Origins of Irish Last Names
Irish last names have a rich history that is deeply intertwined with the country’s culture and traditions. Many of these surnames have their roots in the Gaelic and Celtic languages, which were spoken in Ireland for centuries. The Norman invasion of Ireland in the 12th century also had a significant impact on Irish last names.
Before the Norman invasion, the use of surnames in Ireland was not widespread. People were usually identified by their first name and their father’s name. For example, Brian mac Donnchadh (Brian, son of Donnchadh). However, as the country became more settled, the use of surnames became more common.
Many Irish last names begin with “O” or “Mac,” which means “descendant of” in Gaelic. For example, O’Brien means “descendant of Brian,” and MacCarthy means “descendant of Carthach.” These prefixes were used to distinguish between people with the same first name.
Irish last names can also be based on a person’s occupation or physical characteristics. For example, the name Smith comes from the Old English word “smitan,” which means to strike or hit. This name was given to blacksmiths, who were skilled metalworkers. Other occupational names include Cooper, Taylor, and Carpenter.
In addition to occupation-based names, Irish last names can also be based on a person’s physical characteristics. For example, the name Flanagan comes from the Gaelic word “flann,” which means red or ruddy. This name was given to people with red hair or a ruddy complexion. Other physical characteristic-based names include Reid (red-haired) and Duffy (dark-haired).
Whether based on Gaelic, Celtic, or Norman roots, these names are an important part of Ireland’s heritage.
Common Prefixes in Irish Surnames
Irish surnames often have prefixes that indicate a patronymic or ancestral lineage. Mc and Mac are more common in the northern part of Ireland, while O is more common in the southern part. Fitz is more common among the Anglo-Irish families.
Prefix ‘Mc’ and ‘Mac’
Irish surnames often start with prefixes such as Mc and Mac. These prefixes mean “son of” and are used to indicate a patronymic lineage. Mc is the anglicized version of the Gaelic prefix “Mac,” which is still used in modern Irish. The use of Mc and Mac was more common in the northern part of Ireland.
For example, the surname “McCarthy” means “son of Carthy,” while “MacDonald” means “son of Donald.” The use of Mc or Mac was followed by the father’s first name. So, if the father’s name was John, the son’s name would be John Mc or Mac.
Another common prefix in Irish surnames is “O,” which means “grandson of” or “descendant of.” This prefix is followed by the name of the ancestor. The use of O was more common in the southern part of Ireland.
For example, the surname “O’Brien” means “descendant of Brian,” while “O’Connor” means “descendant of Connor.”
It is important to note that the prefix O is not always used in modern Irish surnames. Some surnames dropped the O over time, while others added it to make their names sound more Irish. It is a common belief that a name which should have an O (eg. O’ Sullivan) which no longer has an O (eg. Sullivan) is due to that person’s family ‘taking the soup’. Taking the soup refers to the family converting to Protestantism during the Irish Famine in order to receive food to ensure their survival.
The prefix “Fitz” is another common prefix in Irish surnames. It comes from the Norman-French word “fils,” meaning “son of.” The Normans introduced this prefix to Ireland in the 12th century.
For example, the surname “Fitzgerald” means “son of Gerald,” while “Fitzpatrick” means “son of Patrick.”
The use of Fitz was more common among the Anglo-Irish families in Ireland.
Popular Irish Last Names
Irish last names have a rich history and cultural significance. Many of these surnames have been passed down through generations and are still commonly used today. Here are some of the most popular Irish last names and their meanings.
The name Kelly is derived from the Irish “Ó Ceallaigh” which means “descendant of Ceallach”. Ceallach was an Irish king who ruled during the 10th century. The name Kelly is most commonly found in the western counties of Ireland.
The name Kennedy is derived from the Irish “Ó Cinnéide” which means “descendant of Cinnédidh”. The name Cinnédidh means “helmet-headed” or “armored-headed”. The Kennedys were a powerful clan in medieval Ireland and were known for their military prowess.
The name Doyle is derived from the Irish “Ó Dubhghaill” which means “descendant of Dubhghall”. Dubhghall means “dark stranger” or “dark foreigner”. The name Doyle is most commonly found in the southeastern counties of Ireland.
The name King is derived from the Irish “Ó Cuinn” which means “descendant of Conn”. Conn was a legendary king of Ireland who ruled during the 2nd century. The name King is most commonly found in the northern counties of Ireland.
