Archive for the ‘Irish Names’ Category

As everyone and their auntie knows, today is St Paddy’s day.

And as Patrick is Ireland’s patron, it’s a day as much about celebrating Ireland as commemmorating him.

Although many contend that his feast day of March 17 is because it is the anniversary of his death, many others propose it has more to do with the approaching equinox and Pagan celebrations which marked the arrival of spring.

Of course, it might well be both.

Saturday has become the day when I generally look at great surnames which have not yet seen much use as first names. I plan to take a detailed look at Irish surnames — and surnames from the other Celtic lands — after I’ve finished the English ones, but to mark the special occasion, I thought I’d take a look today at the very best and most wearable contemporary options that Ireland has to offer.

All are Anglicized forms of  the original Irish Gaelic.

  • BardonÓ Bardáin “son of the little bard.” Also Barden and Bardane.
  • Bradigan — Ó Bradagáin probably “descendant of the spirited one.”
  • Branigan — Ó Branagáin “descendant of Branagan” (“little raven”).
  • Branley — Ó Branghaile “descendant of Branghal” (“raven-valour”). Also Brannelly.
  • BrannaghBreathnach “a Breton.”
  • Brannan — Ó Branáin “descendant of Branan” (“little raven”).
  • Cafferty — Mac Eachmharcaigh “son of the steed-rider.”
  • Cassily — Ó Caisile, possibly “descendant of the one from Cashel” or a variant of Ó Caiside — the Irish Gaelic form of the well-known Cassidy.
  • Connan — Mac Canann “son of the little wolf cub.”
  • Coveney — Mac Coibheanaigh “son of the trooper.”
  • Darragh — Mac Dubhdara “son of the black oak” (Darragh is a popular boy’s name in the Republic of Ireland).
  • Donnelly — Ó Donnghaile “descendant of Donnghal” (“brown-valour”).
  • Drennan — Ó Draighnáin “descendant of the blackthorn.”
  • Finnerty — Ó Fionnachta “descendant of Fionnachta” (“white-snow”). Also Finaghty.
  • FlahertyÓ Flaithbheartaigh “descendant of Flaithbheartaigh” (“bright ruler”). Also Flaverty.
  • Foylan — Ó Faoileáin “descedant of Faoileán” (“little wolf”).
  • GallinaghÓ Gailínigh possibly “descendant of the flattering one.” Also Gallina.
  • Gilligan — Mac Giollagáin “son of the little lad/devotee.”
  • Guinevan — probably Mac Dhuinnebháin “son of Donnadubhán” (“little brown-black one”).
  • Hanley — Ó hÁinle “descendant of the dainty one.”
  • Hanlon — Ó hAnluáin “descendant of Anluan” (probably “great champion” — intensifying prefix an + luan “champion”).
  • Helehan — Ó hAiolleacháin ” descendant of the little joyful one.”
  • Henelly — a variant of FENELLY.
  • Hennessy
  • Kendrigan — Ó Cinndeargáin probably “descendant of the little red-headed one.”
  • Kerrigan — Ó Ciaragáin “descendant of the little black one.”
  • Kinneally — Ó Cinnfhaolaidh ” descendant of the wolf’s-head” (i.e. “outlaw”).
  • Kitterick — Mac Shitric “son of Sitric” (Irish form of the Norse Sigtrygg “true victory”).
  • Larrissey — Ó Learghusa “descendant of Learghus” (“sea-vigour”). Also Laracy.
  • Lafferty — Ó Laithbheartaigh. Essentially a variant of FLAHERTY.
  • LynaghLaighneach “Leinsterman.” Also Leynagh.
  • Madigan — Ó Madagáin “descendant of the little hound.”
  • Marron — Ó Mearáin “descendant of the little lively/quick one.”
  • Mellerick — Ó Maoilgheiric, probably “descendant of a devotee of St Cyriac.”
  • Merrigan — Ó Muireagáin “descendant of Muireagan” (probably a diminutive of muir “sea”).
  • Milligan — Ó Maoilegáin, a variant of Ó Maolagáin “descendant of the little bald one/devotee.”
  • Morrissey — Ó Muirgheasa “descendant of Muirgheas” (“sea-action”).
  • Neligan — Ó Niallagain “descendant of Niallagán” (a derivative of the well-known Irish name Neil, essentially “little Neil”).
  • Neylan — Ó Niallain “descendant of Niallán” (also “little Neil”). Also Nealon and Neilon.
  • Olice — perhaps eolgasasch “knowledgeable.” Also Olis.
  • Olisagh — a variant of OLICE.
  • Rafferty
  • Ronaghan — Ó Reannacháin “descendant of the litte sharp-pointed/starry one.”
  • Rogan — Ó Ruadhagáin “descendant of the little red one.”
  • Ruane — Ó Ruadháin “descendant of the little red one.”
  • Solan — Ó Sochlacháin “descendant of the little renowned one.”
  • Soran — Ó Soracháin “descendant of the little bright one.” Also Sorahan.
  • Tansey — Mac an Tanáiste “son of the heir presumptive.”
  • Thoran — Ó Toráin “descendant of the little lord.”
  • Timoney — Ó Tiománaidhe “descendant of the driver.”
  • Toran — variant of THORAN.
  • Traynor — Mac Thréinfhir “son of the strong man.”  Also Treanor.
  • Tynan — Ó Teimhneáin “descendant of the dark one.”
  • Varrelly — Mac an Bhearshúiligh “son of the sharp-eyed (man).”
  • VeighMac an Beatha “son of life.” Also MacVey and MacEvoy.

