An online database of Irish surnames provides detailed explanations and backgrounds for almost all family names on the island of Ireland. 

The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland provides detailed explanations for more than 45,000 British and Irish surnames. 

Released in 2016, the dictionary was the result of more than four years of research from some of the most prominent historical linguists, medieval historians, and lexicographers at the University of England in Bristol, and includes more than 5,000 family names of Irish origin. 

The dictionary includes every surname that has more than 100 bearers and all names that had more than 20 bearers at the time of the census in 1881. 

Richard Coates, a professor emeritus of onomastics who led the research at the university, said that there has always been a significant interest in where family names come from.

"There seems to be perpetual interest in where surnames come from. It can be an excellent way of helping people begin to trace their family histories," he told the Irish Times. 

The expansive study found that surnames have four common points of origin; locative (coming from a place), trade-based, relationship-based, or those that come from nicknames.

With more than 5,000 detailed surnames to crawl through, it was simply impossible to list all of them, but here are some of the Irish surnames listed in the dictionary and their origins:


Also derived from an Irish nickname, Campbell comes from caimbeul, which literally translates as "crooked mouth". 

Campbell was often translated into Latin as Campo Bello, meaning beautiful field, and leading to some Anglo-Norman French translating the name as Beauchamp.


Cunningham actually comes from a nickname. The name can be traced to Mac Cuinneagáin, or ‘son of the little leader/chief', the dictionary says. 

Early examples of the name were found in Cork in the 1500s.


Hawkins is possibly derived from the Irish name Ó hEacháin, meaning descendant of Eachán, which is a nickname derived from Eachaidh (horseman). 


Hickey is the anglicized version of Ó hÍceadh, meaning someone who is a ‘descendant of Ícidhe, an Irish word for a doctor or healer. Early examples of the name dating back to the 16th century point to the name Hickey originating in Tipperary. 


The dictionary notes that there have been 58,873 recent occurrences of the family name Murphy in Ireland and a further 63,302 recent occurrences of the name in Britain. 

Murphy is the most common family name in Ireland and comes from the Irish "Ó Murchadha or Mac Murchadha, meaning ‘descendant (or son) of Murchadh", according to the dictionary. Murchadh meanwhile is broken down into the Irish words muir (meaning sea) and cath (meaning battle), which is literally translated as sea warrior. 

The name was particularly common in Wexford and Cork at the time of the 1881 census. 

You can find out more about the origins of your own surname by visiting the Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland's website. 

* Originally published in Nov 2020, updated in Sep 2022.