Cool Irish Gaelic Names for Girls

Aug 7th 2017

100 years after Ireland declared its independence, Saoirse ("liberty") entered the top 1000 in the United States. With a recent poll indicating that more than 10% of US citizens have Irish heritage, it’s no surprise that Irish names have become American favorites.

Looking for similar choices to celebrate your roots? These fifteen feminine picks combine beautiful meanings and lilting melodies, honoring history but looking towards the future. While most are listed in their Gaelic spellings, I've included Anglicized versions and pronunciation guides as well. Erin go bragh!

Image via Pixabay

Saoirse (Seer-sha). This inspiring name owes its American popularity to Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, but it’s already a favorite in Ireland. Saoirse ("liberty") embodies the spirit of the 1920’s Irish Revolution, and continues as a bright and beautiful choice today.

Mairead (Mah-rayd). This elegant and unexpected form of Margaret could work well as an honorific or heritage choice in the US. Historical namesakes range from saints to musicians to a Nobel Peace Prize winner, so your own little Mairead will be in good company.

Aisling (Ashlin/Ashlyn). The Anglicized spellings are already established picks in the States, but this name’s history merits another look at the original spelling. An aisling is a poetic genre in Irish literature, and the word itself means “dream” or “vision”; with such a beautiful origin, sweet Aisling maintains its ethereal air.

Niamh (Neve). Simple yet stunning, Niamh comes from the name of a goddess in Gaelic lore. It’s use in the United States has been increasing since the mid-1990’s, but it’s never been given to more than 74 girls in one year. If you’re looking for a name with both style and substance, Niamh is the choice for you.

Siobhan (She-vawn). An Irish feminine form of John, this confident choice ranked briefly in the 1980’s thanks to actress Siobhan McKenna. However, this name isn’t just a flash in the pan - charming Siobhan has adorned all types of women since the Middle Ages, from queens to athletes to writers.

Bronagh (Brona). The name of a sixth-century saint, lovely Bronagh comes from a word meaning “sorrow.” But this pretty choice has a more upbeat sound than its origin implies, and could work especially well as an alternative to 80’s Brandy or 90’s Briana.

Aine (Anya). Ranking in the top 100 in Ireland, Aine is an energetic name with a fantastic background - it’s the name of the Irish goddess of midsummer and a Celtic fairy queen. Aine comes from the word for “radiance,” and its happy vibe certainly lives up to its etymology.

Finola (from Fionnuala). Chic and feminine, Finola is ripe for import across the pond. It comes from a figure in Irish lore who was transformed into a swan, and the origin phrase means “white shoulders” (not related to the perfume). Next to today’s favorites Finn and Fiona, Finola would fit right in.

Aoife (Ee-fa). Slightly softer in sound than Eva, Aoife is currently at #13 in Ireland and #8 in Northern Ireland. Why the notoriety? Aoife was a warrior woman in Irish mythology, and the name comes from the Gaelic word for “beauty.” While pronunciation may be difficult in the States, this brilliant choice is worth considering.

Oona (from Oonagh). Game of Thrones actress Oona Chaplin (granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin and great-granddaughter of Eugene O’Neill) brought this sumptuous name into American homes over the past few years. With pizzazz and individuality, Oona’s image has evolved from an Irish legend into a modern starlet.

Tuilelaith (Talulla). Not to be confused with the Choctaw name Tallulah, Tuilelaith is an old Irish name with the meaning of “princess of abundance.” Today, the Talulla(h) spelling is popular, with a melody and vitality that’s hard to beat.

Caoimhe (Keeva). Attractive and friendly, Caoimhe has been popular in Ireland since the early 2000’s. It’s derived from the same roots as Kevin, and could work well as a familial honor name. Though its spelling is daunting, Caoimhe has a sound that fits in well with modern choices like Eva or or Keira.

