Coat of Arms History - Ireland Surnames

Is Yours One of the Top Irish Surnames?

Irish surnames are distinctive, because of Ireland’s history of emigration, you can find them all around the world.

Coasters, glassware, and other Irish gifts featuring the recipient’s Irish surname are always a great idea for birthdays and weddings. With so many well-known Irish surnames, you might wonder which ones are the most common.

One thing to know about Irish surnames is that the spellings can vary. In some cases, that can indicate that there are two (or more!) separate branches of the family, but in other cases, it can be that just one sibling opted for an Irish spelling of the name while the others went for an anglicized version. The difference can also be as simple as dropping the O or Mc at the start of the name. Technically, you could find three siblings or three generations of a family who spell their shared surname Sullivan, O’Sullivan, and O’Suilleabhin. Immigration officials were also known to misspell names.

However you spell it, O’Sullivan is one of the most common Irish surnames in the world. Experts disagree on the exact meaning, but it is related to the Irish word for eye – súl. Different sources claim it means ‘one-eyed’, ‘hawk-eyed’, or ‘dark-eyed’. This surname has roots in County Tipperary and is common throughout Munster.

Murphy is also one of the most popular Irish surnames around the world. Fans of Murphy’s Irish Stout will not be surprised to learn it hails from County Cork, like the beer. Wexford and Sligo also have plenty of Murphys. It makes sense to find this name along the coast as it means ‘sea warrior’.

The name Kelly is so beloved it is also a popular first name outside of Ireland. Its root comes from the word for ‘war’, and it is so widespread that it probably developed in several places for unrelated people in ancient times.  In Irish, it is usually spelled Ceallaigh – the Irish language doesn’t have a K.

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More Top Irish Surnames

Those named O’Brien will be glad to know their name means noblemen. The O’Briens were kings, and they can claim descent from one of Ireland’s most important historical figures, none other than Brian Boru.

Walsh is one of the largest Irish surnames, but it actually means ‘Welshman’. The name became widespread in Ireland in the 12th century when large numbers of Welsh people arrived with the Normans. But you can find plenty of Irish gifts with the name anyway!

Another regal Irish name is Byrne or O’Byrne, which comes from Bran, a king of Leinster. They once ruled Kildare but were displaced to Wicklow during the Norman invasions. Variations include O’Beirne and Burn.

Connor is a popular first name, and O’Connor is among the most common surnames in Ireland. This name traces its roots back to an ancient king of Connaught. Ryan also does double duty as a first and surname. It’s a derivative of the Irish word for a king – rí. The name Kennedy is legendary in Irish-American circles. Some believe it started with a splinter group from the O’Briens. The name McCarthy is from Munster, and Cormac McCarthy, king of Munster, is responsible for the building of Blarney Castle.

This is only the top ten of Irish surnames, the ones you are almost guaranteed to find on many different Irish gifts.

Many more Irish surnames hail from the 32 counties of the island of Ireland, and if you are looking for personalized or heraldic gifts, you can easily order them with dozens of Irish surnames – each with its own intriguing history.

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