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The Story of a Name: Niamh

Niamh, Oisin and Emabarr

Niamh, Oisín and Embarr

Niamh of the Golden Hair was a beautiful goddess from Tír na nÓg, the land of eternal youth, who lured Oisín, son of the warrior Finn McCumhaill, away to marry her. He promised his father he would return and after three years in Tír na nÓg, Deirdre consented to let him go back for a short time.

She gave him her magical horse, who could not be killed and whose hooves never touched the ground, to hasten and make safe his journey, but warned him he must not dismount.

When Oisín returned to Ireland he discovered he had been away not three years, but three hundred and that his father was only remembered as a legend. He fell from the horse and himself instantly became an old man.

Niamh, having given birth to their son in his absense, came to search for him but when she arrived learned that he had died of old age.

Irish Girl’s Names Macha -Sorcha

Anyone looking for Irish names for girls starting with ‘w’, ‘v’, ‘y’ or ‘x’ will be disappointed – these letters are either very rarely or never used in Ireland and therefore no such names exist.

Macha

Say: mock-ah

A Goddess or Queen of Irish myth, associated with battle and horses. The Irish word ‘macha’ means ‘plain’ – as in a flat area of grass, not as in ordinary looking!

Maebh

Maeve | Say: mave

An ancient Irish name meaning ‘bringer of great joy’ or ‘enchanting one’. Meave was a legendary Queen of Connaught (the west of Ireland) who invaded Ulster.

Máire

Mary, Maura, Moira | Say: maw-rah

Irish version of Mary.

Maoliosa

Melissa | Say: male-eessa

Means follower of Jesus. The Irish version can also be used as a boys name.

Muadnait

Mona, Monica | Say: Mwa-naht

Means ‘little noble one’. Is also used as the Irish version of Monica.

Múireann

Say: mwir-in

Means ‘sea white’ or ‘long-haired’ and was the name of a mythological mermaid who was transformed into a woman.

Neasa

Nessa | Say: nessa

Originally a Viking rather than an Irish name it became popular in the 14th century. In Irish history Nessa was the mother of Conor Mac Nessa, king of Ulster.

Niamh

Neve | Say: neve

The name means ‘radiance or brilliance’.

Nollaig

Noelle | Say: null-ig

The Irish word for Christmas.

Nora

A very Irish name but of uncertain origin. Noirín (Noreen) is the diminutive of the same name.

Oonagh Oona

Una | Say: oooh-nah

Probably an Irish version of the Latin word for ‘one’, though it may come from the Irish word ‘uan’ meaning ‘lamb’. According to legend Oonagh was the Queen of the Fairies.

Orlaith, Orlagh

Orla | Say: or-la

Or means gold and the name is taken to mean Golden Princess.

Rian Rhionnan

Rianne | Say: ree-an ree-an-on

Means little King, can be used for boys also but is usually a girls name. Also found in Wales.

Rionach

Riona | Say: ria-nock

Means ‘like a queen’ or regal.

Róisín

Rosaleen | Say: roe-sheen

A diminutive of Rosa, the Latin for Rose, so means ‘little rose’. Rosaleen is a variant. Dark Rosaleen was a name used for Ireland in a famous poem.

Sadhbh

Sive | Say: sive, rhymes with hive

Some say it means ‘goodness’, others that is is an Irish translation from the Latin ‘sabine’ as in Sabine Women. Became more popular after a hit play called ‘Sive’ was written by Irish playwright John B. Keane.

Saoirse

Say: seersha

Means ‘freedom’. The name became popular after Ireland became an independent state in the early part of the 10th century.

Shannon

Name of Ireland’s largest river. Not much used as a name in Ireland, but popular in coutries such as the USA to which the Irish emigrated.

Shona

Say: show-nah

A feminisation of John or Séan.

Síne

Sheena | Say: shee-nah

Irish feminised form of John or Séan.

Sinéad

Say: shin-aid

Origin unclear but it is a very old name. Often mistakenly said to be an Irish translation of Jane.

Siobhán

Say: shiv-awn
Shivaun, Joan
Again a very old name of unclear origin but enduring popularity. May be a feminisation of John.

