Something a little less unweildy than "Cú Chulainn" would be nice...
September 22, 2009 10:30 AM   Subscribe

My future son needs an Irish first name with some muscle.

Long winded: My wife and I are expecting our first child. I'm Irish Canadian with one of those Irish Cop sounding last names.

My wife didn't change her name when we married and has a particularly uncommon German last name. All of the men in her family, with the exception of her father, died childless in and around the second world war with the result that she is basically the only person of her generation to carry her surname.

Neither of us are too keen on the idea of giving our children stupid hyphenated last names and my wife really wants to pass her name on to them. I'm fine with that. Still, I've read "Irish on the Inside" and would like to pass a little something of that heritage down to my children.

To clarify, I'm looking for Irish Gaelic names in the style of "Éamonn", not Irish Catholic names in the style of "Patrick".

I really like the idea of giving a child a name with some weight and my wife and I particularly like the idea of being able to read stories to the child where the protagonist or another major character shares their name. So, we're mostly looking for names from literature, legend and mythology.

Fionn/Finn is obviously right up that alley, but I'd like something a little less common. My current favorite is "Conán" but my wife doesn't share my enthusiasm.

And for what it's worth, the child's middle name will be "Robert" and his surname will start with a K.
posted by 256 to Society & Culture (75 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
posted by biscotti at 10:35 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Do you want something pronounceable in English?
posted by smackfu at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2009

I like Cathal, but probably only because I'm fond of this guy.
posted by the dief at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2009

Kieran aka Ciarán
posted by The Michael The at 10:36 AM on September 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine named his son Torin, which is Gaelic for "chief."
posted by The Straightener at 10:37 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

How about Oisín?
posted by lovermont at 10:38 AM on September 22, 2009

Conál means strong wolf, compared to Conán which means little wolf. Might that be an alternate choice?

Declan. (comes from Deaglán)
Aidan (comes from Aodhán)
posted by zarq at 10:39 AM on September 22, 2009

I'm kind of partial to Séamus, but more importantly, what's your father's given name, and what's the Irish-Gaelic equivalent? That would the most traditional way to name a firstborn son.
posted by dersins at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Declan, Donal, Seamus, Padraig, Colm, Eoin, Finbar... you've got a huge selection to work with. I'm a big fan of Padraig (the Irish form of Patrick) or Finbar (Fionbharr - even though it does mean fair hair, and might not meet your requirement of "weight.") Also, you might find this page useful.
posted by Rewind at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2009

Angus (or Aengus, to be more Irish)
posted by rokusan at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: Do you want something pronounceable in English?

Yes, of course, though it's hardly a big deal if the most common English pronunciation is a little off in a matter of emphasis or something.

Also, the "ties into literature or legend" part is pretty important, so I'd love it if people could point out the connection for the name they recommend if it's not completely obvious.

Cillian, for example, is a really nice name but, as far as google can tell me, seems to be missing this component.
posted by 256 at 10:40 AM on September 22, 2009

I've also seen it written without the accent and with an extra "L":

Conal and Conall.
posted by zarq at 10:41 AM on September 22, 2009

How about Callum, Dolan, Eian (pronounced like "Ian"), Finian, Hagan, Nevin, Padraic, Roarke, Rory, Tynan, Uistean? Good luck and congrats on your new fatherhood.
posted by Monsters at 10:41 AM on September 22, 2009

Lugh (Celtic god--the feast of Lughnasa is in his honor).

Don't quite know how you feel about naming your male child after a tripartite goddess, but I think "Morrigan" would be a very cool name.

On preview, I really like "Torin."
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm kind of partial to Séamus, but more importantly, what's your father's given name, and what's the Irish-Gaelic equivalent? That would the most traditional way to name a firstborn son.

