Blog by Gifts of Ireland

The Ultimate Guide to Irish Last Names

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Irish surnames are an essential part of Irish heritage. Heraldry in Ireland linked to traditional Irish surnames can be traced back to early Christian Ireland. Heraldry was developed to distinguish individuals during medieval battles or jousts where participant's faces were obscured by armor. Our range of heraldic shields designed by 'House of Names' allow people worldwide to exhibit their Irish heritage in their homes with pride. Read on to find out more about popular Irish surnames and their significance.

Ireland has one of the oldest surname systems globally, and the first known records of their use date back to the 900s. Many of the traditional Irish surnames used today are adapted from the original Irish Gaelic versions.

Over four million Irish immigrants travelled to America between 1820 and 1930. Irish surnames are still amongst the most popular in the USA, and you may even find your surname mentioned below!



Murphy coat of arms


Murphy is the most common surname in Ireland, and its origins can be traced back to Cork and Wicklow. The name translates to 'Sea Battler' in Irish. It is believed that the origins of the name Murphy date back to when the Vikings invaded Ireland in the 8th century. It is the most common Irish surname in the US, and in fact, there are more Murphy's in the USA than in Ireland. The Murphy coat of arms' motto is 'Fortis Et Hospitalis', which means Brave and Hospitable.



Kelly family crest


Kelly is derived from 'O Ceallaigh' and translates to 'frequenting churches'. Many early Irish saints bore the name. The Kelly Clan motto is 'Turris Fortis Mihi Deus' which means 'God is my tower of strength'. The popular surname is common amongst Hollywood's elite and was borne by iconic members of the Irish American community, Gene and Grace Kelly.



Kennedy Family Crest


The surname Kennedy is associated with counties Clare, Tipperary and Limerick. The Kennedys are a noble tribe, and the name was first used in 951 AD by High-King Brian Boru's father, Cennétig mac Lorcáin, the King of Thomond. The name is recognized worldwide thanks to the prominent American political family, the Kennedys, whose ancestors hail from Wexford. The oldest surviving heraldic artefact from the Kennedy family belonged to Ruairi O'Kennedy in 1356 and can be found in the National Library today.



Fitzgerald coat of arms


Fitzgerald means 'son of the spear mighty', and the Fitzgerald's are Maurice's descendants. Maurice was an ally of Strongbow in the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1170. The Fitzgerald motto is 'Crom Abu', which was an ancient war cry that refers to their historic home, Croom Castle. The Fitzgerald legacy has even reached the moon, and the physicist George Fitzgerald has been honored with a namesake crater.



O'Sullivan Family Crest


Sullivan is derived from the Gaelic, Ó Súilleabháin, and there is disagreement as to whether it translates to 'one-eyed',' dark-eyed or 'hawk-eyed'. According to mythology, the O'Sullivans descend from Eógan Mac Néill, a close friend of Ireland's patron saint, St. Patrick. Modern-day members of the O'Sullivan clan can mostly be found in Kerry and Cork. The Sullivan motto is 'Lamh Foísteach Abú' which means 'The Steady Hand to Victory'.


Today, Irish people still take pride in their family name and display their coat of arms in their homes. Click here to honor your family heritage and view our range of bespoke heraldic shields. You can also view our Irish names map which is perfect for hanging on your living room wall!

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