Top 20 Irish surnames in the USA and their meanings, ranked

A lot of people in the United States claim Irish heritage. With that heritage, Irish surnames have been passed down through the 50 states for generations.

Due to emigration across the Atlantic, there are plenty of common Irish surnames in the USA. Below we have listed some of the most popular.

From famine and terrible economic conditions to religious conflicts and lack of political autonomy, the United States of America has seen huge amounts of Irish emigration for decades.

With that, there are many people and families in America who claim Irish descent and carry Gaelic surnames, which might even derive from Gaelic and traditional Irish blessings. So, we’re going to take a look at the top 20 Irish surnames in the USA and their meanings.

Read on to take a deep dive into these Gaelic Irish-origin surnames and discover the stories behind them.

Ireland Before You Die’s top facts about Irish surnames in the USA

  • The USA is home to a significant Irish diaspora. Following emigration from Ireland due to the Famine in the 1840s, a large portion of Irish people settled in America. 
  • Some of the most common surnames, as you will see throughout the article, include the likes of Murphy, Kelly, Sullivan, O’Connor and Ryan. Some surnames have undergone changes in spelling and pronunciation. 
  • Irish-Americans have made significant contributions to US society, such as in the fields of politics, sports, literature and business. Indeed, JFK was an Irish-American President. 
  • The USA often has some of the best, biggest and most celebrated St. Patrick’s Day parades on 17 March each year. New York City and Chicago, in particular, can boast of huge parades. 
  • Since their emigration to the US, Irish-Americans have intermarried with people from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds, which has contributed to the diversity that defines America.

20. Doyle – dark stranger

Doyle is one of the most popular Irish surnames in the USA.

Doyle is one of the most common Irish family names in the United States, which is unsurprising given its unique history and meaning. It is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name, Ó Dubhghaill, meaning ‘descendant of Dubhghall’.

The Irish version is made up of two parts. ‘Dubh’, meaning ‘black’, and ‘gall’, meaning ‘stranger’. The meaning of this Irish surname is ‘dark stranger’ or ‘ dark foreigner’.

19. McLoughlin – Viking

McLoughlin means Viking.
Credit: Flickr / Hans Splinter

McLoughlin is the English version of the Gaelic Mac Lochlainn. It is a surname with Irish and Scottish Gaelic origins.

As with the vast majority of Irish surnames, the ‘Mac’ prefix means ‘son of’. In this case, ‘Son of Lochlainn’. This common surname means ‘Viking’ or ‘devotee’.

18. Byrne – raven

Byrne is one of the common Irish surnames in the USA.
Credit: / Neil Theasby

The Bryne families in Ireland came from the O’Broin septs in east Leinster, especially County Kildare and neighbouring counties such as Wicklow.

O’Broin in English is Bran, which means ‘raven’. Any Game of Thrones fans out there knew that already. Notable figures with this Gaelic surname are Irish singer Nicky Byrne and Irish actor Gabriel Byrne.

READ MORE: Find out which Irish boy name is the most popular in the USA

17. Fitzgerald – mighty spear holders son

Fitzgerald is perhaps well-known as the surname of F Scott Fitzgerald.

Of Anglo-Norman French origin, this patronymic means ‘son of Gerald’. The Gaelic version is MacGearailt. 

The most notable people with this name are F. Scott Fitzgerald and JFK (John Fitzgerald Kennedy). The name translates to ‘mighty spear holder’s son’.

16. Butler – bottle

Butler is one of the Irish surnames in the USA.

The Butlers were descendants of the Anglo-Norman lords who participated in the Irish invasion by the Normans in the 12th century.

The name derives from the old French ‘bouteillier’, which comes from the Latin word ‘buticula’, meaning ‘bottle’. This is why the name was given to butlers as we know them today, as their original job was to retrieve wine from the cellars.

15. MacDonnell – rule, might, and world

McDonnell means rule and might.

MacDonnell or McDonnell comes from the Gaelic surname Mac Dónaill. The name meaning comprises several parts of the name, mainly ‘rule’, ‘might’, and ‘world’.

14. McKenna – born of fire

McKenna is one of the most popular Irish surnames in the USA.

McKenna is the anglicised version of the Irish surname Mac Cionaoith, meaning ‘Son of Cionaoth’, which means ‘born of fire’ or ‘handsome’ in Irish.

The surname was first found in County Monaghan and quickly spread through neighbouring counties.

13. Fitzpatrick – a devotee of Patrick

Fitzpatrick means 'devotee of Patrick'.
Credit: Tourism Ireland

Fitzpatrick is the anglicised version of the Irish surname Mac Giolla Phádraig, meaning ‘son of Patrick’.

The name is often said to mean someone loyal to Saint Patrick, or ‘devotee of Patrick’.

12. O’Connor – hound of desire

O'Connor is one of the common Irish surnames in the USA.

The name O’Connor, originally O’Conchobhar, is one of the most stereotypically Irish surnames, and goes back to Conchobhar, a tenth-century ruler of Connaught, a kingdom in the west of Ireland.

As a personal name, it means something along the lines of ‘hound of desire’. A notable person with this name was Sinead O’Connor.

LEARN MORE: O’Connor: surname meaning, origin and popularity, explained

11. O’Connell – wolf/valour

O'Connell means wolf.

This is an Irish surname that derives from the Gaelic version Ó’Conaill.

The personal name, Conall, comes from the Gaelic ‘cú’ meaning ‘wolf’ or ‘hound’ and ‘gal’ meaning ‘valour’.

