Fascinating things you didn’t know about Irish names

Whether you’re from Ireland or you have an Irish name, the chances are that you’re curious about the history and legacy of naming. Though nowadays you can buy Irish surname crests and find out exactly the etymology and background of your surname, the chances are that you did not know these fascinating facts and statistics about Irish names and surnames…

The Irish made surnames fashionable


Did you know that Ireland was one of the first countries in Europe to use surnames? Before the 10th century, last names were not commonly used or passed down between generations – not only were there far fewer people in the world then than there are now, but people would name their children different names so there was no confusion between families and groups. Evidence suggests the first surname was used in 916 AD – more than a thousand years ago.

There’s a reason for the ‘O’


Ever wondered why so many Irish surnames start with O? O’Sullivan, O’Brien, O’Connor, O’Neill, and O’Reilly are some of the most common today, according to one report from the Irish Independent. Well, it means the descent of. So, O’Sullivan means the child descends from Sullivan, so becoming their surname, which is then passed down through generations.

Old names are still popular


Some of the oldest Irish names are still popular. Cian, for example, dates back thousands of years, meaning ancient or wise. Fionn, on the other hand, means fair or white and was made famous by the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhail, who ate an enchanted salmon and fought against the giant Fomors. Oisín (pronounced aw-sheen) is popular, meaning “little deer”.

John and Mary come out on top


Though Jack and Emily are today the most popular baby names in Ireland, it’s John and Mary that come out on top. They’re statistically the most popular names in Ireland, used by millions of Irish citizens over the generations. Both are slowly coming back into style, though their religious connotations mean they might not be able to return as the most popular.

The English were banned from using Irish names


Following the Norman Invasion in the twelfth century and the introduction of more Irish citizens in the country, the English government required all Englishmen to have English names and speak English. Nowadays, there are no laws on surnames in either country!

Murphy is pretty popular


Bad luck if your name is Murphy and you head to a pub in Ireland – you probably won’t be alone! According to recent statistics, Murphy is the most popular surname in the country, and there are more than 50,000 people with Murphy as their given name to boot. Though Murphy Brown made the name popular amongst girls in the US, it’s still a very masculine name in Ireland and is mainly used by boys. Now, who’s going to call their kid Murphy Murphy?!

You can find out more about Irish names in the infographic, provided by Celtic cross Jewelry.


Which of these facts were you most surprised to hear about? Let us know your thoughts in the comments and check back soon to our website for more interesting historical content.