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Modern Irish boy names

Irish baby boy names haven't changed much in the last 150 years

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A good proportion of modern Irish boy names are still chosen from the same limited range available to our ancestors when the Irish civil registration system was introduced in 1864.

While the most popular Irish baby boy names back then were John, Patrick, James, Thomas and Michael, statistics for 2012 showed that these five names remain in the top 22. However, the range of names has undoubtedly widened in recent years. Back in 1864, one little lad in seven was named John. In 2012, even if you count Jack, Seán and John as one name, only 5% (one baby boy in 40) receives the name.

Irish, English or Latin?

Young Irish lad called Sean.
Young Seán
Perhaps the most striking change is the number of Irish or 'anglicised-Irish' baby boy names to have become popular recently.

For the former, I would put forward names such as Oisín, Cian and Fionn, which hit the popularity stakes at numbers 14, 15 and 27 respectively, and were the names given to just over 1,150 little lads born in 2012. These are Old Irish names, drawn from Celtic history or from the Celts' Gaelic language.

Into the second category – the anglicised Irish boy names – come the Irish/Celtic names that were translated by the clergy or English officials at some point between the 16th and 18th centuries. For example, the names Conchobhair and Niall, both huge names in Celtic history and legend, were substitued with Connor/Conor and Neil respectively.

These, in turn, were sometimes changed again on baptism, to something 'Latin' sounding. So Connor and Neil might have become Cornelius. Either way, these 'substituted' or 'translated' names became accepted over time as Irish boy names and were passed down the generations.

They continue to be regarded as Irish names by many, and they show up in 2012's top 100 baby names in Ireland. For example, Conor was the fifth most popular; Ronan (for Rúadán) 41st, and Rory (for Ruaidri) 52nd.

Names like these simply weren't given to children in the mid-19th century, as you'll see if you compare the list in the column to the right with the most popular Irish boy names of 1864. Back then, biblical names were much more prevalent.

Biblical names

Perhaps the second-most striking feature of the 100 top Irish boy names in 2012 is that those drawn from the bible continue to be extremely popular. John, Daniel, James (and Jamie), Adam, Luke, Michael, Thomas, Matthew and Patrick appear in the top 25 and were the names given to more than one in six of all infant boys born during that 12-month period.

It should be noted, however, that the modern range of biblical names is much wider than that used by our 18th- and 19th-century ancestors. Noah, now ranking in 19th place, was almost unheard of back in the 19th century in Ireland. I can find only 15 instances of it being bestowed on baby boys between 1864 and 1900, but it's gaining popularity recently and has moved up from 79th place in just eight years.

The Top Five

Showing incredible resilience, the names Seán, Jack, Conor and James have been among the five most popular Irish boy names in each of the last 15 years. Only their order has changed from year to year. Conor held the top spot only in 1997, 1998 and 1999; Sean grabbed it in 2003, 2004 and 2006; and Jack has been the outright winner in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2005 and every year since 2007. James, meanwhile, has never got beyond the runner-up prize it's taken in both 2011 and 2012. Other entrants in the top 5 have been Adam and Daniel. That's all.

2012 trends

Irish boys' names written on pegs

There seems to be no imminent change likely at the very top of the popularity tables. Five years ago, I thought Alex and Dylan were poised to make a challenge, but they haven't, despite clinging on within the top 20.

So where might some change be coming? Harry has made great strides (up from 31st spot in 2007 to 7th in 2012) and could well break into the top five in the near future. Charlie may also be a contender, up from 36th to 12th in the last five years. And Noah, mentioned above, could also be one to keep an eye on in the next few years, assuming it doesn't run out of steam.

Another very obvious trend, and it's been steadily gaining pace, is the move towards 'diminutives' or 'informal' versions of more traditional names.

Jack fits into this category, being the old pet name for John, and Harry and Charlie mentioned above are good examples, along with Alex and Ben, of shortened names that 'score' better than the fuller traditional versions from which they derive. Sam/Samuel and Tom/Thomas seem to be bucking this trend, so far, but they may well swop places over the course of the year.

It's perfectly possible, of course, that the trend to shortened versions of names could pull up in its tracks. Each new generation of parents tends to quickly ditch the fashions of the one that has just gone before it.

Only three names made debut appearances in 2012's 'top 100 Irish boy names' list: Isaac, Danny and Logan. Isaac jumped straight in at 85, Danny rose from 114th in 2011 to take position 92, while Logan managed to sneak into the top 100 at 97 after gaining 98 places since 2007.

Regionally, Conor took first spot in 2012 only in the Border area. James took the crown in the Midland area while Daniel was the most popular Irish boy's name in Dublin and the mid-East (in fact, the stats show that Daniel has been the best loved name in Dublin for four years). Jack came top in all the remaining regions in 2012.

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Irish boy names 2015 message

Top Irish boy names 2015*

  1. Jack
  2. James
  3. Daniel
  4. Conor
  5. Sean
  6. Adam
  7. Noah
  8. Michael
  9. Charlie
  10. Luke
  11. Thomas
  12. Oisin
  13. Alex
  14. Cian
  15. Harry
  16. Patrick
  17. Dylan
  18. Ryan
  19. Fionn
  20. Liam
  21. Darragh
  22. Cillian
  23. David
  24. Jamie
  25. Jake
  26. Aaron
  27. Matthew
  28. John
  29. Ben
  30. Finn
  31. Oliver
  32. Nathan
  33. Tadhg
  34. Kyle
  35. Evan
  36. Rian
  37. Tom
  38. Sam
  39. Mason
  40. Ethan
  41. Samuel
  42. Joseph
  43. Callum
  44. Max
  45. Oscar
  46. Alexander
  47. Eoin
  48. Joshua
  49. Jacob
  50. Bobby
  51. William
  52. Aidan
  53. Leo
  54. Leon
  55. Robert
  56. Ronan
  57. Senan
  58. Benjamin
  59. Logan
  60. Andrew
  61. Jayden
  62. Alfie
  63. Tommy
  64. Ciaran
  65. Mark
  66. Cathal
  67. Ollie
  68. Danny
  69. Odhran
  70. Donnacha
  71. Eoghan
  72. Shane
  73. Rory
  74. Scott
  75. Peter
  76. Dara
  77. Isaac
  78. Shay
  79. Billy
  80. Kai
  81. Tyler
  82. Lucas
  83. Anthony
  84. Henry
  85. Martin
  86. Christopher
  87. Kevin
  88. Lorcan
  89. Cormac
  90. George
  91. Hugo
  92. Tomas
  93. Daithi
  94. Josh
  95. Brian
  96. Edward
  97. Sebastian
  98. Killian
  99. Ruairi
  100. Daire / Luca / Rhys

*This list relates to the Republic of Ireland only (stats from CSO). See also Northern Irish boy names.

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