10. Regan – the king’s child

Regan is one of the Irish surnames in the USA.

There are many variations of this Irish surname, including Reagan and O’Regan. These surnames are the anglicised forms of the Irish surname Riagáin or Ó Ríogáin, from Ua Riagáin.

The meaning comes from the ancient Gaelic ‘ri’, meaning ‘sovereign’ or ‘king’. Thus, the name means ‘the king’s child’ or ‘big king’.

9. O’Reilly – extroverted one

O'Reilly means extroverted one.

O’Reilly is a common Irish surname in America and comes from the original Gaelic, O’Raghaillach.

This is a popular surname but is also a popular first name for both boys and girls in the USA. It means ‘extroverted one’.

8. McCarthy – loving

McCarthy is one of the Irish surnames in the USA.
Credit: Instagram / @melissamccarthy

McCarthy is the anglicised form of the Gaelic Mac Carthaigh or son of Carthach. Carthach is an Irish personal name that means ‘loving’.

Notable people with this Irish surname are Melissa McCarthy and Cormac McCarthy.

7. Kennedy – helmeted chief

Kennedy means helmeted chief.
Credit: Pixabay / skeeze

Kennedy is one of the most popular Irish surnames in the USA. It derives from the Irish O’Cinneide, made up of the Irish words ‘cinn’ meaning ‘head’ plus ‘eide’, which translates variously as ‘grim’ or ‘helmeted’.

The name as a whole translates to mean ‘helmeted chief’. The most notable person in the States with this Irish surname was Irish American President John F. Kennedy, whose family originated from County Wexford.

6. Walsh – Welshman

Walsh is one of the most common Irish surnames in the USA.

Walsh is a common Irish surname found in the United States today, and also boasts an interesting history and meaning.

The name means ‘Briton’ or ‘foreigner’, literally ‘Welshman’ or ‘Welsh’. This prominent surname was taken to Ireland by British soldiers.

5. O’Brien – exalted one

The Irish surname O'Brien.

O’Brien is an Irish surname that many people in the US have today. This surname derives from the tenth-century King of Ireland, Brian Boru. It is also the name of one of Ireland’s oldest aristocratic families.

It comes from the Irish Ó Briain, meaning ‘descendant of Briain’, and means ‘exalted one’. Some famous people with this name are Conan O’Brien and Dylan O’Brien.

READ: Find out more about this surname with our article O’Brien: surname meaning, origin and popularity, explained

4. Ryan – little king

Ryan is one of the most common Irish surnames in the USA.

Ryan is a name of Irish origin that comes from the Irish Ó’Riain. The name is popular as both a first name and a family name.

The Irish surname means ‘little king’. You might know American actress Meg Ryan as one of the most famous people with this surname.

3. Sullivan/O’Sullivan – hawk-eyed

The O'Sullivan surname is now across the world due to emigration.

Sullivan, or O’Sullivan, derives from the old Irish surname Ó Súilleabháin. Traced back to County Tipperary, Sullivan is one of the most popular Irish surnames in the USA today.

The root word of this common surname comes from the Irish ‘suil’, meaning eye. The name is said to mean ‘hawk-eyed’ or ‘dark-eyed’. One of the most famous people with this surname is Irish singer/songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan.

2. Kelly – warrior

Kelly is one of the most common Irish surnames in the USA.

Kelly is one of the common Gaelic Irish surnames in the USA and derives from the Gaelic Ó Ceallaigh. Some famous people with this name include Ellsworth Kelly, Gene Kelly, and Grace Kelly.

This is a very strong Irish surname and means ‘warrior’ or ‘fighter’.

1. Murphy – sea-warrior

Murphy is one of the common Irish surnames in the USA.

According to the most recent statistics, there are over 380,000 people in the United States with the surname Murphy. It ranks as the 64th most prominent surname in the States and is the most popular Irish surname there.

The name means ‘sea-warrior’ and comes from the Irish Ó Murchadha or Ó Murchadh. You might recognise the name from Irish actor Cillian Murphy, American actor Eddie Murphy, and American actress Brittany Murphy.

SEE MORE: Murphy: surname meaning, origin and popularity, explained

Notable mentions

Michael Collins is the most famous Irish person from the 1910s decade.

Lynch: Lynch is an Irish name that means ‘mariner’.

Collins: This Irish surname extended from County Cork to Limerick and means ‘young dog’.

O’Neill: An Irish surname that means ‘champion’.

Campbell: Campbell is a Northern Irish or Scottish surname that means ‘crooked mouth’.

Your questions answered about Irish surnames in the USA and their meanings

Read our article about Irish surnames in the USA and still have some questions? Not to worry! Below, we have outlined the most commonly asked questions about the topic from our readers and online.

What does ‘Mac’ mean in Irish surnames?

The prefix ‘Mac’ in Irish surnames means ‘son of’ or ‘descendant of’.

Why was the ‘O’ dropped from Irish names?

Many Irish families dropped the ‘O’ and ‘Mac’ in their surnames as it was often difficult to find work if you had an Irish-sounding name under British rule.

What is the most common Irish surname in the US?

As of the most recent census statistics in the US, the most common Irish surname is Murphy.

Who were the most powerful Irish families?

The clans of Ó Neill in Ulster, Ó Conor in Connacht, Ó Brien in Thomond, and Kavanagh in Leinster were some of the most powerful Irish families.


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