The Luck of the Irish

The Irish diaspora is one of the largest in the world, with far more people having left this island, due to its turbulent history, than are currently resident. Part of this turbulent history is down to the country’s close ties with the UK, ensuring that at least about a quarter of the UK’s population has Irish ancestry.

If  you’re of Irish descent you’re in luck with tracing your family tree, as certain Irish naming patterns can make your quest easier.

In Ireland, there has been a strong traditional naming pattern for children throughout the family, where –

The eldest son would be named after his paternal grandfather

The second son after his maternal grandfather

The third son after his father

While a similar pattern was practised for naming daughters, it was not as strictly adhered to and sometimes, especially among the higher classes, girl’s names could be chosen simply by following fashion. A possible reason could be as girls married into their husband’s family, losing their own family name, the preservation of Christian names was not considered to be so important.

Somewhat surprisingly, this naming pattern for sons was observed by all social classes and across all religious denominations in Ireland. As a result, you will often see the same names crop up within a family through the generations. This is a boon to the genealogist, especially when unusual names appear, and reappear.

Where naming patterns can be thrown is as a cause of infant deaths mortality.. Indeed, when a specific name was especially important to a family, this name would be conferred on the next-born child, which is why you can sometimes find two, or even more children with the same name – infant mortality rates could be high – baptised in the same family. Each baptism signifies the death of the older child, but indicates that the parents wanted to keep this name alive.

Another situation where the naming pattern could be disrupted occurred when a child was stillborn, or born so sickly that death looked inevitable. Then, the child could be baptised using a family name, but the paternal grandfather’s name might be saved for a live birth, or a child expected to live. Knowledge of this practice is based on anecdotal evidence, but is drawn from reference to several  cases in Ireland from the early 20th century.

The study of Irish naming practices won’t just help you trace your Irish ancestors, but as we’ve seen here, also bring a passage of Irish history vividly to life.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *