Irish Boy Names: a comprehensive guide

Irish is one of the national languages of Ireland and, while the majority of the country uses English day-to-day, there are still many areas of life heavily influenced by Irish. One of these areas is names; Irish-language names are some of the most well-loved in the country, and continue to top the lists of popular baby names every year. Some Irish names have even become well-used throughout the world.

Many Irish names are ancient in origin - rooted in Celtic myth - while some are beautiful Irish words which have been turned into names. Either way, Irish names are lovely, unique and meaningful. This article discusses a selection of Irish boys’ names, from the most popular to the most unique.

Popular Irish boys’ names in Ireland and around the world

When it comes to Irish boys’ names, there are many to choose from. But, like everything, some are much more popular than others. Maybe due to it being the moniker of a famous actor, or perhaps because of its beautiful meaning - whatever the reason, certain names crop up again and again. Some Irish boys’ names have even been adopted into English, and are used by people with no connection to Ireland. Here are some popular Irish boys’ names:

Cillian (pronunciation: killy-un)

The name Cillian is probably most associated with Irish actor Cillian Murphy, but it is a very common name throughout Ireland - and has been for many years. The name has been adopted into English with the spelling Killian, but the Cillian spelling is much more common in Ireland. There are some differing opinions about the meaning of the name, ranging from ‘war strife’, to ‘church’ and ‘bright-headed’. Whatever the meaning, this is still a lovely and lyrical boys’ name.

Darragh (pronunciation: dar-ah)

The history of the name Darragh goes back over a thousand years, but still remains popular today. Darragh comes from the Irish word doire, meaning ‘oak’. There are some alternative spellings - Dáire or Dara - which are seen less commonly. Nowadays, the latter spelling is sometimes used as a girls’ name, but it is much more popular for boys.

Eoin/Eoghan (pronunciation: owe-in)

This name is very common for boys and men of all ages in Ireland, with either spelling seen regularly. Interestingly, while these names are pronounced exactly the same, they are derived from different roots. Eoin means ‘God is gracious’ and is derived from Latin roots, while Eoghan is Celtic and means ‘of the yew tree’. Eoin is closely related to the name Seán, as both are considered to be the Irish form of John.

Liam (pronunciation: lee-um)

Liam is a boys’ name of Irish origin which is popular both in Ireland and around the English-speaking world. It means ‘guardian’. While some think that it is a shortened version of the name William, it is, in fact, a shortened version of the old Irish name Ulliam. There are many famous people with this name, including One Direction’s Liam Payne and Australian actor Liam Hemsworth.

Seamus (pronunciation: shay-muss)

This is a very popular boys’ name in Ireland, particularly among older generations. The name means ‘supplanter’ or ‘one who plants’, and is often considered the Irish equivalent of the English name ‘James’. Less commonly, the name can be spelled Seamas. The most well-known Seamus worldwide is the late Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

Seán (pronunciation: shawn)

Seán is a popular Irish name which has become well-used throughout the English-speaking world. Like Eoin, it means ‘God is gracious’. Because it has been adopted as a common name for English speakers, often it is incorrectly spelt without the fada (accent). This is rather amusing for Irish speakers as the word ‘sean’ (with no fada) means ‘old’. The name is also often anglicized to Shaun. There are many famous people with this moniker, including Sean Bean, Sean Connery, and Sean Paul.

Traditional Irish boy names

Myth and folklore are important in the history and culture of Ireland, and are often a source for traditional Irish names. Many boys with Irish names are - perhaps unknowingly - using the moniker of a fierce warrior or strong king from mythology. These names have been around for thousands of years and are still popular today. Here are some well-loved traditional Irish boys’ names:

Cian (pronunciation: key-un)

This lovely boys’ name means ‘ancient’ or ‘enduring one’. Cian was an important figure in Irish mythology; he is the son of the god of medicine, and the father of Lugh - the god of the sun and a famous warrior. This name can be spelled with or without a fada on the i (i.e. Cian or Cían), with no change in pronunciation - though it is most commonly spelled without.

Conor (pronunciation: conn-urr)

The name Conor - sometimes spelled Conner - comes from the legend of Conchobar mac Nessa, a much-loved king in Irish mythology. The name means ‘lover of wolves’ and, over time, it was shortened and simplified to Conor. It’s also related to the very common Irish surname O’Conner.

Diarmuid (pronunciation: deer-mid)

The meaning of the name is not completely clear, but the most likely meaning is ‘free from envy’. It’s mostly connected with the love story of Diarmuid and Gráinne, who ran away and roamed the countryside for years, so they could be together. This name can also be spelt Diarmaid and is often anglicized to Dermot.

Fionn (pronunciation: fyun)

Another name from Irish myth, Fionn means ‘white’ or ‘fair’. In myth, Fionn mac Cumhaill was the fearless leader of a band of warriors called the Fianna. The name has gone up and down in popularity over the years, but it is very popular today, with it being ranked number 14 of the top baby names in Ireland in 2021 (according to cso.ie).

