Ryan (ó Maoilriain)
Ryan is an English-language male given name of Irish origin. It comes from either the Irish last name “Ryan”, which is derived from “Ó Riain”, or from the Irish given name “Rían”, which means “little king”.
10. Byrne (ó Broin)
Usually recorded as Byrne, and sometimes as O’Byrne, this is a variant of the Irish ‘Ó’Broin’, meaning descendants of/from Branach or Bran, meaning “raven”. The Byrne or O’Byrne (Ó Broin) family originally came from Kildare claiming descent from Bran, the king of Leinster, who died in 1052.
9. Walsh (Breathnach)
Walsh is a common Irish surname, meaning “Briton” or “foreigner”, literally “Welshman”, taken to Ireland by British (Welsh, Cornish and Cumbrian) soldiers during and after the Norman invasion of Ireland.
8. Kelly (ó Ceallaigh)
Kelly is the anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh ‘descendant of Ceallach’, an ancient Irish personal name, originally a byname meaning ‘bright-headed’, later understood as ‘frequenting churches’.
7. O’Shea (ó Séaghdha)
O’Shea originates in County Kerry and is anglicized form of Gaelic Ó Séaghdha ‘descendant of Séaghdha’, a byname meaning ‘fine’ or ‘fortunate’.
6. Doyle (ó Dubhghaill)
This famous surname is one of the most ancient names of Ireland. Numerically, with some twenty thousand name holders, it is also one of the most popular, being twelfth in the table of numerical strength of Irish surnames. Originally the Clan Doyle, derived from the pre 10th century Gaelic ‘Dhubh-ghall’ (The dark stranger) was found mostly in the counties of South-East Leinster, (Wicklow, Wexford and Carlow) and surprisingly it largely remains so today, the name being rare in other regions.
5. O’Reilly (ó Raghallaigh)
O’Reilly – ancient rulers of Co Cavan. The name means ‘extroverted one’ and is derived from the old Irish name O’Raghaillach, which means ‘descendant of Raghaillach’.
4. O’Neill (ó Néill)
If your surname is O’Neill, you could make some claim to Irish royalty, since it is believed that name originated with Niall Naoigallach (or Niall of Nine Hostages), a legendary high king of Ireland during the fifth century.
3. Murphy (ó Murchadha)
We Murphy’s have long known of our importance and dominance throughout Irish history so it comes as no shock that the name Murphy is the most popular of all surnames of Irish origin. It is estimated that over 50,000 people in Ireland are of the Murphy name and our reach is even broader and our numbers even vaster when the global community is taken into account with the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand to name but a few countries that are now well populated with our revered ancestry! The name means “sea-battler”.
2. O’Brien (ó Briain)
The surname O’Brien is ‘O’Briain’ in Irish, meaning descendant of Brian (Boru). The name means ‘exalted one’ or ’eminence’. It is among the ten most frequently found in Ireland and derives from the 10th century King of Ireland, Brian Boru.
1. O’Sullivan (ó Súilleabháin)
O’Sullivan has to be the most Irish name ever. Also known as simply Sullivan, is an Irish Gaelic clan-based most prominently in what is today County Cork and County Kerry. The name means “dark-eyed”.
If you liked this article, you might want to read our article about the Top Irish Family Names.