Irish Surnames of Females - Irish Names and Surnames

Rev Patrick Woulfe

Instead of Ó and Mac, Ní and Níc respectively are used after names of females in surnames of Types I, II, III, IV, V and VII. Ní is an abbreviation of ní (from inghean, a daughter) and Í or Uí (genitive case of Ó or Ua); and Níc of Ní Mhic.


Pádraig Ó Domhnaill, Patrick O'Donnell
Máire Ní Dhomhnaill, Mary O'Donnell

Seán Ó hÓgáin, John Hogan
Eibhlín Ní Ógáin, Ellen Hogan

Séamus Mac Sheóinín, James Jennings
Cáit Níc Sheóinín, Kate Jennings

Pádraig Mac an Ghoill, Patrick Gill
Máire Níc an Ghoill, Mary Gill

Eoghan Mac Aodhagáin, Owen Egan
Máire Níc Aodhagáin, Mary Egan.

The unabbreviated form Ní Mhic is used in some places, as:

Seán Mac an Bháird, John Ward
Máire Ní Mhic an Bháird, Mary Ward.

Níg is the form corresponding to Mag, as:

Conchobhar Mag Uidhir, Connor Maguire
Sorcha Níg Uidhir, Sarah Maguire.

Surnames of females are sometimes, like those of males, formed directly from the name of the ancestor, as:

Cáit Ní tSeóinín, Kate Jennings
Bríghid Ní tSuibhne, Brigid MacSweeny
Máire Ní Pharthaláin, Mary MacPartland.

It will be seen from the foregoing examples that in the surnames of females, except those formed directly from the name of the ancestor, the part of the surname following Ní or Níc is in all cases the same as that after Uí or Mhic in the surnames of males. The reason of this is obvious, Ní and Níc being contractions of Ní Uí and Ní Mhic respectively.[1]

In surnames of Types VI, VIII, XI, XII and XIII., the form of the surname after names of females is the same as after those of males, as:

Seán Báróid, John Barrett
Peig Báróid, Peg Barrett.
Seán Brún, John Brown
Máire Brún, Mary Brown.
Réamonn de Róiste, Redmund Roche.
Máire de Róiste, Mary Roche.
Éamonn na Bríghde, Edmond Bride
Eibhlín na Bríghde, Ellen Bride.

Surnames of Type IX, being adjectives, are aspirated in the nominative case, as: Máire Ghlas, Mary Green.

Surnames of Types X and XIV, that is, all surnames ending in -ach, may be either substantives or adjectives, When the surname is an adjective, its initial letter is aspirated in the nominative case after names of females, as:

Seán Breathnach, John Walsh
Cáit Bhreathnach, Kate Walsh
Seán Cárthach, John MacCarthy
Siobhán Chárthach, Joan MacCarthy.[2]

The following forms corresponding to Type XVI may be used as equivalent to the English Miss when the Christian name is omitted:—

Inghean Uí Bhriain, Miss O'Brien.
Inghean an Chárthaigh, Miss MacCarthy.
Inghean Mhic an Bháird, Miss Ward.
Inghean an Ghearaltaigh, Miss Fitzgerald.
Inghean an Bhúrcaigh, Miss Burke.
Inghean an Róistigh, Miss Roche.[3]

The same construction may be used to express Miss with the Christian name, as:

Máire, Inghean Uí Bhriain, Miss Mary O'Brien
Eibhlín, Inghean an Bhúrcaigh, Miss Eileen Burke.

Mrs. may be similarly expressed, as:

Bean Uí Bhriain, Mrs. O'Brien
Bean an Bhúrcaigh, Mrs. Burke
Bean Mhic an Bháird, Mrs. Ward
Bean Sheáin Uí Bhriain, Mrs. John O'Brien
Bean Thaidhg Mhic an Bháird, Mrs. T. Ward
Bean Éamuinn de Róiste, Mrs. Edmund Roche
Máire, bean Mhic an Bháird, Mrs. Mary Ward
Cáit, bean Sheáin de Búrc, Mrs. Kate Burke, or Mrs. John Burke.[4]

In the case of a widow, Baintreach (Baintreabhach) is to be used instead of Bean, as:

Baintreach Sheáin Uí Bhriain, Mrs. John O'Brien
Baintreach Éamuinn de Búrc, Mrs. Edmund Burke
Baintreach an Bhreathnaigh, Mrs. Walsh
Máire, baintreach an Róistigh, Mrs. Mary Roche.

Married women retain their maiden name in Irish. We may therefore say: Máire Ní Bhriain, bean Sheáin de Búrc, Mrs. John Burke, nee Mary O'Brien.

Ní and Níc do not change in the genitive case.

[1] Hence Eibhlín Ní Ógáin, not Eibhlín Ní hÓgáin, is the correct form.

[2] This was first pointed out to me by the late Canon O'Leary (An tathair Peadar), who, when the first edition of this book was passing through the press, kindly sent me the following note on the Introductory Chapters which he had read:

"I have just one remark to make. In the case of women's names I have heard 'Siobhán Chártach, not 'Siobhán Cártach,' and 'Cáit Bhreathnach,' not 'Cáit Breathnach.' That is to say, when the surname is an adjective it agrees with the noun like any adjective. When the surname is not an adjective I have heard exactly what you say, i.e., 'Peig Báróid,' not 'Peig Bháróid.' Instead of 'Máire Bhreathnach' I have heard 'Máire an Bhreat-naigh,' where the surname is treated as a definite noun."

[3] But not Inghean de Búrc, Inghean de Róiste, &c.

[4] But not bean breathnach, bean de Búrc, bean de Róiste, &c. which are incorrect.