Equivalent Naming: An Irish Cheatsheet

In days of yore, Ireland was a minority country in Europe, speaking a minority language, and possessing a history that very few people knew anything about. They were also recovering from being Europe’s Bad Guy, having been in the trade of selling Irish, Scottish, and English people to North Africa as slaves.

So when there was a reform of baptismal naming practices, and the new zealous young priests didn’t have any books to prove that Irish saints were in the martyrologies, they basically had a duty to find baptismal names that sounded kinda like the kids’ Gaelic names. (And possibly, some equivalents were given by parents who liked newfangled name fashions, too.)

Also, the English authorities were not all that hep on spelling out Gaelic names with a thousand consonants and vowels and lenitions. They just wanted to call a girl Annie and leave it at that.

In the 19th century, Irish bishops were able to reform the reform, and go back to the real old Catholic names of Ireland. But in the mean time, things were a little confusing in the baptismal registers and family histories. This list of legal or government or baptismal names is followed by the “real names” that they represented. Some names stood for many other names. You may want to run a search for names of interest to you.

My primary source for this big cheatsheet is from LibraryIreland, where they have digitized a book on Irish names to provide separate entries for every name.

Abbey, Abina, Debbie, Webby: Used as an equivalent for Gobnait, patroness of beekeepers. A great monastic saint. (Please do not nickname your kids Gubby or Webby, even though it’s historical.) It’s indeed from “gob” for mouth, spun out with the female suffix -nat instead of the male suffix -an. (Beal for lips or mouth is the front of the mouth.) Her day is February 11, and she’s from Ballyvourney.

Aeneas or Ignatius — used as an equivalent for Irish “Eigneachan” or “Eighneach.” Used among the O’Donnells, O’Dohertys, and other families in Tirconnell.

Aeneas: “Angus” aka “Naos.”

Aghy, Oghy: Eachaidh and Eochaidh.

Aidan: Aodhan, Aedhan. “Fire-one.”

Alexander: actually, this is just an Anglicization of Gaelic names meaning Alexander. Alistair in Scotland. Alsandar, Alastar, Alastrann, or Alastrom in Ireland. Alexander was a Bible and saint name, and the Alexander romance cycle was very popular in medieval Europe (and had an Irish translation).

Alphonsus: Normally, this stands for St. Alphonsus de Liguori. But the MacEgans of Kerry use it as an equivalent for Anluan, a Munster name used by the O’Briens, among others. (An = great, luan = warrior.)

Ambrose: Anmchadh, an O’Madden name. It means something like “soul-chief.” (There are similar names like “Donnchadh,” brown-chief, or Donn (as in the god of death)-chief.) It’s a Christian name.

Angela: Aingeal. Means angel, just like you’d think. A girl’s name.

Anna or Hannah: Usually an equivalent for Aine, a pre-Christian woman’s name and the name of a goddess/fairy queen. But it could be after Ss. Hannah and Anne.

Annie, Ethna: Eithne, “kernel.” A pre-Christian name and a saints’ name.

Anthony/Antony – Sometimes Anthony. Among the O’Mores and O’Loghlens, it’s an equivalent for “Uaithne.” (Which is also where the female name Una comes from.) Uaithne means wood, work, pillar, and harmony, and was the name of the Dagda’s harper who had a magical singing harp. The choir Anuna is actually named “An Uaithne.”

Archibald: Giolla Espuig (servant of the bishop). In Northern Ireland and in Scotland.

Arnold: Ardghal, pronounced Ardal. Ard = high and gal = valor. Used by MacKennas and MacMahons in Ulster. May be related to Artegall, the medieval romance hero.

Arthur: Art. Means the same thing as Arthur – bear.

Attracta: Athracht, a great female monastic saint. Ulster. August 11.

Atty: Aithche, a female saint from Kerry. January 15.

Auliffe or Humphrey: Amhlaoibh, which is an Irish form of Olaf. Laoibh probably sounded like the word for “layman, warrior.” Of course there’s a St. Olaf.

Barbara, Barbary, or Gormley: Gormfhlaith, “blue/green/dark” + “noble person.” The name of Brian Boru’s wife, who was also wife to several others… along with many other notable Irish women. But Barbara itself is a common name in Connacht.

