Ancient Irish Proper Names

(Click on each name below for further information taken from Patrick Woulfe’s Irish Names and Surnames).

AT this stage it may be well to give for the reader's information the following Irish proper names and adfixes:—

Aodh [ee], anglicised Hugh, was one of the most frequent names of Kings and Chiefs among the Irish; the word signifies fire, the Vesta of the Pagan Irish, and was probably derived from the religious worship of the Druids. This name has been latinized Aedus, Aedanus, Aidus, Aidanus, Hugo, and Odo; and is the root of Hughes, MacHugh, Hodson, Hudson, etc.

Aongus, or Æneas, derived from Aon, excellent, and gus, strength, is the root of Guinness, MacGuinness, Innes, Ennis, Hennessy, etc.

Ardgal may be derived from ard, exalted, and gal, valour; and Artgal, from the proper name Art, and gaol [geel], a relative of.

Art signifies noble, great, generous, etc.; and is the root of O'Hart, etc.

Blosgach implies great strength; and is the root of the sirname MacBlosgaidh, anglicised MacCloskey.

Brandubh, from bran, which here means a raven, and dubh, black. This name was applied to a person whose hair was of very dark colour.

Brian is derived from bri, strength, and an, very great, meaning a warrior of great strength; or brian may be derived from bran, a mountain torrent, which implies powerful strength. Bran, in this meaning of the term, is the root of the sirnames Brain, Brian, Brien, Bryan, Bryant, Byrne, Byron, O'Brien, O'Byrne, etc.

Cairbre, from corb, a chariot, and ri, a king; signifying the “ruler of the chariot.”

Cathair [cahir], from cath, a battle, and ar, slaughter.

Cathal [cahal] signifies “a great warrior:” and is derived from cath, a battle, and all, great.

Cathbhar [cah-war] signifies a “helmeted warrior:” from cathbhar, a helmet; but some derive it from cath, a battle, and barr, a chief. This was a favourite name with the chiefs of the O'Donnells of Tyrconnell; because it is thought, of their lineal descent from Conn of the Hundred Battles (in Irish, called Conn Ceadcatha), the 110th Monarch of Ireland, who lived in the second century It is, however, probable that they assumed the adfix cath, in commemoration of that illustrious ancestor.

Conall means friendship; or it may be derived from con, the genitive of cu, a hound (as applied to a swift-footed warrior), and from all, great, or mighty.

Conchobhar signifies the “helping warrior;” and is derived from cu or con as above, and cobhair [cowir] aid. The name has been anglicised “Conn,” and latinized “Cornelius” and “Conquovarus;” and the root of the sirname Connor, O'Conor and O'Connor. Wherever cu, a hound, commences the name of any chief, it means, figuratively, “a swift-footed warrior;” as, Cuchonnacht, Cuchullan (Ulladh [ulla], sometimes inflected Ullain: Irish “Ulster”), Cumidhe (Midhe [mee]: Irish, “Meath”), Cu- Ulladh: meaning, respectively, “the warrior of Connaught,” “the warrior of Meath,” “the warrior of Ulster,” etc. It may be here observed that Ulladh, meaning “the province of Ulster,” but now represented by the counties of Down and Antrim, was so called because it was the territory into which the ancient Ulla were driven by the three Collas, in A.D. 333. The name Cuchonnacht has been anglicised “Connor” and “Constantine.”

Conn (latinized “Quintus,” and anglicised Quinn) is derived from conn, wisdom. It is by some derived from cu (genitive con), a hound or swift-footed warrior.

Cormac signifies “the son of the chariot,” etc.; and is derived from corb, a chariot, and mac, a son.

Diarmaid signifies the “god of arms;” and is derived from dia, a god, and “armaid” (the genitive plural of arm) of arms. As an epithet, it was applied to a warrior, and was equivalent to one of Homer's heroes—Dios Krateros Diomedes, or “The god-like fighting Diomede.” The name has been anglicised Darby, Dermod, Dermot, and Jeremy or Jeremiah; and became a sirname, as MacDiarmada, anglicised MacDermott, in Ireland, and MacDiarmid, in Scotland.

Domhnall [donal] is derived from domhan [dowan], the world, and all, mighty; and is the root of the sirnames MacDonald, MacDonnell, Daniel, MacDaniel, and O'Donnell.

Donoch, Doncha, or Donchu is the root of MacDonough, and O'Donohue; and is by some considered to be derived from donn, brown, and cu, a warrior. This name is more properly derived from the Clann Domhnaigh (see the “MacDonough” pedigree), and is anglicised Donogh and Denis, in Ireland; and Duncan, in Scotland.

Eachmarcach [oghmarchagh] and Eachmilidh [oghmili] have almost a similar signification: the former is derived from each, a steed, and marcach, a rider; the latter, from each, a steed, and “mileadh,” a hero.

Eigneachan [enehan] is derived from eigean, force, and neach [nagh], a person; and may signify “a plundering chief.”

Eochaidh is derived from each or eoch [och], a steed; and signifies “a knight or horseman.” It is pronounced “Eochy,” “Ohy,” and “Ahy.” This name has been latinized Achaius.

Eoghan signifies “a young man,” or “youthful warrior;” and as a personal name has been anglicised Eugene and Owen.

Feargal is derived from fear [fhar], a man (lat. vir), and gal, valour; and signifies “a valiant warrior.” This Irish word is the root of the Latin proper name “Virgil,” and of the surnames O'Farrell, O'Ferrall, and Freel; it also became a Christian name in some families, as “Farrell O'Rourke,” etc.

Feidhlim or Feidhlimidh, signifies “great goodness.” It is pronounced “Felim,” and “Felimy;” is anglicised Felix, and latinized Fedlimius; it is derived from the Irish feile, hospitality.

