Ireland has a diverse heritage - the original inhabitants were probably migrants from Gaul (modern France) and Spain. After that there were continuous waves of newcomers settling in Ireland over thousands of years: Celtics, Vikings, Normans and English. So Irish names have been reworked, interpreted and translated from one dialect or language to another - and today, many names are in Gaelic, which became Ireland's official language around the 13th century. Aoife (EE-fah) and Siobhan (shuh-VORN) are Gaelic girls' names that are still very popular today, although some names have been anglicised: Conor is "Concobhar" in Gaelic, and James is "Séamus".
It's all about looks...
Lots of Irish baby names are descriptive of physical characteristics: for example, the name Ciara means "dark" or "black", Fiona means "fair", and Rowan means "red-haired". This is a result of the influx of different nationalities and cultures to Ireland over many centuries. The Celtic community had red or fair hair and the Gauls (French) were generally dark-haired, so different settlers could be easily distinguished.
St Patrick's legacy
St Patrick is said to have converted Ireland to Christianity in the early 5th century, and the country remains strongly Catholic. This explains the lasting popularity of Bible names, and there are lots of them in the Top 20 Irish names for 2007 (see below). For example, Matthew is the name of one of Jesus' 12 disciples, and the name Chloe is common throughout the Bible.
Like many countries, Ireland has its own baby naming customs which dictate that children should be named after family members:
• The oldest son was named after his father's father.
• The second son was named after his mother's father.
• The third son would be given his father's name.
• The fourth son was named after his father's oldest brother.
• The oldest daughter was named after her mother's mother.
• The second daughter would be named after her father's mother.
• The third daughter was given her mother's name.
• The fourth daughter was named after her mother's oldest sister.
These practices are no longer strictly observed, but many Irish babies have a first or middle name that runs in the family.
Top 20 Irish baby names (2007)