Sorcha

Say: sawrk-ah

A medieval name which died out for many centuries but has become used again lately. Sometimes used as the Irish for Sarah.

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18 Comments

  1. Rhonda Middlekauff | January 31, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I was looking for some thing a bit more feminie than Casey. I did not see a female version of the name Casey? I did find Oonagh which seems perfect for the daughter we are about to adopt, though we are of German descent. We both have  a bit of Irish in our bloodline. Miles and McGuiness. Thank you

  2. Casey is a surname, although I know it is used as a first name in many places (not really in Ireland though). It would not have a female version. Most Irish names, first or second, don’t have male and female versions.

    I think Oonagh is a really beautiful name, and although it’s not common here it has increased a little in use of late.

  3. This is so interesting. My great-grandmother’s name was Hannorah Casey, and she came over to America from Ireland on the boat when she was 18 (by herself too). I have to tell my grandmother that i found this site, she loves everything to do with Ireland. Her name is Anna Casey Black (granddad’s surname). I can’t wait to go back to Ireland, it’s so beautiful. I just wanted to let you know that I love this site!

  4. I don’t see my name there, surprising although it is rare even in Ireland … spellt Mairead pronounced Ma_rayde… there is a fada over the e ……

  5. What do you mean Sinead is ‘Often mistakenly said to be an Irish translation of Jane’? MISTAKENLY?? Sinead IS the Irish Gaelic form of Jane, and the feminine form of John. It means ‘a gift from God’.

  6. I’m doing some genealogy research and on a death certificate from 1934, and I’m unable to read my great great grandmother’s first name.  Her last name was Byron, she was born in Ireland in the 1800s.  It looks a little like Jutus or Juter or?  are there any Irish girls names from that era that begin with J?

    • Julia? There js no letter J in the Irish language, so it’s not an Irish name as such. However Julia was a common name at that time.

  7. Can anyone tell me what the name Saoirle means?

  8. my name is tyrona and it IS an irish name so there Katherine.

    • Tyrona isn’t an Irish name, it’s probably derived from County Tyrone but it’s a made up name, not a traditional Irish one.

  9. Can anyone help me with the meaning or origin of the name Seodín? I’m expecting our 3rd child and have a Fionn and a Sadhbh already and we’re struggling to find another girls name that we can both agree on! Thanks :)

    • It is not a name with which I am familiar, but since ‘seoda’ means jewel and the ‘ín’ is usually a diminutive then I’d go with ‘little jewel’, which is a lovely name.

      I’d question the spelling though. There is a rule or thumb in Irish that goes ‘leathan le leathan agus caol le caol ‘, which basically means that vowels separated by consonants, should agree – so if there is a broad (or narrow) vowel before a consonant in a word, there should be a broad (or narrow) vowel afterwards too.

      Thus the ‘o’ before the d in Seodín with the ‘í’ after it looks kind of wrong. Perhaps Seoidín?

  10. Sadhbh Brennan | January 5, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Oh my God I cannot believe someone called ‘tyrona’ thinks their name is an actual Irish name?! Definitely isn’t!!

  11. I’m trying to decide between Niamh and Nora; I love the name Niamh, but I live in California and I’m concerned about the difficulty people will have in reading and spelling Niamh.  (I wouldn’t ever go the “Neve” or “Neeve” route, so that solution is out.)  Nora is much easier for English-speaking people to recognize, however I noticed that here it is spelt without the fada.  I’ve seen it both ways and prefer the fada; are there any Noras here with a fada on the o? 

  12. Hi Katherine, my brother has names his little girl May. Sousa wo deri g if there is a translation for this besides Bealtaine? Thanks for your help

    • May is I think a diminutive of Mary that just happens to share the name with a month. Bealtaine is, as you know, the month and would not be used as a name. I’d go with the Irish for Mary, which is Máire – pronounced ‘maura’.

  13. It annoys me that Sarah is seen as the English version of Sorcha as they both have completely different meanings. Sarah means princess. Sorcha means bright or radiant (the opposite to “dorcha” which means dark in Irish).

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