Why do some people have such a hard time with Irish names? Is it the double and sometimes triple vowels?!
It's often the double vowel that catches out many people when they try to pronounce Gaelic names. Sometimes the triple vowel, as in “Caoimhe,” completely stumps non-Irish people!
Having an Irish name in the US is an experience unto itself! There's the gradual acceptance that many people you meet - from new friends to the fine baristas at Starbucks - will have no idea how to spell or pronounce your name. There's the patience you learn to muster as you repeat your name slowly for the umpteenth time. There's the rare moment of sheer exultation when you encounter someone who gets your name right on the first go, or an Irish speaker who doesn't give it a second thought.
Here’s a list of some of the most tongue-twisting Irish names - and a guide on how to pronounce them:
Meaning “gentle” in Gaelic. Pronounced “Kweeva”, not “Cam-he”.
Very common Gaelic name. Pronounced “SHIV awn” not “SEE o ban”.
Historic old Irish name of a fabled Fenian warrior (pictured above). Pronounced “USH een” not “Waz an”.
Again a common girl’s name. Pronounced “SHIN ade” not “Sign aid."
Meaning a dream or vision. Seen in "The Secret of Kells". Often pronounced “Ass Sling” by Americans. Proper pronunciation is “ASH ling."
Very common name with girls in Ireland. Pronounced “KNEE ov” not “NI Am H”.
After famed love partner of Diarmuid, a Fenian chieftain. Pronounced “GRAWN YAH” not “granny."
This is a difficult one. This is a boy’s name. Pronounced “TIG” as in the first three letters in Tiger, not “Tad guy."
Meaning freedom, see also actress Saoirse Ronan. Pronounced “See Or Shah” or "Ser Shah," not “Say oar see."
We'll leave it to the expert for this one...
Practice makes perfect! And remember, before you complain about how hard they are to pronounce, it's important that you keep in mind the reason it's so hard; the names are in another language!
* Originally published in 2014, updated in March 2021