The name Fitzgerald is derived from the Norman French “FitzGerald” which means “son of Gerald”. The Fitzgeralds were a powerful Norman family who settled in Ireland during the 12th century. The name Fitzgerald is most commonly found in the southern counties of Ireland.
The name McCarthy is derived from the Irish “Mac Cárthaigh” which means “son of Cárthach”. The name Cárthach means “loving”. The McCarthy clan was one of the most powerful clans in medieval Ireland and were known for their military prowess.
The name Byrne is derived from the Irish “Ó Broin” which means “descendant of Bran”. Bran means “raven”. The name Byrne is most commonly found in the eastern counties of Ireland.
The name Ryan is derived from the Irish “Ó Riain” which means “descendant of Rian”. Rian means “little king”. The name Ryan is most commonly found in the western counties of Ireland.
The name Walsh is derived from the Welsh “Breathnach” which means “Welshman”. The name Walsh is most commonly found in the southern counties of Ireland.
The name Murphy is derived from the Irish “Ó Murchadha” which means “descendant of Murchadh”. Murchadh means “sea warrior”. The name Murphy is one of the most common surnames in Ireland and is most commonly found in the western counties of Ireland.
The name O’Connor is derived from the Irish “Ó Conchobhair” which means “descendant of Conchobhar”. Conchobhar means “lover of hounds”. The O’Connors were a powerful clan in medieval Ireland and were known for their military prowess.
The name Gallagher is derived from the Irish “Ó Gallchobhair” which means “descendant of Gallchobhar”. Gallchobhar means “foreign help”. The name Gallagher is most commonly found in the northern counties of Ireland.
The name Sullivan is derived from the Irish “Ó Súilleabháin” which means “descendant of Súilleabhán”. Súilleabhán means “little dark eye”. The name Sullivan is most commonly found in the southern counties of Ireland.
The name Doherty is derived from the Irish “Ó Dochartaigh” which means “descendant of Dochartach”. Dochartach means “obstructive”. The name Doherty is most commonly found in the northern counties of Ireland.
The name Burke is derived from the Norman French “de Burgh” which means “from the town”. The Burkes were a powerful Norman family who settled in Ireland during the 12th century. The name Burke is most commonly found in the western counties of Ireland.
The name Campbell is derived from the Scottish “Cam Beul” which means “crooked mouth”. The Campbells were a powerful Scottish family who settled in Ireland during the 17th century. The name Campbell is most commonly found in the northern counties of Ireland.
The name Collins is derived from the Irish “Ó Coileáin” which means “descendant of Coileán”. Coileán means “whelp” or “young dog”. The name Collins is most commonly found in the southern counties of Ireland.
Irish Last Names by Region
Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland and is located in the north of the island. The region is known for its rugged landscapes and rich history. Some of the most common Irish last names in Ulster include:
- O’Neill: This name is associated with the ancient kings of Ulster and has roots in Gaelic mythology.
- Gallagher: This name is derived from the Gaelic word for “foreign helper” and is common in counties Donegal and Tyrone.
- McLaughlin: This name means “son of Lochlainn” and is associated with the ancient High Kings of Ireland.
Connacht is another province of Ireland and is located in the west of the island. The region is known for its stunning coastline and rugged landscapes. Some of the most common Irish last names in Connacht include:
- O’Connor: This name means “descendant of Conchobhar” and is associated with the ancient kings of Connacht.
- Walsh: This name is derived from the Gaelic word for “Welshman” and is common in counties Galway and Mayo.
- McDonagh: This name means “son of Donnchadh” and is associated with the ancient High Kings of Ireland.
Munster is a province of Ireland that is located in the south of the island. The region is known for its vibrant cities and stunning natural beauty. Some of the most common Irish last names in Munster include:
- O’Brien: This name means “descendant of Brian” and is associated with the ancient High Kings of Ireland.
- Ryan: This name means “little king” and is common in counties Tipperary and Limerick.
- McCarthy: This name means “son of Carthach” and is associated with the ancient kings of Munster.
Leinster is the fourth province of Ireland and is located in the east of the island. The region is known for its rich history and stunning landscapes. Some of the most common Irish last names in Leinster include:
- Byrne: This name means “descendant of Bran” and is common in counties Wicklow and Dublin.
- Doyle: This name means “descendant of Dubhghall” and is associated with the ancient kings of Leinster.
- Kelly: This name means “bright-headed” and is common in counties Kildare and Kilkenny.
Overall, Irish last names are deeply rooted in the country’s rich history and mythology. The names often have regional associations and can provide insight into a person’s ancestry and cultural background.