Mine’s a guinness ;).

Read Full Post »

This month’s name takes us reeling a jig over the sea to the Emerald Isle.

Aidan is currently very popular around the English-speaking world, although, in both America and Britain the spelling Aiden is now preferred, presumably because of influnece from Jayden and friends.

But, unlike Jayden, Aidan has a long and distinguished history — and is a particularly fine Pagan name.

Aidan is the usual Anglicized form of Irish Aodhán, which combines  aodh “fire” with the diminutive suffix -án. Thus it means “little fire.”

It was used in Ireland from at least the sixth century; though the usual Old Irish form was Áedán, and the “full form” Áed/Aodh were much more common. Numerous figures from history and legend bore the name.

Aodh is also the name of a God, regarded as a sun God. He is one of the children of Lir, who were turned into swans through the machinations of their evil step-mother Aoife.

The most famous Aidan, however, has to be the seventh-century saint of the name, associated with Lindisfarne. St Aidan is credited with introducing Christianity to Northumbria from Iona.

Still, it is clear it was a Pagan name before him :).

And as well as its ancient Pagan credentials, let’s not forget its potent meaning:


Fire is one of the classic four elements. Its importance to humankind is attested by the myriad of mythological stories which surround it, especially about how humankind first acquired it— from the tale of Prometheus in the Greek tradition, to the Choctaw story of Grandmother Spider stealing fire.

Understandably, fire is associated with the Sun, and — in all Northern Latitude countries — with the South, with summer and with the color red. It is representative of energy and passion, and the “spark” of life that animates and burns within us all. We use expressions in everyday English such as “hot” or “fiery” tempered without thinking, so common and embedded is the notion that anger or passion and fire are one.

Gods and goddess of fire play a significant role in most mythologies, such as the Irish Brigid, who is one of the most revered Goddesses in modern Paganism.

And many modern Pagans mark the festivals with a fire, especially the classic “fire festivals” — namely the cross-quarter ones of Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain.

So, if you’re looking for a boy’s name which is popular and well-known, but which has lots of Pagan mojo, why not consider the lovely Irish Aidan?

Read Full Post »

‘Number names’ seem to be a bit of an in thing at the moment, what with the recent celebrity arrivals, Harper Seven Beckham and Aleph Portman-Millepied. So this weeks Nook of Names Pick of the Week is a variation on the theme… or is it?

There is no denying that una is the feminine form of the Latin unus ‘one’ — both unus and one derive from the same Proto-Indo-European source, along with the German ein(e), Greek enas, Old Irish óen and Welsh un.

Unus also means ‘a single’ and ‘alone’.

As a name, this Una (traditionally pronounced ‘YOO-nuh’) first appears in Edmund Spenser’s epic allegorical masterpiece The Faerie Queene — written in the late 16th Century in praise of Queen Elizabeth I.

Una — essentially ‘the One and Only’ — stands for the Protestant Church of Queen Elizabeth I.  This is, of course — as far as Spenser is concerned — Good and True (in stark contrast with Elizabeth’s predecessor Queen Mary, and her Catholic Church, represented by the character of Duessa).

The Faerie Queene, even though it was never finished, was extremely influential, and bona fide examples of Una as a genuine given name in England date from the early 17th Century.

But this Latin Una is not the only Una of the British Isles. There is another, with an even older pedigree, over the Celtic Sea — Irish Úna.

This Una — pronounced ‘OO-nuh’, and sometimes Anglicized as Oona or Oonagh — is a name from Irish mythology. One Una was, ironically enough, a fairy queen — the wife of Finnbarr.

The best known, however, was a wife of Finn McCool. It was she who saved the day with her cunning when the Scottish giant Bennandonner crossed the Giant’s Causeway (which Finn had built) to fight Finn.

Una concocted a plan to trick Bennandonner into thinking Finn was far bigger, stronger and ‘more giant’ than Bennandonner. She dressed Finn up to look like a baby — and told Bennandonner that this enormous baby was Finn’s child.