Barnaby, Barney, Bernard: Brian, probably meaning “hill one.” Very popular because of Brian Boru. Yes, this is why equivalent naming is so freaky.

Barry: Short for Fionnbarr (“fair head, blonde peak”) or Bairrfhionn.

Bartholomew, Bat, Parlan, or Barclay: Partholon or Parthalan. Like in the Book of Invasions.

Basil, Brasil: Breasal, “strife, fighting, war.” The name of a male saint (May 18) and of a Leinster king. Used by the O’Kellys and O’Maddens of Connacht.

Bedelia, Bidelia, Bidina, Dillie, Deena, Delia, Beezy, Bridey: Brighdin, little Brigid.

Ben, Benjamin, Bernard, Bertie: Beircheart, the Irish form of Beorhthere, a Cork emigrant saint. December 6.

Benedict: Maolbheannachta. “Tonsured/servant boy for a blessing.”

Benignus, Bennen: Beineon or Bineon, derived from Latin “benignus.” Patrick’s successor and youngest student, also a saint.

Benvon: English phonetic spelling of “Bean Mhumhan,” woman of Munster.

Benvy: English phonetic spelling of “Bean Mhidhe,” woman of Meath.

Boeotius, Bowes: Baothghalach. Which means “stupid brave.” No, seriously. It’s a name among the O’Dalys, MacEgans, and a few other families. (O’Dalys were hereditary poets, and MacEgans were hereditary brehons who moved over from being poets. So yeah.)

Boeotius, Victor: Buadhach, victorious. An O’Sullivan name.

Caffar, Cathbar: Cathbharr, “battle head/peak.” It means helmet. An O’Donnell name.

Cahal, Charles: Cathal, “battle mighty.”

Cahir, Charles: Cathfer, “battle man.” Also spelled Cathaoir and Cathair. Leinster name.

Cain, Kean: Cian. Means “ancient, very old.” Obviously the famous saint, as well as lots of pre-Christian and post-Christian historical figures. A name historically popular in Connacht and South Munster.

Canice, Kenny, Kenneth: Coinneach, Cainneach.

Carbry: Cairbre or Coirbre. “Charioteer.”

Carroll, Charles: Cearbhall. Possibly “fierce swordfight.”

Celsus, Kelly: Ceallach, “war.” Callahan is “Ceallachan.” It was a male name, although obviously that ship has sailed (and all surnames seem to be girls’ names now).

Charles: Calbhach, “bald.”

Charles: Cormac.

Colin, Collin: Cuilean, Coilean, Cailean. They all mean “puppy.” (Whereas Collin and Colin were old French/English forms of Nicholas.)

Daisy, Daisey, Nonie: Noinin, meaning “daisy,” which is a pun nickname on Noirin/Noreen. Which comes from Nora, which comes from Onora, which comes from Honoria, a Latin name. So basically, Daisy Duke = Honor Harrington.

Derval: Dearbhail. Dearbh, true, + ail, desire.

Dolly, Dorothy: Sometimes it’s Doireann, “sullen one.” The diminutive is Doreen, except when that’s Dora or Dorothy’s diminutive.

Donald: Donnchadh. “Brown/dark chief” or “Donn chief.” This name turned into Irish “Donagh” and Scottish “Duncan.”

Douglas, Doug: Dubhghlas, dark green, dark gray, dark blue.

Dudley: Dubhdara or Dubhdarach. The blackhaired man of the oak (dara).

Dugald, Dougal: Dubhghall. Dubh, black, + gall, foreigner. A darkhaired Norse guy.

Dymphna: A phonetic European spelling of Damhnait. “Damh” has a lot of meanings, like stag and cow (basically, herd animals), and a company of guests or followers or bards, or a champion (like a bold stag). The male name is Damhan, and it seems to mean something like poet-one, so Damhnait might also mean poet (with the female suffix). It’s a weird one. But given all the princesses who headed for monasteries in Belgium, in documented historical record, especially when out of favor or having political problems that led to exile, it’s hard to disparage Dymphna’s hagiography as impossible. May 15.

