English and Irish Names

The practice which prevails in Ireland of using two names appears to be largely traceable to the influence of ancient legislative action.

By a Statute of 1366, it was provided, inter alia, that “every Englishman do use the English language and be named by an English name, leaving off entirely the manner of naming used by the Irish”; and in 1465 [5 Ed. IV., cap. 3] a law was passed enacting “that every Irishman that dwells betwixt or amongst Englishmen in the County of Dublin, Myeth, Vriell, and Kildare … shall take to him an English surname of one town, as Sutton, Chester, Trym, Skryne, Corke, Kinsale; or colour, as white, blacke, browne; or arte or science, as smith or carpenter; or office, as cooke, butler …”

In many cases, where English and Irish names are used interchangeably, they are translations from one language into the other or translations of words similar in sound.

The following may be cited as examples:—

N.B. For convenience, the words in old Irish characters that immediately preceded the bracketed Latin alphabet equivalents in the right-hand column have been omitted.

English Form.

Anglicised Irish Form.

Irish Words.


Heany, Henehan, Henekan, McEneany.

(ean)—a bird.


Easping, Aspig,

(easbog)—a bishop.






(collach)—a boar.



(sruthan)—a streamlet.



(eaglais)—a church.



(bachal)—a crozier.



(scolog)—a petty farmer.


Shanaghy, Shanahan, Shinnagh, Shinnock, Shonogh, Shunagh, &c.

(sionnach)—a fox.


Seerey, Seery,




(ua)—a descendant, (Dia)—God.


Colreavy, Culreavy,



Houneen, Huneen, Oonin.




(lamh)—a hand.





Feighery, Feighney, Feighry, Fehoney, Feghany.

(fiadhaighe)—a huntsman.



(coman)—a hurling stick.


Breheny, Brehony,

(breathamh)—a judge.


Mac-an-Ree, McAree, Muckaree, &c.

(righ)—a king.



(cloch) — a stone; (righ)—a king.


Begg, Beggan,






Darragh, McDara, &c.

(dair)—an oak.





Conheeny, Cuneen, Cunneen, Cunneeny, Kinneen, &c.

(coinin)—a rabbit.



(roisteach)—a roach.



(carraicc)—a rock.


Gearn, Gearns,









Goan, Gow, Gowan, McGowan, O’Gowan.

(gobha)—a smith.





Brannagh, Brannach,

(breathnach)—a Welshman.


Toorish, Tourisk, Turish, Uiske.




(cora)—a weir.


Banane, Baun, Bawn,




(ceann)—a head; (ban)—white.

The Registrar of Cappoquin District reports that a man named Bywater came into his office in order to register the death of his brother. He gave his brother’s name as Michael Sruffaun. On being interrogated as to the difference in the surnames, he said that he was always known by the name of Bywater, but his brother by the name Sruffaun. Sruffaun is a local form of sruthan, an Irish word for a little stream.

In Rynn District (Mohill Union) an entry came under observation where the surname “Colreavy” was altered to “Gray.” The Registrar reported in explanation that the family signed their names both as “Colreavy” and “Gray.” The deceased had been in America where he signed his name as “Gray.”

The Registrar of Murragh District (Bandon Union) notes the synonymous use of “Hurley” and “Commane” in his District, and remarks “Comman” is the Gaelic for “Hurley,” and is a “stick with a curved boss to play goal with.”

The Registrar for Riverstown District (Sligo Union) reports, regarding the names “Breheny” or “Brehony” and “Judge,” above mentioned, that they were almost all “Brehenys” some time ago, but now they are becoming “Judge.”

A person applied recently to one of the Registrars for the certificates of the births of his two daughters, registered as Anne and Margaret M‘Girr. He stated they were christened by the name of “Short,” and that he was married as “Short,” but always received the name of “M'Girr”—“Short” and “M‘Girr” being synonymous names.

In a death entry in Dundrum District (Union of Rathdown), the surname of deceased appeared as “Smith,” while the entry was signed by his son, who gave his surname as “O’Gowan.”

A marriage certificate from Enniskillen District came recently under my observation in which the bridegroom and one of the witnesses signed their surnames “Going or Smyth,” the other witness signing “Going or Smith.”

The Registrar of Termonfeckin District reports:—“The surnames ‘Markey’ and ‘Rhyder’ are used synonymously in my district. The more usual surname ‘Markey’ is most frequently used, but in the case of some families ‘Rhyder’ is used interchangeably for ‘Markey,’ one branch of a family being known by the surname ‘Markey,’ another by that of ‘Rhyder,’ and in some instances the father taking the surname ‘Rhyder’ and the son that of ‘Markey.’ I may add, that this use of the name ‘Rhyder’ for ‘Markey’ is not peculiar to my district, many of the neighbouring districts having for residents persons who are known by the synonymes ‘Rhyder’—‘Markey.’” “Markey” is the anglicised form of the Irish marcaċ (marcach), a horseman, hence the equivalent “Ryder,” or “Rhyder.”