Fergus signifies “a strong warrior;” and is derived from fear, a man, and gus, strength.

Fiacha or Fiach, is derived from fiacha, a hunter; and is a frequent name of Kings and Chiefs, from the earliest ages: probably from the occupation or amusement of hunting, so prevalent in early times.

Fionn means fair-haired, and was a favourite adfix to the names of many Kings and Chiefs.

Flaithbheartach [flahertagh] is derived from flaith, a chief, and bearthach, cunning; and means “a clever or cunning chief.”

Flann, blood, signifies “of a red complexion.”

Gearrmaide signifies “the chief with the short cudgel;” and is derived from gearr, short, and maide, a stick.

Giolla means “a servant or disciple;” as Giolla-Iosa (anglicised Giles, and latinized Gelasius), “the servant of Jesus;” Giolla-Chriosd, “the servant of Christ;” Giolla-Muire, “the servant of Mary;” Giolla-Paidraig, “the servant of St. Patrick,” etc. This name Giolla is latinized “Gulielmus,” and anglicised “William.”

Guaire signifies “noble or excellent.”

Maol was prefixed chiefly to the names of ecclesiastics; and signifies a “bald or tonsured person,” who became the spiritual servant or devotee of some saint: as Maol-Iosa, “the servant of Jesus;” Maol-Peadair, “the servant of Peter;” Maol-Poil, “the servant of Paul;” Maol Colum (contracted to “Malcolm,”) “the servant of St. Columkille.” This word Maol is the root of the sirname Moyles.

Maolmordha is derived from mordha, proud, and maol (as above); it is anglicised Myles.

Maolseachlainn, signifying “the servant of St. Seachnal” (or Secundinus), the nephew of St. Patrick, was a name frequent amongst the Chiefs and Kings of Meath; it is contracted to Melachlin, which is the Irish for the Christian name Malachy or “Malachi;” and has been applied as a sir-name to the latest Kings of Meath and their descendants—namely, O'Melaghlin.

Muircheartach is derived from muir, the sea, and ceart, a right; and may signify “a naval warrior,” or a chief who established his rights at sea. This name is the root of the sirname Murtagh, Moriarty, Mortimer, etc.

Muireadhach (the root of the sirname Murdoch), may be derived from muir, the sea, and eadhach, a protector; it is a name equivalent to that of “admiral,” and has been anglicised Maurice and Murray.

Niall (genitive Neill) signifies a “noble knight” or “champion;” this name is the root of the sirname O'Neill, etc.

Ruadhraige or Rudhraighe has been anglicised Rory, Roderick, and Rogers; and may be derived from ruadh, valiant, or ruadh, red, and righ, a king: signifying “the valiant, or red-haired king.”

Tadhg (modernized Teige) originally meant “a poet;” it is the root of the sirnames Teague, MacTague, Tighe, Montague, etc.

Tighearnan [tiarnan] is derived from tighearna, a lord; and is the root of Tierney MacTernan, etc.

Toirdhealbhach [torlogh] is derived from tor, a tower, and dealbhach, shape or form: signifying “a man of tower-like stature.” This name has been anglicised Terence, Terrie, Terry, etc.

Tomaltach is derived from tomailt provisions; and hence came to signify, “a man of hospitality.” The root of the word is “tomhas,” a measure; and from “tomhas,” by metathesis, comes “Thomas.”

Torloch (from tor, a tower, and leac, a stone) signified a man possessed of “great strength and stature.”

Tuathal [tool] comes from tuatha, territories—meaning one possessed of “large landed property;” it is the root of the sirnames Toole, O'Toole, Tootal, Tolan, etc.

Ualgarg meant “a famous and fierce warrior;” it is derived from uaill, famous, and garg, fierce.


The following are a few of the ancient Irish Christian names of Men, which have been anglicised:

The Name in IrishAnglicised
Brian,Bernard, Barney, Barnaby.
Conn,Constantine, Corney, Cornelius.
Cuconnacht,Constantine, Connor.
Ferdorach,Frederic, Frederick, Ferdinand.
Heremon,Irwin (now nearly obsolete).
Lughaidh,Lewy, Lewis.
Melaghlin,Malachy, Malachi.
Ruadhri,Rory, Roderick, Roger.
Tomoltach,Timothy, Thomas.


A few ancient Irish names of Women are here given; but, for fuller information on the subject, the reader is referred to Ban-Seanchus (meaning “History of Remarkable Women”); which forms a curious tract in the Book of Leacan, fol. 193—

Name in Irish.Anglicised.
Finola or Finnghuala, meaning “of the fair shoulders.”Nuala, and Penelopé.
Meadhbh [meave],Maud, Mab, Mabby.
Mor [more], majestic,Martha, Mary.
Sadhbh [soyv],Sabina, Sally.
Sorcha,Sarah, Sally, Lucy, Lucinda.
Una,Winnifred, Winny.
Sheela,Celia, Sibby.

To these may be added:—

Dearforgail or Dearvorgal,[1] which signifies “a purely fair daughter;” and is derived from dear, a daughter, and

Dubhdeasa or Dudeasa, signifies “a dark-haired beauty;” and is derived from dubh [duff], dark, and deas, beautiful. This word is the root of the sirnames Dease and Deasy.

Flanna signified “a rosy-complexioned beauty.”

See also our Irish names section for other articles on the origin and meaning of names.)

[1] Dearvorgal: See No. 112 on the “O'Rourke” pedigree, for Dearvorgal, the wife of Tiernan O'Ruarc, Prince of West Brefni; to whom, in “The Song of O'Ruarc,” Thomas Moore alludes in his Irish Melodies.