Eavan: Aoibheann or Aebfhind. “Shapely woman” or “fair shape.” St. Enda’s mom’s name.

Edmund, Edward: Eamonn.

Edwina, Edana, Aideen: Eadaoin, the saint, whose name was another version of Etain, the famous fairy queen who got tormented like Europa for becoming Midir’s second wife. Means “jealousy” or “passion,” plus a diminutive. The saint’s day is July 5.

Egan: Aodhagan. “Aodh-young-one.”

Elva, Olive: Oilbhe or Ailbhe. Female name means “silvery white.”

Ena: Aodhnait, “fire-one.” The female version of Aodh and Aidan.

Erna, Ernat: Earnait. “Earna” = “knowledge.” The masculine form is Earnan. No, I don’t know if this is where the anthropomorphic heroine’s name came from.

Esther: Aislinn, Aisling. “Dream, vision.” Found in Derry and Meath, but also popular in the SCA after a beloved queen.

Eve: Aoife.

Fanny: It could be Frances (Proinnseas), but it could also be Fainche. St. Enda of Aran’s sister, St. Fainche, is on January 1, and St. Fainche of Cluaincaoi near Cashel is January 21.

Feena: Fiadhnait, “deer one.” A fiad could be any wild, woodland animal, but usually it’s a deer. (Fid means woods.) January 4.

Finn: Fionn (“fair, blond”)

Finan: Fionnan (“fair/blond one”).

Florence: Blathnait, “blossom-one.”

Flora: Blath, “blossom, bud.” The name of St. Brigid’s cook, who was also a saint.

Grace, Gertrude, Gertie, Grania: Grainne. “Seed, grain.” It can also mean “ugliness,” but not normally. Famous name because of the “pirate queen,” and a symbolic name for Ireland.

Hector: Eachann (“horse one”) or Eachdhonn (“brown horse, Donn’s horse”). More common in Scotland.

Hermon, Eremon, Erevan, Irving: Eireamhon. Another name from the Book of Invasions.

Hugh: Aodh, “Fire.”

Hughie: Aodhaigh, “Fiery.”

Ina: Aghna. Might be a form of Agnes.

Ita: Ide. May mean “thirsty.” January 15.

James, Shamus: Seamus. Irish form of James.

Jane, Janet, Jannet, Jenny: Sinead, from “Jeanne.” Also Sine and Sineaid.

Jane, Hannah, Johanna, Joanne: Siobhan, the female form of “Johannes,” John.

Justin: Saerbhreathach. Saor (“free” but really “nobleman”) + breathach (“magistrate, brehon judge/lawyer”). A MacCarthy name, because Carthach’s dad had it.

Keavy, Pulcheria: Caoimhe, “comely, courteous.” The female version of Caoimhghinn, Kevin.

Keely, Keelin: Caoilfhionn, “slender fair.” Another female monastic. Feb. 3.

Kennedy: “Cinneididh” or “Cinneidigh.” Ceann/cinn, head, plus eide, armor. Means “helmet.” The name of Brian Boru’s dad, and hence an O’Brien name until recently. Now it’s a US girls’ name, like all presidential surnames.

Kinnat: Cianaid, the female form of Cian.

Lassarina: Lasairfhiona. (lasair, flame + fhiona, of wine.) A Connacht name.

Lelia, Lil: Lile, “lily.”

Lewis, Louis, or Aloysius = Lughaidh. An ancient name connected to the god Lugh and the hero Lughaidh, but also borne by at least ten Irish saints. (Sadly, not the case for C.S. Lewis, because his family originally came from Wales. We’ll hold out for Lleu Llaw Gyffes, I guess.) Pronounced “Louie.” An O’Clery name.

Lucy: Luighseach, the female form of Lughaidh. Means something like “of Lugh.” There’s a saint on May 22.

Malcolm, Mal: Maolcholm. “Tonsured servant of Columcille” or “Really young boy/servant of Columcille.” It’s a thing in Irish/Scottish names.

Marion or Madge: Muireann or Muirinn or Morrinn. An ancient Irish name that means “of the long hair.” Not the same as Maureen or Moreen.