Orlaith (Orla). With the luxurious meaning of “golden princess,” Orlaith was indeed used by multiple Irish royals throughout history. Today, Orla is the more popular pick, and could make a great alternative to Aria or Lola. In the United States, it’s been slowly rising in popularity since the early 2000’s - but was only given to 30 little girls last year.

Brighid. The Celtic goddess of healing, poetry, and smithcraft, Brighid was also the name of an early Christian saint (controversy remains over the true origin of Brighid). The name Bridget peaked in popularity in the US in the 1970’s, but going back to this original form bypasses the dated quality and embraces Brighid’s strength and lore.

Roisin (Rosheen). An adorable diminutive meaning “little rose,” Roisin is a pleasant pick with an appealing sound. The use of the name is partly inspired by the Irish political song “Róisín Dubh,” which has been covered by multiple Irish artists. If you like Rose or Rosalie but want a name that's less common, why not Roisin?

Comments

1
August 8, 2017 3:04 PM

Roisin, Ashling & Oona are favorites of mine. I'd love to see more!

2
August 8, 2017 5:21 PM

The Irish use the Latin alphabet just to confuse foreigners. Evidence: most of the names on this list. I mean, "Caoimhe" to represent the sound /kee-va/? Really? Which of that jumble of random letters is supposed to represent the /v/ sound?

It's one thing to come up with digraphs such as "ch" to represent sounds that aren't present in Latin, and therefore the Latin alphabet doesn't have a letter for it. But /v/ has not one, not two, but THREE possible, established representations: u, v, or w. Why make up a completely different one? (Or actually, two: Siobhan uses a different jumble of letters to represent that same exact sound.) Especially out of letters usually used to represent phonemes that have nothing at all to do with /v/?

3
August 8, 2017 8:45 PM

TOH, one word:lenition.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_initial_mutations

4
August 9, 2017 1:16 AM

Why so negative? They're just names.

Thanks for the interesting article on Irish names. That's all.

 

5
August 9, 2017 8:05 AM

I've removed the previous comment's senseless personal attack.

Names spelled with letters that bear no obvious relationship to the sounds involved _aren't_ "just names". They're jumbles of letters to all but the very small percentage of people who understand that particular orthography.

As I've said many times, Irish uses the Latin alphabet just to confuse everyone. :-)

In deciding how to spell things in any language, there are two trains of thought: there's the strict phonetic argument, and there's the grammarian/historical argument.

The advantage of strict phonetic spelling is that it makes it easy to read in that language, and easy to write if you speak the majority/accepted dialect. One disadvantage is dialects: whose pronunciation is the "correct" spelling? Another disadvantage comes especially to the forefront in a language like Irish, where phonological/grammatical processes change or delete consonant sounds. Spelling things entirely phonetically in such a context obscures the relationship between closely-related words (or names).

The grammar-and-history version of spelling rules tries to include extra information in the spelling of words: information about the grammar (there's a 'v' in there because in other forms of the word/name there's a /v/ sound there), and information about the history (there's an 's' in Y because it comes from the word X that had an /s/ sound there). (French is especially guilty of this second type of reasoning.)

(Most languages have a third process influencing spelling: historical artifacts. "We spell it that way because it used to sound that way" and/or "we spell it that way because that's how N wrote it in his seminal work X". English spelling is pretty much 100% the latter.)

6
August 9, 2017 11:20 AM

HNG, for English also because Latin spelled it that way. For example, debt was originally spelled det. The b was added because it appears in Latin cognates, as in debit.

7
August 9, 2017 9:48 PM

Aisling is my middle name. My mom said that she wanted to use it as my first name, but my dad thought it would be too hard to spell. But my last name was very Irish so I don't think it would have been to bad :)

8
August 17, 2017 11:25 AM

I don't have any children yet but if I have chosen an Irish name than I would be looking for meaning all over the internet or reading any essay help service regarding the name to select the best choice. Though Roisin looks like a nice name and easy to be called.