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The Story of a Name: Fionn

The Salmon of Knowledge

The Salmon of Knowledge

The legend of Fionn McCumhaill, or Finn Mc Cool, is probably the most famous of all Irish Legends. There are many stories told about him, but my favourite is the tale of how he acquired his great knowledge.

As a boy he was sent to study with the druid and poet Finnegas, who for seven years had been obsessed with a quest to catch a salmon.

Not just any salmon, this one had eaten the hazel nuts that fell from nine trees surrounding a well and in so doing become possessed of all the knowledge in the world.

The first person who could eat of this salmon’s flesh would in turn have this knowledge.

Eventually he caught the fish and instructed Fionn to cook it. While doing so the boy burned his thumb and without thinking stuck it into his mouth, in so doing putting a piece of the fish’s skin in his mouth also. And so it was he and not his master who was endowed with the gift of all pervading knowledge.

Traditional Irish Boy’s Names Dáithí - Iarla

Dáithí

Say: daw-hee
Means ‘speed’ or ‘agility’. “Dáithí Lacha” was used as the Irish translation for Donald Duck, but it is more often anglicised as David.

Darragh Daire

Dara | Say: darra

Derives from ‘dair’ meaning ‘oak’.

Deaglán

Declan | Say: day-glawn

Old name of uncertain origin. St Declan is said to have been in Ireland before St Patrick. Many churches and schools bear his name and it is a common name in Ireland.

Diarmuid

Dermot | Say: deer-mwid

A very common name in Celtic mythology, it is said to mean ‘friend of all’. Has many anglicised forms including Jerome, Jeremiah and, believe it or not, Kermit! Who knew Kermit was Irish??

Donnacha Donagh

Say: dun-acka dun-ah

Means ‘brown headed warrior’. Common Irish name and surname. Brian Boru was succeeded by his son, Donagh.

Dónal Domhnall

Donal, Donald | Say: dough-nal

Literally means ‘world mighty’, or ‘ruler of the world’.

Eamon

Edmund, Edward | Say: aim-on

Means ‘keeper of riches’. Eamon De Valera was Ireland’s first Taoiseach (prime minister) and was later President of Ireland. A variant spelling is Iamonn, which is pronounced Yamon.

Éibhear

Heber, Ivor | Say: ee-vurr

In Irish mythology Míl was one of the Spanish antecedents of the Irish Celts. He had two sons, Éibhear Dunn (dark) and Éibhear Finn (fair). The name is mostly found today in the North of Ireland in its anglicised forms.

Emmet

Not strictly speaking Irish at all, but a name which honours the famous Irish rebel, Robert Emmet. Now quite popular as a first name.

Enda

Means ‘like a bird’ or ‘free as a bird’. It can be either a boy’s or a girl’s name.

Eoghan Eoin

Owen, John | Say: oh-in

Eo mean Yew, as in the tree but the name is taken to me ‘well born’. Co Tyrone in the north of Ireland is strictly translated as “Land of the Yew”, though it actually got its name from a 17th century warrior Eoin Roe O’Neill (Red Eoin) who led an army to victory over the English at the Battle of Benburb. The name is also one Irish form of John.

Fachtna

Say: fawk-nah

Was the name of an early Irish saint. Still in use but uncommon.

Felim

Say: fail-im

Philip
‘Always good’. Was a common name in early Ireland, less so now. Sometimes spelled Phelim.

Ferdia

Say: fer-dee-ah

Fear Dhia means ‘man of God.’ Ferdia was a warrior of Irish mythology.

Fearghal

Fergal | Say: fer-gull

‘Fear’ means ‘man’ and ‘geal’ means brave, so the name means ‘brave man’.

Fergus

Say: fer-gus

Again ‘Fear’ means ‘man'; ‘gus’ means ‘stong’, so ‘strong man’.

Fiach

Say: fee-ock

Means ‘ravan’. Fiach MacHugh O’Beirne was a considerable thorn in the side of Queen Elizabeth’s army in Ireland in the 16th century and is immortalised in the Irish folk song ‘Follow me up to Carlow‘.

Fiachra

Say: fee-ock-rah

Probably a derivation of Fiach. St Fiachra was an Irish monk who went to France and founded the village of Saint-Fiacre in Seine-et-Marne. He is famous for two things – not permitting women to enter his church and as the patron saint of Paris cab drivers!

