English Surnames in Ireland

English people have always come to live in Ireland, some as invaders, some as planters and some simply because they liked the place. They still some, though these days their purpose is not to conquer but to enjoy living here!

So, names common in England, such as Smith or Collins, are common in Ireland too. However it is not always as clear as it may seem. While many bearers of these names are descended from English settlers or immigrants, others bear a name which sounds and is spelled the same as an English one but has a different origin.

Thus a family with the name Collins may have English ancestry, or they may descend form the the Cullane (O’Coileain, which means “holly”) clan, who anglicised their name variously to Collins, Cullen and Cullinan.

While many English names common in Ireland arrived relatively recently, some have been around much longer. They are frequently seen in place names, such. the Bagenals of Bangenalstown in Co Carlow or and the Edgeworths of Edgeworthstown in Longford who were among a group of Elizabethans settlers arriving in Ireland in the 16th century.

During the reign of Cromwell and after his invasion or Ireland another wave of English arrived, bringing with them names such as Woodcock, still found in the South-East, and Upton which is fairly common in Co Clare.

Other names of English origin which are fairly frequently found in Ireland include Courtney, Hatton, Boyle, Carew, Denny and Browne.

Catholic or Protestant?

It is easy to jump to the conclusion that a name is of English origin simply because it is commonly found in England. It may be so, but it can also be the case that, during the years when the use of Gaelic names was forbidden, an Irish name was ‘translated’ into an unrelated or similar sounding English name, or that the name of a landlord or employer was adopted as an alternative.

The name Harrington, made famous around the world in recent times by all-conquering golfer Padriag Harrington, is a good example. A fairly common name in Ireland it certainly sounds English, but the origin is not always clear and it may also be a translation of a Gaelic name, or even an adopted name.

As a rule of thumb, if the bearer of the name was Protestant, there is a strong likelihood that it originated in England, but if the bearer was Catholic, it is more likely to be an anglicised or adopted alternative to a Gaelic name.

This same rule can be applied to other names. Although names changed frequently down the years, religious beliefs very rarely did.

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  • Dan Duffey says:

    Why the different spellings of the surnames, Duffey and Duffy?

  • Flo says:

    I just received results of DNA test. As expected, it indicates 100% eastern European with 80.7% Irish / English ancestry. My maiden name is McGonigle and seems like name originated in Northern Ireland. I would like to know it that is correct. We visited Ireland a few years ago and I talked to someone who was supposed to know about these things. If anyone could help, that would be great! I have been working on a couple of ancestry sites for several years but an not very good at getting past my great grand parents. I am elderly so all my relatives of previous generations are passed.

  • Laura Brooks says:

    Can you tell me what my surname is as gaeilge? My name is Laura Brooks.

  • B. Murphy-Bridge says:

    “…Other names of English origin which are fairly frequently found in Ireland include Courtney, Hatton, Boyle, ….”
    The O Boyles were chieftains in Donegal, ruling west Ulster with the O Donnells and the O Doughertys. Boyles can also be found in Kildare and Offaly.”

  • Diane Robetcky says:

    my maiden name is “Cannon” and ancestors came to U.S. from Ireland three generations ago, supposedly from Altheron, Kilkerry, haven’t see any coat of arms for “Cannon” so wondered if name has changed? Thank you

  • Brooks says:

    Brooks my mothers maiden name originated in England, unlike my father’s ancient Irish surname. The Brookses came to the United States from Ireland, and were Catholic. I am curious to see if I have Norman/English ancestry. The only way to tell would be a DNA test. Does anyone know how accurate the test is?

  • Brooks says:

    You have a good point Jah, also the English were in Ireland 365 years before Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church. Prior to that all of Europe was Catholic.

    • Brooks says:

      Correction to my previous statement. Prior to the Reformation all of Western Europe was Catholic, but the word Christian was probably used.

  • JAH says:

    Utter nonsense. Catholics and protestants have intermarried for hundreds of years. The names of both Cathoilic and Protestants can be from either source. O’Neil for starters.

    This site is useless. 

  • Dorman says:

     I have traced my family name off Dorman to a town called Drombo, outside Belfast in the 1850’s. Where would I look  to find further information.
    Thank you

    Bruce Dorman 

  • Sylvia says:

    I don’t think the trem catholic or proetstant should be included on this site as it is irrelevant.  the division of the church happend due to henry VIII.  Ireland is not a Christian isle and it was only invaders that they have taken on christianity.  In fact it was so hard to convince the local inhabitants that Christianity was a good idea that they had to meld it with the ‘old ways’.  Dislike thios catholoc and protestant rubbish

    • Brooks says:

      That’s right Sylvia, the native religion was Druidry/Brehon. Some people confuse Catholicism with being Irish.

  • Stringer says:

    I am almost certain that Stringer is originally an English name, but I was wondering when they came to Ireland and where they settled.

  • warren says:

    my name is B.F. Warren. I wish to know if this surname could be a convenient translation from  the Irish surname of O’Muirneain that may have taken place during the years of persecutions experienced by natives during the middle and later years of English and British settlements here

    • Sarah jane says:

      Ya that surname was origionally English. They were a family of poverty and were the servants of king Henry VII

    • Marinan says:

      B.F. Warren,
      Dr. Edward MacLysaght’s book “More Irish Families” mentions how some Irish O’Murnain/Marrinan/Marrinane/Murnane families switched to Warren. There are DNA surname studies for both names on familytreedna.com that you could join to find out if yours is one of those that changed. Not sure which name Sarah’s talking about, but O’Murnain etc. was never English and Warren is a quite prominant Anglo-Norman name.

    • Jen says:

      My great great grandmother was also a Warren. The broader family history (from Ireland) is not straightforward but I can’t tell you the distribution of Warrens I have found mostly cluster around the greater Dublin area. That said, I know her family identified as Catholic and I did find a family in parish baptism records with the right Latin variant names at the right time in Co. Sligo. I don’t know if that helps — to know that Catholic Warrens existed or where, but there you have it.

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