Friday, January 13, 2017

A History of Irish Surnames

Walsh is the fourth-most-common surname in Ireland, yet I'm surprised how many people don't know this. If yours isn't on this list, you can check to see what is known about it HERE.


The most common Irish surnames in Ireland haven’t changed much for a century. Here are 10 of them:
1. Murphy — The Anglicized version of the Irish surname Ó Murchadha and Mac Murchadha, meaning “sea warrior.”
2. Kelly — The origin of this Irish name is uncertain. An Anglicized version of the Irish name Ó Ceallaigh, it can describe a warrior or mean “white-headed,” “frequenting churches,” or “descendant of Ceallach.
3. O’Sullivan — (Ó Súileabháin or Ó Súilleabháin in Irish). In 1890, 90 percent of the O’Sullivans were estimated to be in Munster. Many people agree that the basic surname means “eye,” but they do not agree whether the rest of the name means “one-eyed,” “hawk-eyed,” “black-eyed,” or something else.
4. Walsh — This name came to Ireland via British soldiers during the Norman invasion of Ireland and means “from Wales.” It’s derived from Breathnach or Brannagh.
5. Smith — This surname does not necessarily suggest English ancestry, as some think; often the surname was derived from Gabhann (which means “smith”).
6. O’Brien — This name came down from Brian Boru (941-1014) who was king of Munster; his descendants took the name Ó Briain.
7. Byrne (also Byrnes; O’Byrne) — from the Irish name Ó Broin (“raven”; also, descendant of Bran); this dates to the ancient Celtic chieftain Bran mac Máelmórda, a King of Leinster in the 11thcentury.
8. Ryan — This name has various possible origins: from the Gaelic Ó Riagháin (grandson or descendant of Rían) or Ó Maoilriain (grandson/descendant of Maoilriaghain) or Ó Ruaidhín (grandson/descendant of the little red one). Or it may be a simplification of the name Mulryan. It means “little king.”
9. O’Connor — From Ó Conchobhair (grandson or descendant of Conchobhar; “lover of hounds”).
10. O’Neill — Anglicized from the Gaelic Ua Néill (grandson or descendant of Niall). The name is connected with meanings including “vehement” and “champion.” The main O’Niall family is descended from the historic “Niall of the Nine Hostages.”


bugjlg said...

I would love to know how it came to be that Irish is spelled in so complicated a fashion! Why are there so many letters needed to make a relatively simple sound?

Unknown said...

It is quite simple to read once you know the rules. The letter H doesn't actually exist in Irish, but came to be used to signal changes the sound of the consonants.

It used to be written as a dot over the consonant but that changed to putting a H after the consonant. This is called lenition.
So woman is bean, pronounced like ban in English. When you use the definite article, you add the H to change it. The woman is 'an bhean', pronounced like 'on van', roughly.

With names, some can have older spelling forms that are kept in surnames but as first names are often modernised.
Conchubhar or Conchobhar is a good example which is pronounced like"KONN-uh-khoor. with the kh being slightly guttural, a little like you hear loch pronounced in Scottish.
Conchúr is a more modernised version usually heard as a first name.
The rules are not too difficult once learnt, but you'll be thrown if you try to pronounce stuff as you would in English.

It helps with the pronunciation immensely if you pronounce the name as

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