Howard. Which is not a name I particularly like. Does it even have a Gaelic equivalent? maybe I would like that better.
posted by 256 at 10:42 AM on September 22, 2009

Seconding Ciaran, but only because I just finished reading the Sevenwaters Trilogy again. Also from that same series are Darraigh and Cormack. I don't know if they're traditional Irish names, but they sound that way to me.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 10:43 AM on September 22, 2009

Shay, Shane

As with all of these questions, it's hard to do without knowing the last name.
posted by Zambrano at 10:46 AM on September 22, 2009

I love, love, love, love the name Cillian. I'm as many nthings as is possible nthing Cillian.

Our own son has a name in the Gaelic vein. We actually found some decent ones digging through (cheesy and standard as it is), and by googling gaelic names.
posted by zizzle at 10:49 AM on September 22, 2009

Diarmuid (means envy free) is a name I've always liked. Does tend to be anglicised as Dermot which, imo, isn't as nice.

Oisín(means little deer) and Oscar(Divine spear) were Fionn's son & grandson. Donncha(dark warrior) (Donnacha, you'll see various spellings) is one of my brother's names. Cormac(Raven's son) is good too. It's even a kingly name ;) Another royal name is Conchbar(lover of hounds) (pronounced cru-hure in my Irish class) but maybe Connor is slightly more pronounceable, depending on where you live.

Other names I like: Fiachra(can't remember this one off hand, sorry), Rory(red one), Ronan (means little seal), Caoimhin(or Kevin). Another of the brothers(we all have Irish names) is called Colm, which can also be spelt Colum and means dove of peace, if I remember correctly. Oh, Cathal, as mentioned before is a good one, and Eoin/Owen/Eoghan, Seán is grand too, Darragh/Daire (means oak tree). I could go on and on, but I'll stop boring you now.
posted by Fence at 10:50 AM on September 22, 2009

Setanta, the name previous to his dubbing as Cú Chulainn?
posted by mephron at 10:51 AM on September 22, 2009

Some background on Cillian via wikipedia. If you prefix many gaelic names with a 'st' when searching, you can usually rustle up a few links.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:51 AM on September 22, 2009

Seconding Cormac. Strong, handsome-sounding, unmistakably Irish, and minimal possibility for mispronunciation headaches.
posted by teamparka at 10:53 AM on September 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

My first name is Niall (pronounced like dial, I think the Scottish pronounce it Neil) and is Gaelic. It's identifiably Irish, but not complicated.

Most famous Niall in Irish history/legend is probably Niall of the Nine Hostages.
posted by ODiV at 10:54 AM on September 22, 2009

As a Riley, I wholeheartedly endorse it.
posted by rileyray3000 at 10:54 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've always liked the name Colm, which apparently is an abbreviation of Columba.

I'd use the name in honor of the Star Trek actor, though.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:57 AM on September 22, 2009

Howard. Which is not a name I particularly like. Does it even have a Gaelic equivalent?

Heh. Probably not-- it's a good old Anglo-Saxon name.
posted by dersins at 11:00 AM on September 22, 2009

It's technically a surname, but how about Brennan? It's solid and masculine-sounding on its own, but you'd also be referencing Willie Brennan, as in Brennan on the Moor, which means your kid would have a whole song about robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, which seems pretty bad-ass to me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:01 AM on September 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

posted by dydecker at 11:02 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Conall (not "Conál") is indeed an excellent name, borne by many fine kings and warriors, and one fairly obscure saint.

Less common but equally weighty names are Comgall 'joint pledge' (name of a soldier/abbot/saint and a king of Dál Riata), Comgan 'born together' (name of an eighth-century prince/monk), Cathaoir (anglicized as Cahir) 'warrior,' Cearbhall (modernized spelling Cearúl, anglicized as Carroll; popular among a family of medieval poets), and the short and punchy Conn 'chief.'

Cormac, according to the Hanks/Hodges Dictionary of First Names, "has been a very popular name in Ireland from the earliest times"; the tenth-century bishop/king Cormac Ó Cuilleanáin wrote an important Irish dictionary, making it extra dear to my heart.
posted by languagehat at 11:03 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I hate, hate, HATE the name but nothing says Irish like


My husband wanted our son to be named something uber Irish. I'm not Irish so I found it not fair.

