Why do some Americans have such a hard time with Irish names? 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 them.
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.
Read more: The top 10 Irish language names for girls
Here’s a list of the top ten 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”.
Historical old Irish name of a fabled Fenian warrior (pictured above). Pronounced “USH een” not “Waz an”.
Read more: Choose from the top 100 Irish names
Again a common girl’s name. Pronounced “SHIN ade” not “Sign aid”.
Meaning 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”.
Read more: The top 10 Irish language names for boys
Boys name meaning Charles in Gaelic. Pronounced “Cah Hull” not “cattle”.
This is a difficult one. This is a boy’s name. Pronounced “TIG” as in the first three letters in Tiger, not “Tad guh”.
Meaning freedom, see also actress Saoirse Ronan. Pronounced “See Or Shah” or "Ser Shah," not “Say oar see”.
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!
* This August, we're celebrating Gaeilge (the Irish language) and Irish music with a series highlighting those around the world speaking and learning Irish, and playing Irish music.
** Originally published in 2014.