The Problem with Irish Names

What name should you look for - what did people call your ancestors?

This seems like a silly question but it is an important one. Our ancestors often used various names and their names may have been recorded differently depending upon the recorder.

Did they use different given names (first names) during their lifetime?

It is important to know the various forms a name may have taken and the ways a given name may have been recorded. It may have been recorded in Latin in a church record. A person may have decided to use either the English or Gaelic version of their name at various times of their life. Many Irish used nickname versions of their given name. Then, of course, there is the possibility that a person decided to use a middle name as their given name. If you are not aware of the possible variations, you may miss your ancestor as they were recorded in one source or another.

Because Ireland was the destination for many immigrant groups over the ages, an Irish surname may be of Gaelic, Norman, Palatine, Huguenot, English or Scottish origin.

  • Language variations: English, Gaelic, Latin

    • Latin: Gulielmus = William; Jacobus = Jacob or James

    • Gaelic: Diarmaid, Darby or Dermot = Jeremiah or Jerome

  • Nicknames: Kate = Catherine, Con = Cornelius, Lackey = Lawrence, Sarah = Cecilia, Bridget = Bedilia, Bedina, Bessy, Bess, Bessie, Biddy, Brenda, Breeda, Briddy, Birde, Brideen, Bridie, Cordelia, Dillei/Killy, Dina and Phidelia.

Male first names used interchangeably:


Alexander Alaster, Sandy
Edward Edmond
Florence Finian
Gerald Garrett, Garret, Gerald
Owen Eugene
Hugh Hubert
Moses Aidan
Peter Pierce
Ulysses Ylick
Female first names used interchangeably:
Bridget Bedilia, Delia, Bessy
Gobinet Abigail, Deborah
Johanna, Joanna Jane
Julia Judith
Winifred Unity, Una, Uny
Abbreviations applicable to both sexes:
Joe Joseph Josephine, Johanna
Phil Philip Philomena
Fred Frederick Frederica
Matty Matthew Matilda
Jemmine James Jemima
Harry Henry Harriet
Ally Aloysius Alice
See also
Commonly used naming patterns in families may be a clue:
For males:
  • First born son named after his father's father.
  • Second born son named after his mother's father.
  • Third born son named after his father.
  • Fourth born son names after his father's oldest brother.
  • Fifth born son named after his father's 2nd oldest brother or his mother's oldest brother.
For females:
  • First born daughter named after her mother's mother.
  • Second born daughter named after her father's mother.
  • Third born daughter named after her mother.
  • Fourth born daughter named after her mother's oldest sister.

Some Resources for learning more abut Irish names and name variations: