How strong are Irish naming patterns?

+3 votes

I found the following describing the pattern traditionally followed in Ireland:

"A traditional naming pattern was often used by Irish parents until the later 19th century:
First son usually named for the father's father
Second son usually named for the mother's father
Third son usually named for the father
Fourth son usually named for the father's eldest brother
Fifth son usually named for the mother's eldest brother
First daughter usually named for the mother's mother
Second daughter usually named for the father's mother
Third daughter usually named for the mother 
Fourth daughter usually named for the mother's eldest sister
Fifth daughter usually named for the father's eldest sister."

How strong were these patterns? Were they pretty widely followed? Are they safe to use in making an assumption about lineage? 

As an example, I've got 3rd great-grandmother, Ellen Mullaly, who census records say was born in Ireland around 1836, and passed away in Bethlehem, PA in 1896. I've been unable to find anything about her parentage, but have a good record of her children, and the pattern above would suggest her father was named Dennis, just as her second-born son was. I've been using to search for Irish birth records, so I headed over there and an initial search gives me 22 possible Ellen Mullalys born within 10 years of 1836. When I tighten up the dates to five and limit it fathers with a first name beginning with D (to allow for different spelling variations), I get one result, an Ellen Mullaly born to a Denis Mullaly in Dunkerrin, Co. Tipperary. Is it safe to assume this is probably my Ellen based on the assumptions I've made? 

WikiTree profile: Ellen Mullaly
asked in The Tree House by Christopher Roberts G2G1 (1.7k points)
If the naming pattern were solid and always used, it would sure make it easier to track ancestors. I’ve never been able to count on it for this. Scots supposedly used a form of this naming pattern, but it didn’t seem to be hard and fast among my Scots ancestors.
It seems to me that this naming pattern was stronger in the Highlands, less so in the Lowlands.
That would make sense with the lowlands if a more eclectic cultural heritage. Any idea when the naming patterns would have started and what was it that influenced inputs creation?

Hello, here is a bit of info on the Mullaly name.

8 Answers

+5 votes
Did they follow the naming pattern with their other sons? I've found that it's common to follow the naming pattern, but it can't always be counted on. Also sometimes there are cases where that pattern is mixed up if say the father and grandfather have the same name.
answered by Janelle Weir G2G6 Mach 1 (18.3k points)
In some places they did, but it's sort of mixed up for the reason you suggested. By coincidence, the other grandfather is also named Dennis, so they didn't name their first born after either (they named him Lawrence). They did name their 3rd son Andrew after the father though, and based on who witnessed the baptisms, it looks like their fourth and fifth sons/daughters were probably named after aunts and uncles.
Honestly if the paternal grandfather was named Dennis, I wouldn't count on that also being the maternal granfather's name without other evidence. It could just as easily be Lawrence and they decided to switch the order.
That had occurred to me, but I haven't found an Ellen with a Lawrence as a father within 50 years of her DOB. That said, I think Irish records tend to be somewhat incomplete that early, so it's totally possible that's the right pairing and there are just no surviving / online birth records.
+4 votes
I would question how strong those patterns are in an extended family environment. I'm going to make up names because it's easier to keep track

If a man named Joseph (we'll call him Joe) is the third son, then per pattern Joe was named for his father, also Joseph. Let's say Joe's older brothers were named per pattern, and their names are John and Francis. One of his older brothers, let's say John, has a son before does, and names him after his paternal grandfather, Joseph, we'll call him Joey. Now Francis went off to seminary to become a priest so we're not worried about his choice of children's names.

So next Joe married and has a son. Does he name his first son Joseph, after his father, and, incidentally, himself - and his son will have the same name as his cousin Joey who he sees al the time becomes they live in the same village? Or does Joey's prior existence change the pattern?

If it doesn't, okay, we're done here.

If it does, we go on. Pretend it does change his choice. Joe names his son after his father-in-law, Paul.

Joe has a couple of daughters next, and in that time John has two more  sons. The second is named for his maternal grandfather, Michael, but the third is named John, after his father.

Then Joe has a second son. He has skipped his father's name due to competition from a nephew, he has already used his father-in-law's name, and the next name in line is... his own, Joseph. Okay, skip that. His eldest brother, John, except there's a cousin Johnny. Okay, now for his wife's eldest brother's name, uh-oh, that's Michael... because John and Joe's wives are cousins (it's a small village) and have the same paternal grandfather, Michael. And each wife has an older brother named Mike after their paternal grandfather. And at least one of the Uncle Mike's has given Joe's kids a cousin Mikey already....

If this example sounds overly complex... that's the point.I think it would be difficult to always follow the same pattern, especially in large families.
answered by Thomas Fuller G2G6 Mach 3 (31.9k points)
Well said, Thomas!
+3 votes
I can confirm that this was used in at least two of my Irish lines — the Keilys and the Condons, which later merged when Catherine Condon married Denis Keily; Catherine's parents were Patrick and Ellen, while Denis' were Timothy and Julia...guess what their first son and first daughter were named? Timothy and Julia, of course! — but the best way for you to confirm this will be to search for any further evidence of the name. Did Ellen have further descendants named Dennis? Etc.
answered by Amy Utting G2G6 Pilot (120k points)
+3 votes
This is not specifically an "Irish" thing. It's also not consistent. I've mostly encountered it in English-origin colonists on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, but also Scots; I can't trace any of my Irish lines back far enough to have any idea if it applies to Irish.
answered by C Handy G2G6 Mach 1 (11.7k points)
My experiences is that it’s a Gaelic cultural expression, and that one can rely upon it to some extent in both Ireland and Scotland, more particularly the Highlands. I find that the English may be more inclined to name their fist child after themselves.
+2 votes
I looked at my own Irish tree and did not find this naming tradition to be followed. There are definite repeated names from generations prior, but not in this order, and sometimes the father's father's name isn't even repeated once. I have well documented ancestors in Northern Cork back to 1800 (it gets spottier prior to that). So based on my non-expansive research I wouldn't say it's safe to say these conventions are followed to the letter, but seeing repeated names is a good sign.  

That said, with the large families in Ireland the names get repeated over and over throughout cousins and it's very hard to tease out who is a cousin and who is a direct ancestor.
answered by Erin English Bailey G2G4 (4.8k points)
+2 votes
I found in my lines the naming pattern was quite strong with those families who emigrated and the first-born generations. Subsequent generations seemed to deviate from using it though several names were used repeatedly, but not in any particular pattern.
answered by Leigh Taffe G2G4 (4.1k points)
+1 vote
I would say, from my own research into my own Irish and Scottish ancestors' history, it was common to name one's own children after the father, but sometimes, parents named their children after their friends, neighbors, siblings, etc.
answered by
0 votes
In my own family I find this convention is followed with an added device of two first names. The first name honours the convention. The middle name is the one special to the person, and the only name actually used. So in 2 generations we have 3 Florences - my mother's elder sister, her daughter and me. It was a surprise to discover this when I started my family tree!
answered by

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