We finally agreed on Aidan.

1. It's Irish
2. it means Fiery spirt--nothing describes me and my husband more than that
3. Having a fiery spirit is not a bad thing to have. We felt it helped our son while he was sick and in the hospital at 6 weeks and again at 12 weeks old.

The drawback is Aidan is one of the most popular boy names. I hate for people to assume I went with popularity.
posted by stormpooper at 11:08 AM on September 22, 2009

Declan is one of my favorite names ever and it's Elvis Costello's real name, so, there you are, figure out of legend and myth.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:11 AM on September 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Have you looked at place names in Ireland? Especially if you name a place that is in myths/literature and has ties to your family. Or look through this collection of old stories for names that appeal to you. I had similar criteria in naming my son and choose a name from a James Joyce story that also incorporated my mother's maiden name. You could also look at what the Irish are naming their wee bairns.
posted by saucysault at 11:13 AM on September 22, 2009

posted by elsietheeel at 11:16 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing Declan, Niall, Cormac, and Finn. (If you're a music fan of a certain age and inclination, you could name him Niall Finn...). I love Aidan, too, but its recent trendiness is a bit of a drawback.
posted by scody at 11:16 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd go with something easily pronouncable. I know you don't care and Canada is multicultural blah blah but my cousins (also in Canada, and their mum is from Ireland) have "tricky" Irish names and ended up anglicizing them. Daithi or Caoimhin would be nightmarish. And personally, being from Ireland, I find using Irish surnames as first names a bit grating.

So with that in mind my suggestions would be Lorcan (Lorcan Keogh or Lorcan Kelly are good masculine names) or Cormac or a classic and beautiful name in Sean - with a fada ;)
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:17 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you'd like to use your father's name more, Howard means something like guardian, so you could choose a name with a related meaning -- Eamonn, for example, or the various versions of Alasdair. These don't seem to have many stories attached to them, though.
posted by jeather at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2009

*pulls up chair and sits down*

Cillian is a name that's enjoying a bit of a minor spotlight right now, thanks to the actor Cillian Murphy. Traditionally, Cillian was a saint (you're going to find a lot of saints' names in the list, here).

You weren't too thrilled with "Patrick," but the Irish "translation" of that, Padraig, is an option. Padraig Pearse was one of the orchestraters of Ireland's independence in 1916.

Aengus -- or, "Angus" -- figures pretty heavily in Celtic legend as a demigod of sorts, most often associated with love and poetry.

Diarmud (pronounced 'JIR-mit', sort of rhyming with "Kermit") was a figure from the Fenian myth cycle -- Diarmud was one of Fionn's warriors (more on Fionn in a minute), and when Fionn was an old man, he became engaged to this maiden named Grainne -- but at their engagement party, she took Diarmud aside and asked him to get her the hell out of there because it had been an arranged marriage. At first the two traveled as just fugitive-and-protector, but eventually fell in love while on the run. Aengus negotiated a truce between the three of them after a while, and Diarmud and Grainne married -- but Fionn always held a grudge, and a few years later, when Fionn and Diarmud were out hunting and Diarmud got gored by a boar, Fionn just kind of let him bleed to death without trying to help too much.

Fionn himself is quite a figure (it's pronounced "Finn"). When he was just a kid he was the apprentice to a druid who caught a magic salmon, one that would impart great wisdom on whomever ate it. He gave the salmon to Fionn to cook. At one point, Fionn used his fingers to flip the salmon over, and burned his thumb -- and without thinking, put it in his mouth. But a tiny piece of the salmon had stuck to his thumb, and so when he put his thumb in his mouth, he got that taste of the salmon, and with it some of the wisdom. When the druid came back, Fionn confessed to him what had happened -- and the druid took it as a sign that, "in that case, kid, you're the one who was destined to eat this. Here." Fionn went on to found a band of warriors known as the Fenians.