Irish Surnames by County
Irish surnames are deeply rooted in the country’s history and culture, reflecting the influence of the various waves of migration and invasion that have shaped Ireland over the centuries. Each Irish county has its own unique set of surnames that are more commonly found in that area than anywhere else in the country. Here are some of the most common Irish surnames by county:
Irish surnames are a fascinating aspect of the country’s cultural heritage, and the distinct surnames by county reflect the unique history and traditions of each area. While many of these surnames are common across the country, it is interesting to see the variations that exist from one county to the next.
Meaning Behind Irish Last Names
Irish last names often have a rich history and meaning behind them. Many are derived from Gaelic or Old Irish, while others have been anglicized over time. Here are some common themes and meanings behind Irish last names:
As shown earlier, the prefix “Ó” or “O'” in Irish surnames means “descendant of” and is often followed by the name of an ancestor. For example, “Ó Briain” means “descendant of Brian.” Other prefixes include “Mac” or “Mc,” which also mean “son of.”
Many Irish surnames are derived from occupations, such as “Smith” or “Carpenter.” Some examples of Irish occupational surnames include “Farrell” (meaning “hero”), “Gallagher” (meaning “foreign helper”), and “Joyce” (meaning “lord”).
Irish last names can also be derived from a person’s geographic location, such as “Doherty” (meaning “descendant of the hurtful one”) or “McGuire” (meaning “son of the noble one”). Other examples include “Boyle” (meaning “small stream”) and “Kelly” (meaning “bright-headed”).
Nicknames were also commonly used as a basis for Irish surnames. For example, “Brogan” means “shoe,” while “Bannon” means “white.” Other examples include “Finnegan” (meaning “fair-haired”) and “O’Meara” (meaning “merry”).
Some Irish surnames are derived from clan names, such as “O’Connor” (meaning “descendant of Connor”) or “O’Neill” (meaning “descendant of Niall”). These surnames were often used by powerful families who ruled over a particular region.
Top 200 Irish Surnames
Irish surnames are a rich source of history and tradition. They often reveal something about the family’s origin, occupation, or personality traits. Here are the top 200 Irish surnames, along with their meanings and origins:
Irish Last Names A – F
|Ahern||Lord of horses|
|Ahearn||Lord of horses|
|Casey||Vigilant in war|
|Connelly||Love of hounds|
|Connolly||Fierce as a hound|
|Costello||Son of the foreigner|
|Dillon||Like a lion|
|Donnelly||Dark, brave one|
|Farrell||Man of valor|
|Fitzgerald||Son of the spear-ruler|
|Flynn||Son of the red-haired one|
Irish Last Names G – L
|Gilmore||Devoted to Mary|
|Guinan||Little born of nobility|
|Hackett||Little hewer of wood|
|Halligan||Little handsome one|
|Hannigan||Little loved one|
|Hartnett||Strong and tough|
|Holland||Of the manor|
|Hopkins||Son of Hob|
|Keegan||Little fiery one|
|Kiernan||Little dark one|
Irish Last Names M – Z
|MacCarthy||Son of the loving|
|MacGregor||Son of the angry one|
|MacGuire||Son of the beige one|
|MacIntosh||Son of the chief|
|MacKenna||Son of the handsome one|
|MacLoughlin||Son of the Viking|
|MacMahon||Son of the bear|
|MacNamara||Son of the sea hound|
|MacNeil||Son of the champion|
|MacPherson||Son of the parson|
|MacQuillan||Son of the cub|
|MacShane||Son of John|
|Malone||Servant of St. John|
|Mathews||Gift of God|
|O’Connell||Strong as a wolf|
|O’Connor||Lover of hounds|
|O’Farrell||Man of valor|
|O’Leary||Keeper of calves|
|O’Rourke||Champion of Ulster|
|Wilson||Son of Will|
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some of the oldest Irish surnames?
There are many Irish surnames that have been in use for centuries, some of which can be traced back to the 10th century. Some of the oldest Irish surnames include O’Brien, O’Connor, O’Neill, MacCarthy, and MacMahon. These surnames were originally derived from the names of powerful clans and families that played important roles in Irish history.
What are the rarest Irish surnames?
There are many rare Irish surnames that are not as well-known as others. Some of these surnames include MacAuliffe, MacGowan, MacNulty, O’Grady, and O’Shaughnessy. These surnames are often specific to certain regions of Ireland and may have been passed down through smaller, less influential families.
It’s important to note that while some surnames may be considered rare, they are still an important part of Irish heritage and history.