(This is in part edited from a piece I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site, probably around 2004.)
Though I’ve grown to love Irish names in recent years, any Irish blood I may have has become extremely diluted over the centuries. I have a nine-greats-grandpap who came to the Colony of Virginia in the 1640s, later moving to Baltimore, who may have been escaping from Oliver Cromwell. Since I love the Irish people so much, I’d like to believe that story over the version that gives his native country as England.
I can only imagine how upset someone of much deeper Irish descent, or an actual native of Ireland, feels about the sudden trendiness of Irish names. Many Americans are of Irish descent, and a lot of those people are rightly proud of their culture and history. That’s great that you want to honour that part of yourself by giving your children strong Irish names like Liam, Aidan, Niamh, and Líobhan. The problem starts when people begin using Irish names just because it’s trendy, and they’ll use any trendy name regardless of where it came from.
If you can’t spell it properly, don’t use it. If you love the name Síobhan, you’ll look up the spelling instead of just throwing Shavaghnne onto the birth certificate. You’ll know how to spell a simple name like Aidan without guessing if it’s spelt Ayden, Aiden, Aidon, Aden, ad nauseum. Or is that just your own special unique way of trying to make him stand apart from the 10,000 other little Aidans? If you know it’s common as dirt but still like it, why mess around with the spelling? And if you’re worried about popularity, why use it at all? He’ll still be Aidan #30 in school no matter how it’s spelt or misspelt.
Most Irish people had English names like John, Mary, Elizabeth, Margaret, Anne, Charles, Robert, William, Catherine, and Charlotte for centuries, because the domination of the colonialist British was so complete and all-pervasive. Their culture was suppressed, and they didn’t dare venture to use their own names very much. Look at your family tree to see if there were very many Keegans, Aidans, Declans, and Niamhs in recent history.
While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these names, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone named Erin, Shannon, Tara, Kerry, or Colleen in Ireland until very, very recently. Native Irish would laugh at a child named Ireland. They also don’t give their children surnames for first names, particularly not girls. Why are you naming your child McKenna or McKenzie when it means son of Kenneth? And Caitlin is really pronounced more like Coyt-leen.
The following Top 100 names in Ireland for 2012 are Irish:
Caitlin, Aoife (EE-fa), Niamh (NEEV), Róisín (ROSH-een), Caoimhe (KEE-va), Saoirse (SEER-sha), Ciara (KEER-a), Erin, Aisling (Ash-LEEN), Áine (AWN-ye), Clodagh (Clo-da), Aoibhinn/Aoibheann (EE-van), Sadhbh (SIEV), Éabha/Aoibhe (variant forms of Aoife), Eimear (EE-mur), Méabh/Maeve, Tara, Ailbhe (AL-va), Laoise (LEE-sha)
Ryan/Rían, Conor, Sean, Patrick, Eoin/Eoghan (O-in), Liam, Oisín (OSH-een), Cian (KEE-an or KEEN), Darragh/Dara, Cillian/Killian, Fionn/Finn, Tadhg (TIEG), Rory/Ruairí, Shane, Aidan, Rónán, Cathal (KA-hal), Ciarán (KEER-awn), Senan (SHAN-awn), Cormac, Kevin, Donnacha (DUN-a-ha), Odhrán/Oran, Brian, Niall (Neil)
The rest of the popular names are English, Scottish, Welsh, Biblical, a few names from other cultures/languages, and even a few modern trendy names, like Madison for a girl, Tyler, Amber, and Jayden. They’re not exactly drowning in Mackenzies, Irelynns, Azzlynnes, McKennas, Kaitlynns, Aydens, Shavannes, or any of the other names being misspelt and overused by the current crop of wannabe Irish-Americans. If you love a culture, use a name that reflects that, not something that makes you look like a total trendoid tool and illiterate to boot.