Oscar was one of the Fenians; he and Fionn's son were buddies.

The hero Cuchullain is arguably the biggest figure from Irish myth, but to my knowledge few people actually name their kids after him; the mythological equivalent would that it'd be like a Greek family naming their kid "Hercules".

Suibhne (pronounced "Sweeney") is a weird little story -- Suibhne was a warrior-king at the time Christianity was just starting to spread in Ireland, and got pissed off when a church bell interrupted his assembling his troops for battle. He stormed into the church and threw a spear at the bell, breaking it. The bishop then cursed Suibhne with madness, and Suibhne spent the next several years running around Ireland thinking he was a bird.

....I recognize that few of those mythological references bring their namesakes to happy ends. It's a bit harder to find "and they lived happily-ever-after" endings in Celtic myth than I thought.

I'll see if I can find anything from later Irish literature when I get home.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:24 AM on September 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

....annnnnnnd I just now noticed your title vis. Cuchullain. Heh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:27 AM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: Might want to review a few relevant Wikipedia category listings: Celtic mythology, Celtic deities, Irish mythology, Irish deities, List of high kings of Ireland, etc.

Trust me, I've picked all of those wikipedia entries apart. This AskMe is the result of months of dissatisfied searching, not the first step.

So far, of the many fine names suggested, I'm quite liking Cormac. But even it doesn't really meet my ideal narrative requirements. There are plenty of fine and interesting historical Cormacs, but there seems to be a lack of good stories starring them.
posted by 256 at 11:28 AM on September 22, 2009

My name is "Brian". I've always been a fan of it. :-D
posted by Citrus at 11:30 AM on September 22, 2009

My name is "Brian". I've always been a fan of it. :-D

And there's certainly a good story with it. :)
posted by dlugoczaj at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2009

I like Cormac too, but it really depends on your last name. Since Cormac ends with a 'ck' sound, a last name beginning with a harsh K---- could blur the two names together and end up sounding like a Corma K----.
posted by barnone at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Be careful... After a recent birth at work someone asked "so why would anyone name their child sea muss?"
posted by Gungho at 11:44 AM on September 22, 2009

Since you said you like the name Cormac despite the lack of literary background, a quick update:

In Irish literature, specifically, stories about King Cormac exist. One (very dated) Irish literature, mythology, folklore, and drama website lists Cormac as an "Irish hero" and lists twelve stories about him. Additionally, The Celtic Literature Collective lists an entire cycle of stories featuring Cormac ("The Conn & Cormac Cycle"--warning, many links are broken here, but it seems like a place to start).

Outside Irish literature, a couple of more contemporary references:

Cormac McLaggen is a character in the Harry Potter series (albeit not a major one).

Cormac O'Connor is the name of the protagonist in Pete Hamill's Forever: A Novel (written for adults, but still).

(Sorry for the less-than-ideal sources--I'm limiting my librarian-fu to a quick Google search so I can run out the door! I'm sure many more good stories and references could be found with a good, solid literature database.)
posted by teamparka at 11:51 AM on September 22, 2009

posted by fire&wings at 11:58 AM on September 22, 2009

Robert E. Howard, of Conan fame, also wrote a few stories starring Cormac Mac Art, an Irish pirate during the Dark Ages.
posted by Akke at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2009

taoiseach is the irish for chief, not torin. I've never heard that word before and I am native Irish.
posted by iamnotateenagegirl at 12:13 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Note on "Torin" - may be Irish, but could be confusing for Americans because it could sound like the Jewish last name "Toren". So, might not convey the Irishness to non-family as well as you'd like, if conveying Irishness is what you're going for, as opposed to the kid just knowing for themselves that their name has Irish ties. Congratulations!
posted by lorrer at 12:18 PM on September 22, 2009

Fence and languagehat have good ones, beating me specifically to Fiachra (fee-a-cruh), one of the Children of Lir, whose tale is tragic. One of the other brothers was Con, also a great name.

