Learn About Irish Naming Patterns

Written By: Mike Collins.

Covered In This Lesson:

  • The Irish Naming Pattern for Naming Children.

  • Let’s Take an Example.


Understanding and using “Irish Naming Patterns” is one of the most useful ways to make educated guesses about the unknown mother or father of one of your Irish ancestors. Like to hear more?

One of the most frequent questions I hear each week is a version of the following:

“My ancestor came to my country in the 1800s. I have no idea where they came from in Ireland, or the names of their parents in Ireland. Is there some way I can find this information?”

How about you? Do you have a situation like this? Let’s have a look at a very useful way of going back a little further in time on your Irish family tree. We are going to chat about “Irish Naming Patterns”.


The Irish Naming Pattern for Naming Children.

Let me start off by formally introducing myself:

My name is Michael Collins. I am the eldest son in my family and was named after my grandfather – also called Michael Collins.

My father’s name was John Collins – he was an eldest son and named after his grandfather – also John Collins.

My father, John Collins has three siblings:

  • Patrick (second eldest son) – he was named after his maternal grandfather.
  • Michael (third eldest son) – he was named after his father.
  • Kathleen (eldest daughter) – she was named after her maternal grandmother.

Now, why am I sharing these random facts about my family? Well, there is a useful pattern hidden in the above naming of children. The “Irish Naming Pattern” is a real system of child-naming that was used in Ireland over hundreds of years – and often continued to be used in the Irish immigrant’s new country for further generations. I have found it to be in strong use in rural parts of Ireland right up to the 1960s.

The Irish naming pattern is as follows:

  • 1st son is named after the father’s father.
  • 2nd son is named after the mother’s father.
  • 3rd son is named after the father.
  • 4th son is named after the father’s eldest brother.


  • 1st daughter is named after the mother’s mother.
  • 2nd daughter is named after the father’s mother.
  • 3rd daughter is named after the mother.
  • 4th daughter is named after the mother’s eldest sister.

Let’s Take an Example:

Let’s take a simple example:

Patrick and Kathleen O’Mara emigrated to Australia in the mid 1800s. The names of their parents – who stayed in Ireland – are unknown. They had the following children after emigrating to Australia. They named them – from eldest to youngest:

  • Michael
  • Mary
  • John
  • Patrick
  • Bridget

If this family used the traditional Irish naming pattern, then we can guess the following:

  • Michael (eldest son) was named after Patrick O’Mara’s father.
  • Mary (eldest daughter) was named after Kathleen O’Mara’s mother.
  • John (2nd eldest son) was named after Kathleen O’Mara’s father.
  • One fact that confirms that this family most likely used the Irish naming pattern is the fact that the third son is called Patrick – the same as his father.
  • Bridget (2nd eldest daughter) was named after Patrick O’Mara’s mother.

So, we can now take a guess that:

  • The parents of Patrick O’Mara (senior) were called Michael and Bridget.
  • The parents of Kathleen O’Mara were called John and Mary.

Of course – the above conclusion is just a guess based on the Irish naming pattern system, but it does give us a direction for further research.

So, if this naming pattern system holds true in your family, it can be very useful when taking an educated guess as to the names of your unknown Irish ancestors a generation back.

Now, naming patterns are not always reliable. Remember that it is a convention – not a set of rules! Also, the pattern was not always strictly adhered to – or the pattern may fall apart as you approach the younger children (death of older children before younger children were born and emigration can weaken conformance to this pattern. However, the naming pattern was followed by many roman catholics (not so much with protestant families) and within that group is surprisingly accurate across many regions in Ireland – and very useful when taking educated guesses for further research as you trace your Irish family back to Ireland.



How about you? Do the Irish naming patterns hold up as true in your Irish family tree? Remember, the “Irish Naming Pattern” is not a rule – but was followed by Irish Roman Catholic families until recently in large numbers.

You can easily check if the pattern applied within your Irish ancestral families – therefore acquiring an extra tool to research the given names of previous generations of those families.

What To Do Next:

  • Choose one couple within your Irish ancestral family tree. Start with the names you know for sure and see if the “Irish Naming Pattern” holds up within that family (a good clue is when you find an eldest grandchild named for a grandparent or the 3rd child named after one of the parents).
  • Ask further questions about Irish Naming Patterns – and how to use them in specific situations – in the Ask The Genealogist section of the Green Room forum. See link below.


Click Here To Ask Our Genealogist a Question Related to This Module.