Naoise (pronunciation: nee-sha)

Naoise is less common than the other traditional boys’ names on this list, but just as rooted in Celtic mythology. Naoise was a hunter, singer and warrior, who was married to Deirdre, the most beautiful woman in Ireland. After his death, it is said that Deirdre died of a broken heart. While this is primarily a boys’ name, in more recent years, it has been used for girls as well.

Oisín (pronunciation: ush-een)

In Irish myth, Oisín was the son of Fionn mac Cumhaill, and a fierce warrior in his own right. The name has been popular in Ireland for centuries, and remains so today, with it being among the top twelve baby names in 2021 (cso.ie). Along with the connections to tradition, the name also has a very sweet meaning - ‘fawn’ or ‘little deer’.

Modern Irish boy names

Not all Irish names are taken from ancient myths and folklore; there are many that have become popular much more recently. Some might have older origins, but it is the recent growth in popularity which makes them truly modern names. These modern Irish boys’ names are just as lovely as the more traditional ones:

Daithí (pronunciation: dawh-hee)

This name means ‘swiftness’ or ‘nimbleness’. It is often incorrectly thought to be the Irish form of the name David, but it is actually completely unrelated. Some choose to spell this name slightly differently - Dáithí, Daithi, or Dathí - but the pronunciation is usually the same.

Finn (pronounced as spelled)

Finn is a relatively common name in the English-speaking world, but many people don’t know its Irish origins. It is another form of the name Fionn and, like Fionn, it means ‘fair’. Finn is actually much more common as a baby name today. In fact, it’s been among the top 10 baby names in Ireland for the last 2 years (cso.ie).

Páidí (pronunciation: paw-dee)

Páidí is a lovely boys’ name meaning ‘nobleman’. The name is a diminutive of Pádraig, the Irish form of Patrick. Páidí - and the anglicised version Paudie - have been used as nicknames for decades, but in more recent years, both have been used more and more as given names.

Rían (pronunciation: ree-un)

This modern boys’ name is derived from the Irish word Rí, meaning ‘king’. It’s safe to say that this is a modern name, having shot up in popularity over the last few years. The name was practically non-existent on Ireland’s baby name list as recently as 2017, and is now the fifth most popular baby name in the country (cso.ie).

Senan (pronunciation: senn-in)

Senan is a beautiful boys’ name which has really grown in use over the last decade. It means ‘old’ or ‘wise’. It can also be spelled with a fada and, therefore, with emphasised pronunciation of the second syllable: Senán (pronounced sen-awhn). The name is most associated with a famous 6th-century monk, Saint Senan.

Tadhg (pronunciation: tie-g)

While this name has been around for centuries - and it’s not uncommon to meet men of all ages with this name - it has recently had a large rise in popularity. This shows that it’s a truly modern boys’ name, which never goes out of fashion. Perhaps this is down to the lovely meaning behind the name - ‘poet’ or ‘philosopher’.

Unique Irish boy names

While Irish names may be rare in a lot of the world, most of the names listed so far are relatively common in Ireland. There are, however, many names which are used a lot more rarely. These unique Irish boys’ names are just as nice as their more popular counterparts, and have equally lovely meanings:

Cuán (pronunciation: coo-awn)

This name is a lovely boys’ name meaning ‘little hound’; it’s a combination of the Irish word , meaning hound, and the diminutive an. Some people choose to spell this name without the fada, changing the pronunciation slightly to coo-in. Either way, it’s still a gorgeous name for boys.

Faolán (pronunciation: fway-lawn)

This lovely boys’ name means ‘little wolf’. It can also be spelled without the fada, which changes the pronunciation slightly to fway-linn. While this is a unique first name, it has given rise to the relatively common Irish surname Phelan.

Fiach (pronunciation: fee-uk)

Fiach is a unique boys’ name meaning ‘raven’. This name was practically nonexistent for newborn babies until the 1980s (cso.ie), and even now there are very few people with the moniker. Another, equally unique, form of this name is Fiachra.

Iarlaith (pronunciation: ear-lah)

This name comes from the Irish thiar (west) and flaith (leader), resulting in the meaning ‘leader of the west’. There is an English version of this name - Jarlath - which is equally as unique.

Muiris (pronunciation: mur-ish)

Coming from the Irish word muir meaning ‘sea’, this name is thought to mean ‘sea warrior’ or ‘mariner’. It’s often used as the Irish form of the name Maurice, but the names are actually unrelated. In history, there were a number of Irish medieval kings who bore this name - though with the more complicated spelling of Muirgheas.

Odhran (pronunciation: or-in)

This unique boys’ name means ‘dark green’. It can be spelled Oran or with a fada - Odhrán. For the latter, the pronunciation changes, as the a becomes elongated (more like oh-rawn). While this is the name of many Irish saints, it’s not that common to meet an Odhran in Ireland, which makes it a lovely and unique name.

Conclusion

While this is only a selection of Irish boys’ names, it should give a good insight into the wonderful variety of names that exist in the language. Whether they are very popular, or much more unique, all Irish names have a lyrical quality to them, coupled with fascinating meanings. With this guide, you’ll be able to grasp people’s names on your next visit to Emerald Isle - which will undoubtedly win you favour among the locals!