Unpronounceable as hell, but I've always loved it, Tadhg (taig). Somewhat contientious in certain circles....

Lorcan is one close to my heart, and I like the ring of Finbar, Fintan etc.

Brendan was the man! A Kerryman, but that can't be helped sure. Ciarán (keer-awn) and Colm if you want to include his peeps from Clonard.

Consider thinking twice before using a place name, girls name, or surname, especially if your kid is likely to visit Ireland in the future. There's plenty of good solid names out there.
posted by Iteki at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2009

Cullan, which even sounds strong, and is a bit of a contraction of Cuchullain, mentioned above.
posted by Lynsey at 12:25 PM on September 22, 2009

Well, my one friend from Ireland is named Cian (key-an). I think it's nice, and not unpronounceable for English-speakers.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 12:40 PM on September 22, 2009

Green Eyed Monster- that's my name! It's Iranian too, and spelled a little differently. Let me highly recommend "Kian," as I get "that's a cool name" 75% of the time when I meet somebody new, but be warned that it's forecast as one of the top 15 boys' names for 10 years from now (according to Freakonomics).
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:53 PM on September 22, 2009

Conan has muscle. ;)
posted by plep at 1:42 PM on September 22, 2009

I know 2 brothers named Cael and Cian, which are about the coolest boys names ever. However, people do tend to want to say "Shawn" for "Cian."
posted by selfmedicating at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2009

Rory. (Ruairí, Ruaraidh) Gaelic:, meaning 'red', Rory O'Connor was High King of Ireland in the 12th Century.
posted by essexjan at 2:21 PM on September 22, 2009

Cormac McCarthy writes some seriously hardcore literature, like The Road, so he's at least got storytelling clout. And Cormac mac Airt was the "best king" of Ireland back in the day, neither too bloodthirsty, nor too retiring, and possessed of superior wisdom.

He never wrote any postapocalyptic bardic sagas featuring cannibalism, of course, but one can't have everything.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding Fionn - of the legend of Fionn MacCumhaill. (pronounced Finn MacCool)

"Accounts of Fionn's death vary; according to the most popular, he is not dead at all, rather, he sleeps in a cave below Dublin, to awake and defend Ireland in the hour of her greatest need." There's also a poem about him that you can read to your son, which is cool enough to name him that.
posted by Sophie1 at 2:25 PM on September 22, 2009

Kai. It's also Germanic, which might appeal to your wife's heritage. And you can't go wrong with it in major Canadian's a multilingual name.
posted by acoutu at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2009

I have an Irish buddy named Enda, and my wife and I have all but decided on Sean if we're ever to have two boys (the first will follow tradition and take my father's name, James Patrick).
posted by pkphy39 at 2:46 PM on September 22, 2009

My uncle is called Rogan. Apparently it's a very rare Irish name, but it's got a certain emerald-isle charm to it. Don't know how well it would go with Robert as a middle name though...
posted by hnnrs at 3:27 PM on September 22, 2009

I've always been partial to the name Malachy.
posted by deadmessenger at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2009

My half-Irish nephew is named Killian (I assume the Anglicized version of Cillian). His last name is McShane, so it is my eternal hope he will grow to become a total bad-ass and his homies will call him Killer McShane.
posted by Anonymous at 4:49 PM on September 22, 2009

If not Conán, perhaps Cronán? I haven't got much info on the history of the name, but Wikipedia describes the life of Cronan Mochua, a saint to whom the awesome power of 'teleportation of meat' is ascribed.
posted by gyges at 6:38 PM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: I brought the findings and offerings of this AskMe to my wife over dinner. Both Cormac and Lir were met with approval. We might be getting somewhere.
posted by 256 at 7:14 PM on September 22, 2009

Another idea if you want him to have your family name without the using dreaded hyphen is to give him 2 middle names, the second one being your last name. I have 2 middle names, and it works just fine.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:25 PM on September 22, 2009

As someone with two middle names, I concur that it works out quite nicely.
posted by davejay at 11:21 PM on September 22, 2009

My mother had the same naming inclinations as you do -- I'm Padraic (the "g" was too much for my dad to accept) and my brother's Seamus, and we've always been ridiculously proud of the names and thankful for the history that's attached to them. so, um, good choice!

