Irish name variations

Recently Mary Ellen Grogan at NEHGS shared a great resource with me. It is called the Special report on surnames in Ireland [together with] varieties and synonymes of surnames and Christian names in Ireland by Robert E. Matheson. It is available in the NEHGS library. Copies of the “special report on surnames” and the separate “varieties and synonymes of surnames and Christian names” are also available digitally on HathiTrust.

First published in 1894 and then with updates in 1901 and 1909, these volumes were put together by Robert Matheson, who was the Registrar-General of Ireland. Using data from 1890 birth registrations and his correspondence with local registrars, he created a detailed summary of names found throughout Ireland. If you cannot find someone in Irish records, it may be useful to consult Matheson to find variations for further research.

For example, according to Matheson, the Holland surname was found in Counties Cork, Dublin, and Galway...

The surname chapters include spelling variations and the counties where the surnames were found in 1890. For example, according to Matheson, the Holland surname was found in Counties Cork, Dublin, and Galway, and sometimes was reported as Wholihane. My own research verifies this. My husband’s Holland family was from Lislee parish in County Cork, and in 1833 their surname was recorded as Wholahane. Their Holland surname is the anglicized version of Ó hUallacháin.

First name variations can be challenging. When you are researching in Irish records, it is important to understand the fluidity of Christian names. Did you know that Moss is another name for Maurice or that Cassie is a variation of Catherine? These are examples of diminutive names that can be quite different from their original name.

Finally, there are the Irish equivalents for English names.

Matheson also has examples of names that might be used interchangeably. These include Owen for Eugene and Bridget for Delia. Finally, there are the Irish equivalents for English names. Instead of the English Jeremiah a man might be known as Darby or Dermot. And Johanna could be Shavaun or Siobhan.

But my favorite parts in this book are the insights into naming practices. Because Robert Matheson oversaw civil registration records he had access to notes from local registrars. Matheson included some of these notes such as this humorous one. “Some years ago a man gave me ‘Eden’ (pronouncing ‘E’ like the long English ‘A’) as the name of his daughter. I told him I knew no such name. He rather indignantly asked me did I never hear of the Garden of Eden, and said he called her after that.”

Pam Guye Holland

About Pam Guye Holland

Pam has been researching family roots in Ireland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Germany for over twenty years. She is the genetic genealogy director for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council and is a certificate holder from the Boston University Genealogical Research Certificate program. She lectures internationally, is a regular contributor to the NEHGS blog, Vita-Brevis, and has published articles on genetics and genealogy in the American Ancestors magazine. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she grew up in West Virginia, and currently resides in the Boston area. During her earlier career she earned a BA in International Relations from the College of Wooster and a MS in Computer Science from Northeastern University. Areas of expertise: Irish immigration, Irish records, DNA, church records, German, New York (both city and state), and New England.View all posts by Pam Guye Holland