This spooked Bennandonner enough, but while he waited for Finn to come home, Una gave him and the ‘baby’ an enormous steak to eat. The scary baby managed fine — but Bennandonner couldn’t eat a mouthful — the reason? The ‘baby’ had a real steak, but Una gave Bennandonner a rock painted to look like one.

This was all too much for Bennandonner, and he hot-footed it back to Scotland, tearing up the Causeway as he went.

In Modern Irish, úna actually means ‘famine’, but Úna is generally thought to have derived from the Old Irish uan ‘lamb’, and as well as appearing in myth, Úna was used as a genuine given name in medieval Ireland.

After the 17th Century, Irish names were usually ‘translated’ into English names — chosen sometimes by meaning, and sometimes by resemblance.

Thus Úna was turned into the English Agnes, due to the shared ‘lamb’ theme — for although Agnes does not derive from the Latin agnus ‘lamb’, its similarity meant that it was strongly associated with the fluffy creatures.

Others used were Winnie and Juno, because of their similarity in appearance and sound.

Although it is difficult to tell whether the Latin or Irish Una is being used, Una, Oona and Oonagh are all found in the 19th Century — and not just in Ireland.

None is seeing much use at the moment. In the UK, Una was nowhere near the top 1000 in 2010, while Oona and Oonagh languished below the 2000s.

Una is similarly scarce in the US, where in 2010, the Latin Una was found more frequently spelled phonetically as Yuna. There were also a few examples of Yoona.

Oona is extremely rare, and Oonagh doesn’t feature at all.

Una also has some interesting meanings in other languages. In Italian and Spanish, una is the feminine indefinite pronoun – i.e. ‘a’ – as well as ‘one’, just like in Latin.

In the South American language Tupi, una means ‘black’, and features in the name of the mythical South American snake the boyuna ‘black snake’, while in Old Norse, una means ‘to dwell contentedly’, ‘to enjoy’, ‘to rejoice’ and ‘to be content with (one’s lot)’.

There are various rivers and towns around the world called Una too, such as the Una River in Croatia, and Una in Gujurat, India. There’s even a genus of butterfly called Una.

So if you’re thinking Luna, but worried it’s too Harry Potter, why not consider the lovely, lonely Una instead?

Read Full Post »

Today is the Celtic feast of Lughnasadh, and if you are celebrating, a bright, blessed and fruitful Lughnasadh to you!

Let’s hope the rain holds off!

Although Lughnasadh is specifically Irish, the cross-quarter day August 1 is marked across the British Isles, where it is now mostly known as Lammas, from the Old English hlāfmæsse from hlāf ‘loaf’ and ‘bread’ and mæsse ‘mass’, and it celebrates the first harvest and first fruits of the season.

What the original name of the feast in what is now England and Wales was is unknown, but it was quite possibly cognate with the Irish. For Lugh is the Irish form of Lugus — the name of one of the most important of the Celtic Pagan Gods, whose name is recorded across the Celtic world.

This also survives in the Welsh form Lleu — and it may be cognate with the Norse Loki. Loki and Lugh certainly share a lot in common. They are both tricksters. Moreover, Lugus is often considered the Celtic version of Odin, and it has been suggested that Loki is in fact an aspect of Odin too.

Some depictions of Lugus hint him being a triple God; he is sometimes presented with three faces — and other times with three phalluses. This is also supported by some Irish myths in which Lugh is said to have been one of triplets, and it has been suggested he is the triple God composed of of the deities Esus, Toutatis and Taranis, recorded by Roman historians.

Today, Lugh is often perceived as a sacrificial God of rebirth, representing the cycle of agriculture — a John Barleycorn-like figure who is sown, grows and harvested; some of the grain is prepared as bread, some stored, to begin the cycle all over again.

But what is the source of the name?

Traditionally, Lugus was said to be from the Proto-Indo-European *lewko- ‘to shine’ – the same source as the Latin lux, from which last week’s Pick of the Week Lucius derives.

However, there are linguistical problems with this, and it may be that it actually comes from the opposite Proto-Indo-European *leug- ‘blackness’ (raising the same interesting parallels regarding duality of meaning as I discussed with Blake), or Common Celtic: *lug- ‘oath’.

However, *lewko- ‘to shine’ is still possible and plausible, perhaps developing from a parallel root *lewg- instead of directly from the traditional *lewko-.

How the festival was celebrated in England and Wales in pre-Christian times is lost, along with the accompanying myths. But Irish Lughnasadh is different.

According to Irish myth, Lughnasadh was instituted by Lugh in honor of his foster-mother Taillte, who died after preparing Ireland for its first sowing.

It passed into the Christian calendar, preserving its Pagan name (in the same way Easter does).

Like the other cross-quarter celebrations (i.e. the festivals which fall mid-way between the solar feasts of the solstices and equinoxes) — Lughnasadh is a fire festival, marked with bonfires.

To this day in Ireland, Lughnasadh is a time of celebration and family reunions, when the priests bless the fields.

Brian Friel’s 1990 play Dancing at Lughnasa captures its essence well.

Unlike some of the other festivals, Lughnasadh has yet to be adopted as a given name in its own right, though with the meaning ‘feast of Lugh’ in Irish, it — or the modern Irish Lúnasa — would make an excellent name. As, indeed, does the English Lammas.

And Lugh, Lugus, Lleu and Loki are all very worthy of consideration, especially at this time of year!

Read Full Post »

There are few names more evocative of medieval romance than Guinevere, the Celtic queen, caught up in probably the most famous love triangle of all time — Guinevere, King Arthur, and Sir Lancelot.

The enduringly popular story of King Arthur and Guinevere has been retold countless times for a thousand years or more, most recently in the TV series Camelot.

What the truth is behind the legends is a question which has occupied historians, archaeologists and folklorists alike for hundreds of years.

Guinevere is the now classic form of the legendary queen’s name, as used by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the Idylls of the King, but there are many others.

Probably the next most seen is Guenevere,  used in a number of versions, including Rosalind Miles’ Guenevere, Queen of the Summer Country (1999) and the musical Camelot (1960).

In Mallory’s 15th Century Le Mort dArthur she is Gwenyvere.

The original Welsh form of her name is Gwenhwyfar.

This is really ancient!

For while Gwen features in a great many Welsh names of all periods, its Common Celtic predecessor  *uindo- ‘white, bright’ is attested in Celtic names in Roman Britain.

Hwyfar, however, is not recorded anywhere, except in Gwenhwyfar’s name.

There has been a lot of speculation over the years as to its meaning; the Victorians conjectured that it must carry some soft, feminine sort of sense, and interpreted it as ‘soft’ and ‘smooth’, linking it to the rare (and obsolete) Welsh word gwyf.

But this doesn’t actually even mean ‘smooth’!

It means ‘that which extends’.

And the sort of torture it must endure to turn it into hwyfar really brings tears to the eyes.

But there is a better explanation, provided by historical linguistics — the Common Celtic *sŒbro- ‘specter’.

In Old Irish, this became síabar — ‘fairy’ and ghost’ — a word which almost certainly features in the name of another tragic figure of mythology, the Irish Fionnabhair. This make it exactly cognate with Guinevere.

This begs the question whether Guinevere and Fionnabhair are linked at a level deeper than just their names, and whether rather than ever being real historical figures, they belong to the pantheon of the Pagan Celtic Gods.

Given the role they both play, a convincing argument could be put forward that they both represent Goddesses of sovereignty, like Rhiannon and Medb (it is probably no coincidence that in the myth, Fionnabhair’s mother is Medb of Connacht).

Even today, in North Wales, the legend persists of an apparation — ‘the Grey Lady’ who haunts the Celtic hill-fort of Moel Arthur, and is now said to protect the grave and treasure of King Arthur.

Alternatively, they may be the bride aspect of the Goddess — the May Queen. There are certainly strong parallels in the tale of Arthur and Guinevere with that of Lleu and Blodeuwedd.

Perhaps they are both.

Guinevere is found as a genuine given name from at least the 14th Century — largely as a result of the popularity of the Arthurian Cycles. In Wales and the Marches, it survived  in forms such as Gaenor, Gaynor, Gwennor and Gwenifer.

In Cornwall, it became Jenifer. George Bernard Shaw introduced it to the rest of the ESW in his play The Doctors Dilemma (1905), which features a character called Jennifer Dubedat.

In Scotland, it became Vanora. Vanora’s Grave in Meigle, Scotland is a grass-covered mound in front of which two carved Pictish stones are known to have once stood, though Vanora isn’t found as a given name itself before the 19th Century.

Another variant is the Italian Ginevra — made better known by Ginevra ‘Ginny’ Weasley in Harry Potter.

But Guinevere itself has always been uncommon. It has never featured in the top 1000 names in the US. And even in England and Wales, there were less than 250 girls given the name Guinevere as a first or second name between 1847 and 1915. 57 baby girls were called Guinevere in the USA in 2010, but only 4 in England and Wales.

This is a great shame, and Guinevere is crying out to be re-embraced. It makes a fantastic alternative to its love-child Jennifer, which is now tumbling out of favor after so long as a firm favorite. It shortens nicely to Guin or Guinny (or Gwin, Gwyn, Gwinny, Gwen and Gwenny, etc) — even Ginny or Jenny.

There are the Welsh pet-forms  of Gwen– names too: Gwenno, Gwennan and Gwenog.

You could even use Vere or Vera, Nev or Neve — or Never!

Why not?

And why not Guinevere? A magnificent name for Pagans and non-Pagans alike!

Read Full Post »