(though, be aware that pretty much everyone in the US will utterly fail at spelling your son's name. my poor brother grew up with all of his elementary teachers telling him that he was spelling his own name incorrectly, because Seamus just *had* to have a "sh"...)
posted by Chionophilia at 1:02 AM on September 23, 2009

As someone with Irish first and last names (my dad is Irish), can I just reiterate what others have mentioned about the value of easy to write and say? Especially if you live somewhere that is not Ireland.

My name is common enough in Ireland, but here in Australia, I'm in my mid-thirties and can still count on one hand the number of people who've got it right first time. I can always tell when my name is going to be called on a roll or in a queue by the pause and the puzzled look and the stuttering. I am regularly confronted by people (call centre customer service operators particularly for some reason) who insist to me that I am both misspelling and mispronouncing my own name.

I'm very fond of my name now and quite pissed off that it's becoming more common here! But I can't deny the whole thing was extremely trying for a very long time.

As for actual names, well, I've always had a soft spot for Conor.
posted by t0astie at 5:35 AM on September 23, 2009

A friend who ultimately named his son Declan has told me that he also liked Oisín who was the son of Fionn and was considered the greatest Irish poet and a warrior.
posted by mmascolino at 6:07 AM on September 23, 2009

We used Connor for our third child. I went searching for the name in literature and came up with the story "Deidre of the Sorrows." Hmmm... I don't think I'll show this to him until he's a little older: don't want to tip the scales that way if I can avoid it. (As EmpressCalypgios says, a lot of Irish stories have complex endings and not Happy Storybook Endings. Beware.)

We found that many names we'd thought were Irish were really Welsh, like Owen (whic, OK, is broadly "Celt" but I don't want to have that fight). *shrug* Not an insupperable problem for us, but you may be more sensitive.

As a kid, having an ethnic name can be a drag. My junior high bus carried three sisters -- Siobhan, Sorcha, and one other -- and they were teased mercilessly and cruelly, every day, from the time they boarded until they got off the bus. It was ugly.

I have a nephew-in-law named Declan, which is cool.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:38 AM on September 23, 2009

Please don't go for Lir, it's a brand of chocolates! I'm Irish and named my son Killian (with a K to acknowledge his German father) St Cillian brought christianity to those heathern forest dwellers.

I love Cormac, it sounds and is everything you're looking for. I also adore Cian. I'm really partial to Oisin, little red deer, as my son's friend Oisin has the pale skin and the curly red hair of a Boticelli masterpiece. But remember IN is the dimunuitive in Irish, meaning little X, Y or X. For example the Irish for Patricia is simply the diminuitive of Paidraig, --Paidrigin. (as in Meatfilter's own Paidrigin!)

It's amazing when the physical appearance matches the name, but since the majority of people don't speak Irish, I'd also recommend Fionn, (Fi-Yunhn) even if he's unlikely to be fair haired as it answers all the requests you made originally.
posted by Wilder at 11:45 AM on September 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

No Aidan - way too trendy!
posted by radioamy at 7:51 PM on September 23, 2009

Ronan. Sounds like such a bad ass!
posted by like_neon at 1:14 AM on September 24, 2009

My brother's name is Ronan (with the fadas, which I can't figure out on this computer). He's now 30 and my mum still exclaims "my little seal!" at him on a regular basis .....
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:43 PM on September 24, 2009

Response by poster: Okay, we've got ourselves a final short list:

Ossian (yes, spelled like this, my wife couldn't get her head around Oisín)

Thanks so much everyone. Because of you my son won't have to go around nameless.
posted by 256 at 5:57 AM on September 28, 2009

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