Finbar

Barry

Means ‘fair-haired’. St. Finbar is the saint of Cork, and his name a very popular one in the area.

Finín

Florence | Say: fin-een

‘Fair son’. It is often anglicised to Florence, and yes, people in Ireland do name boys Florence. Mostly in West Cork, where it is quite a common name, often shortened to Flor.

Fionn

Finn | Say: fee-un

Means ‘fair’. Finn McCool is probably the best known Irish mythological hero. A member of the Fianna, he is said to have created the Giant’s Causeway in Co Antrim. This is the origin of the surname Flynn.

Fintan

Fin means ‘white’ and it is possible that ‘tan’ is from a word meaning ‘fire’. So the name can be taken to mean ‘white (fair) haired’ or ‘white fire/heat’. There are several St Fintan’s in Irish history, of whom some of the best known have associations with the midlands, where this name is most commonly found.

Fionn

Finn | Say: fee-yun

Means ‘white’ or ‘fair headed’. Fionn mac Cumhail (Finn McCool) is one of the best known characters of Irish folklore and mythology.

Flann

Say: flan

Means ‘blood red’. Flann O’Brien was the penname of Irish author Brian O’Nolan.

Garbhán

Garvan | Say: gar-van

From garbh meaning ‘rough’.

Gealbhan

Galvin| Say: gal-van

Means ‘bright white’. More often a surname than a first name nowadays.

Gearóid

Garret or Gerald | Say: ger-oh-id

‘Gearr’ means ‘spear’, and the name means ‘spear carrier’, it was a popular name among Norman Irish families. Still common enough, Garret Fitzgerald is a former Taoiseach of Ireland.

Giollachríst

Christian | Say: gilla-creest

Means ‘servant of God’.

Giollaiosa

| Say: gilla-ee-sah

‘Servant of Jesus’.

Iarla Iarfhlaith

Jarlath | Say: ear-lah

A popular name in Galway, especially around Tuam where St. Jarlath founded a monastery in the late 6th century. The letter J does not exist in Irish, so presumably he spelled his name in the Irish form.

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8 Comments

  1. Dominic Magliocco | November 7, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    I called my son Eoghan. I have been told by a friend of mine who is a professor of Celtic studies, that it is not the Irish for john but actually dates back to the pre-christian era.

    • I think you are probably correct. Irish to English is not always a direct translation when it comes to names.

    • Eoghan is actually a Scottish name, Scotts Gaelic and Irish (gaeilge) are very similar. Sean is the Irish for John and Eoghan is the Scotts Gaelic for John. The two languages are connected in many ways and this may be why Eoghan is often classified as Irish!

  2. Im emmet and kinda disappointed it doesn’t have irish roots :( and i lived in ireland all my life :(

  3. Fantastic information.  Thanks!  Diarmuid reminds me of druid.  Perhaps someday I’ll have a great white beard and live in a tree.  Suits me.

  4. Dont agree at all….Eoghan or Eoin does indeed have Irish roots.  Just becasue it also has scottish roots does not make it less irish.

  5. Daniel Patrick Thomas | February 21, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    what about daniel – “DANNYBOY” gotta be in there C’mon !

One Trackback

  1. By Brain Food | VoVatia on March 19, 2012 at 3:15 am

    [...] It being St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it appropriate to regale you with a bit of Celtic mythology. Okay, it’s actually only St. Patrick’s for another half hour, and I’m not sure I’ll finish this post in that time, but it was at least STARTED on the seventeenth. Anyway, the myth in question here is that of Fintan, the Salmon of Knowledge. This creature was apparently an ordinary salmon at first, but when eating of the nine hazelnuts that had grown above his well, he gained an incredible amount of knowledge. Later, the goddess Boann magically caused the well to boil over, forming the River Boyne, in which Fintan ended up. The druid and poet Finn Eces, also known as Finegas, spent seven years trying to catch the fish, and eventually succeeded. At this point, the legendary Finn MacCool was a pupil of Finegas’, and Finn cooked the salmon for his master. When he burnt himself on one of Fintan’s fins, he sucked on the resulting blister, and that gave him the knowledge that the fish had contained. Finegas realized that the rest of the fish would do him no good after that, and allowed Finn to eat the whole thing, leading to his becoming intelligent as well as strong and brave. Some people just have it all, don’t they? Image Source [...]

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