Martha, Mary, or Agnes: Sometimes this is really Mor, a popular Munster female name from pre-Christian times. It means “great” or “big.” (Or it can be the actual names in Irish.) The spelling “Moreen” is a diminutive of Mor.

Mary: Maire. Muire usually is for the actual Mother of God herself. Molly and Polly are usually a nickname for Mary, in Ireland, although in Scotland and England it usually stands for Margaret (along with Meg, and Peg/Peggy/Peigin in Ireland). Mears or “Mare” is also a version of Maire, from Kerry. Maureen (“Mairin”) is a diminutive of Maire, sometimes anglicized as May.

Maud, Mabel, Mabbina, Margery, Madge — sometimes these names are themselves, but sometimes they’re Maeve/Meadbh. There’s also a saint on November 22.

Meeda: Mide (meaning “my Ide”). Ita or Ide is a very big deal female saint.

Miler, Myler: “Maoilir” from Welsh “Meilir.”

Mona: Another nun saint — Muadhnait, “noble one.” January 6.

Morgan, Brochadh, Murrough: Murchadh. “Sea chief, sea warrior.” An O’Brien and O’Flaherty name, but generally popular.

Moses: Maodhog. (Mo, my, + aodh, fire, + -og, young one.) Pronounced Mogue in some places, Madoc in others. (Madoc is a different, Welsh name.)

Muriel or Murel: Muirgheal, “sea bright.”

Nola, Finola, Penelope, Penny, Nappy, Flora, Nuala: Fionnghuala, from fionn, fair, + guala, shoulder. So like the old perfume, it means “white shoulders.”

Orla: Orfhlaith, “golden nobleperson.”

Orna, Ornat: Odharnait. “Odhar” means “olive colored, pale.” The male version is “Odhran.” November 13.

Revelin, Ravelin, Roland, Rowland: Roibhilin, Raibhilin, or Ruibhilin. County Down.

Ross: Ros. Yup, it’s an Irish given name. “A wooded promontory,” “wood,” or “healthy.” It is also a poet word for “knowledge.”

Sally, Sophy, Sabina, Sabia, Sarah: Sadhbh or Sadhbhin, pronounced Sive and Sav. It means “goodness.”

Sally, Sarah, Claire: Sorcha, meaning “clear” or “bright.” Now a popular name again.

Sean, Shane, Shawn, John: Sean, Seon, or Seaghan. Irish form of John, along with Eoin.

Sibby, Sybil: Sibeal or Isibeal.

Sibby, Sally, Julia, July, Sabina, Judy: “Sile”, anglicized as “Sheila.” Which is the Irish version of Cecilia.

Sidney, Sidonius: The male name “Seadna” or “Setna.”

Slany, Slania: Slaine, meaning “Health” and “Salvation”. Basically the same as Latin “salus.” A woman’s name among the O’Briens. A male name in the comics. Sigh. “Slainte” is an imperative toast.

Sorley, Charles, Samuel: Somhairle or Samhairle. From the Norse “Sumerlide,” summer sailor. A MacDonnell name.

Tess, Tessie: Toireasa, the Irish form of Teresa, Therese, Therasia. “Reaper.”

Timothy, Tim, Thaddeus, Thady, Teague, Ty: Tadhg. “Poet” in the sense of “wise man, philosopher.” July 8.

Timothy, Tumelty: Tomaltach. “Tomailt” is to use, to grind away, to consume, to feast on food. So maybe “grind-y.”

Tressa, Tracey, Teresa: Treasa or Treise. “Strength.”

Tully: Tuathal, mighty people.

Turlough, Terence, Terry, Charles: Toirdealbhach. The name of one of the O’Brien blesseds. It seems to mean “ornamented tower” (“tor,” tower, fort, hero, + “dealbach,” ornamented, decorated).

Ulick, Ulysses: Uileog, “young Willie.”

Vivian or Bevin: Befind, Bebhinn. “Melodious woman” or “fair woman.” Brian Boru’s mom had this name, and he named a daughter of his after her.

Winifred, Unity, Agnes: Una or Uaithne.

Wiltierna: Faoiltighearna, meaning “wolf lady.” Pronounced “wilteerna,.” depending on where you are in Ireland. There’s a female monastic saint on March 17.