There are many cases, shown in the Alphabetical List, which are not direct translations, in which equivalents, modifications, or corruptions are used interchangeably.

A Registrar reports:—

“There are two brothers—one Bermingham, and the other M‘Gorisk.” In other Districts the name “Bermingham” has been found to be used interchangeably with “Magorisk” and “Korish.”

The names “Blessing” and “Mulvanerty” are reported to be used synonymously in two Districts in the Union of Mohill and Rowan) and in Ballinamore District (Bawnboy Union).

The Registrar of Birr District reports;—

“A family here named ‘Renehan’ is sometimes called ‘Renehan’ and sometimes ‘Ferns.’ They are both the same. ‘Renehan,’ I believe, is the Irish and ‘Ferns’ the English synonyme.”

The Registrar of Carrigallen District (Mohill Union) reports:—

“‘Minagh’ or ‘Muinagh’ is a synonyme for Kennedy. In two cases of these names the fathers of the families are called ‘Pat Muinagh’ and ‘Francis Muinagh,’ respectively, and would scarcely be known by ‘Kennedy.’ The children are generally called ‘Kennedy.’”

The Superintendent Registrar at Cavan states:—

“The name ‘M‘Grory’ is used as the Irish substitute for ‘Rogers,’ and there is an instance in the townland of Mullaghboy, in the Electoral Division of Drumlane, in which a person has been rated both as ‘M‘Grory’ and ‘Rogers.’”

The Registrar of Draperstown District (Magherafelt Union) reports:—

“‘Rogers’ now prevails here, but up to recently they were all ‘M‘Rory.’”

The names “Loughnane” and “Loftus” are found to be used interchangeably. These are probably anglicised forms of the Irish name “O’Lachtnain.”

The effect of the difference in language on surnames is further evident in many cases given in the alphabetical list in modifying the forms of names. Thus the name “Hyland” has been found in the following forms:—“Heelan,” “Heyland,” “Highland,” “Hiland,” and also used synonymously with “Whelan.” The Registrar of Ballinrobe District has furnished an interesting note regarding this name, which accounts for these variations, and also for the fact that the names “Whelan” and “Phelan” have been found to be used interchangeably in numerous districts. The Registrar remarks:—“‘Hyland’ is used interchangeably for ‘Whelan’ by a family who live near Kilmilkin, in the Cloonbur No. 2 District; and though the name in this District of Ballinrobe is spelled ‘Hyland,’ still the Irish pronunciation of it is ‘Ui-Holan’ or ‘Ui-Hilan,’ which would also be the exact Irish pronunciation of the names ‘Whélan,’ ‘Faelan,’ ‘Félan,’ ‘Phélan’—in fact, the spelling in Irish of each of the names is ‘Ui-Faolain.’ The ‘F’ is aspirated, and then sounds like ‘H,’ so that the Irish sound of the name is ‘O’Helan.’”

The late Registrar of Murragh District (Bandon Union), stated:—

“The name ‘Keohane’ is changed to ‘Cowen’ in this district, and several parts of the Couny Cork, and the euphony which favours this change is the same as that which occurs in the word ‘Bohane,’ changed into ‘Bowen.’”

The Irish form of “Conway” is “Conmee.” The Registrar of Draperstown District (Magherafelt Union) observes that “Conway” is the nearest approach to the full sound of the Irish word in English. The Irish “m,” being aspirated, is pronounced as “w.”

The following interesting note has been furnished by the late Registrar of Lettermore District:—

“The principal facts with regard to personal nomenclature in this locality are:—

“(1.) The English names or surnames are never used by the peasantry in speaking to or of one another, or even when acting as informants at registration, except where the name is so strange that it cannot be easily hibernicized, and in the latter case it is often contracted or corrupted as ‘Anderson,’ ‘Landy’; ‘ Wyndham,’ ‘Wind,’ &c.

“(2.) In many cases the English form is traceable (though often faintly) in the Irish form, which consists in the prefix ‘O,’ and a softening of the sound of the name to suit the Irish tongue.

‘‘(3.) In other cases, no trace, or very little, of the English form remains, as ‘M‘Donogh,’—‘O’Cunnacha;’ ‘Walsh,’— ‘Brannach’ (without ‘the O’).

“(4.) In still other cases, if the English name happens also to be a common noun or adjective, as Black, Green, Ridge, &c., the Irish form of the common noun is used, such as ‘Ridge’—‘Canimurra.’ Canimurra means ‘head of a ridge,’ (as of potatoes, &c.).”