Irish Language Blog

Five More Irish Names for Girls: Daifne, Dafnae (Daphne), Pt. 2 of ‘Names with a Flower Theme (Bláth / Bláithín / Bláthnaid, Daifne / Dafnae, Lil / Lile, Nóinín, Róisín / Róis / Róise, and, sort of, Mairéad / Maighréad)’ Posted by on Apr 30, 2016 in Irish Language

An Daifne nó Dafnae í an bhean seo? Cé chomh fada sula ndéanfar crann iomlán di? [téacs le Róislín; grafaic: Antonio del Pollaiolo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

An Daifne nó Dafnae í an bhean seo? Cé chomh fada sula ndéanfar crann iomlán di? [téacs le Róislín; grafaic: Antonio del Pollaiolo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]

(le Róislín)

We interrupted this “mionsraith” on “ainmneacha” to acknowledge the passing of Prince, which then led to a discussion of the word “siamsaíocht” in its various forms, since Prince was a “sár-réalta shiamsaíochta.”  So now let’s return to some names.  This particular set deals with “ainmneacha ban” whose theme is “bláthanna.”  First we dealt with the trio “Bláth,” “Bláithín,” and “Bláthnaid” (naisc thíos do Prince, siamsaíocht, agus na hainmneacha).

The second pair in our list, Daifne and Dafnae, is a little less complex, I’d say, than the “Bláth,” “Bláithín,” “Bláthnaid” series.  Partly that’s because “Daphne,” as such, is probably already familiar to many Irish learners around the world, either “mar phlanda” (from the Greek Δάφνη, meaning “laurel”) or from “miotaseolaíocht na Gréige.”  In contrast, the various ‘flower” names (Bláth, Bláithín, Bláthnaid, and their variations/anglicizations: Blánaid, Blaheen, etc.), may well have been new for many foghlaimeoirí outside Ireland.

Also, we only have two variations of “Daphne” in Irish, “Daifne” and “Dafnae,” unlike the three or more for “Bláth.”   Each one, of course, changes for direct address (A Dhaifne! OR A Dhafnae!), but that’s par for the course for Irish names.

A few points about the gaelicization of these names from the Greek, whether directly or via English.  The “ph” of the Greek is changed to an “f,” since that’s the best match for the Irish sound.  If we see a “ph” in an Irish word, it suggests an underlying “p” (just “p,” with no “h,” i.e. not lenited).  Some well-known “ph” words illustrate this:  “Philadelphia” becomes “Filideilfia,” “the Philippines” become “na Filipínigh” and “the Philippians” become “na Filipigh” (as in “Litir Naomh Pól chuig na Filipigh“).  So it’s quite logical that Irish would use an “f” in the middle of the girl’s/plant name.  The underlying form of the name isn’t ” *Dapna” (fad m’eolais), just like ” *Piladelpia” isn’t an underlying form of “Philadelphia.”  Agus, dála an scéil, seo nóta beag ar an ábhar sin: “in Philadelphia” is “i bhFilideilfia” as in “Scríobh go dtí aingeal na heaglaise i bhFilideilfia (Apacailipsis Eoin 3:7).  So, to make a long story short, Greek “ph” generally becomes “f” in Irish.

As to why there are two versions of Daphne in Irish, one for the plant and ordinary girls’ name (daifne/Daifne) and one for the Greek mythological character (Dafnae) … níl a fhios agam.  But I can, at least, say that it sort of parallels Irish having two forms of the name Mary, “Máire” for ordinary mortals and “Muire” in the religious context.

The version that I see mostly in name books is “Daifne,” which, when lower-case, is also the name of the plant.  So let’s check out its different forms, including direct address.  That would mostly be for talking directly to a girl or woman named Daifne, but if you want to consider the direct address form for talking to flowers, like Alice in _Through the Looking-Glass_, then that’s fine too.  I don’t remember what kind of flowers Alice spoke with, but if there was a daphne flower there, Alice would have addressed it as “A dhaifne!

1. As a name, the typical everyday form:


direct address: “A Dhaifne!

possessive/genitive: carr Dhaifne (Daifne’s car; same change as for direct address, adding the “h,” but for a different purpose)

2. As a “náiad” or “nimfeach” in miotaseolaíocht na Gréige, the standard Irish spelling is “Dafnae.”  So we have:


direct address: “A Dhafnae!” (“A Dhafnae,” a dúirt Apalló, “Cá bhfuil tú, a Dhafnae?  Ná rith uaim!“)

possessive/genitive: trasfhoirmiú Dhafnae (ó bhean go planda), the transformation of Daphne (from a woman to a plant) — má tá tuilleadh sonraí uait, léigh an miotas é féin.

3. As a plant:

an daifne, the daphne

na daifne, of the daphne (cumhracht na daifne, the fragrance of the daphne)

na daifní, the daphnes (typically called “daphne flowers” or “daphne shrubs” in English, but that’s an English language issue)

na ndaifní [nuh NAFF-nee], of the daphnes (prúnáil na ndaifní, the pruning of the daphnes)

As for famous real-life bearers of this name, the first that leaps to mind is Daphne du Maurier, but there are also Daphnes in books, TV shows, movies, and other media ranging from “Scooby-Doo” and “The Broons” to Harry Potter (a minor role, admittedly) and The Sisters Grimm.

On a horticultural note, I’m puzzled about why if “daphne” in Ancient Greek meant “laurel,” then why does English have the two words, “daphne” and “laurel”?  As far as I know, we don’t honor people by giving them crowns of daphne or crowning them “poets daphneate”!  So, to quote Pals Ted and Joey, of Pal Joey, “What gives?”  B’fhéidir go bhfuil eolas ag na luibheolaithe a léann an blag seo.    A luibheolaithe?

As a geographical name, there are several places called “Daphne” around the world.  To me, an intriguing question would be whether the two “Daphne” islands of “na hOileáin Ghalápagos” should be “na Daifní” or “na Dafnaetha,” and, believe it or not, I can’t find an confirmation one way or the other online.  <osna!>  Would the two Daphnes be “an dá Dhaifne” or “an dá Dhafnae“?  And what if we used the words “Major” and “Minor,” which are sometimes used to differentiate the two islands — Daifne Mhór or Dafnae Mhór and Daifne Bheag or Dafnae Bheag?  Oh well, I guess I can get by without knowing that answer, at least for a while.  Of course, if we were talking about two Daphnes that weren’t islands, but real people, then we’d use “beirt” (pair) not the number two itself.  Ach na huimhreacha pearsanta, sin ábhar blagmhíre eile.

On that geographical note, slán go Galápagos — that is, until I get to visit those islands some day.  Ar mo liosta buicéid.  – Róislín

PS: Despite my attempts to retain the differentiation between the mythological usage (Dafnae) and the ordinary (daifne), the one online account I can find of the Greek legend uses “Daifne.”  <osna, arís!>

Naisc (ainmneacha, fuaimniú, Prince):

1) Five More Irish Names for Girls — Names with a Flower Theme (Bláth / Bláithín / Bláthnaid, Daifne / Dafnae, Lil / Lile, Nóinín, Róisín / Róis / Róise, and, sort of, Mairéad / Maighréad) Posted on 21. Apr, 2016 by róislín in Irish Language (

2) How to pronounce ‘shiamsaíochta’ in Irish Posted on 28. Apr, 2016 by róislín in Irish Language

3) In ómós don sár-réalta shiamsaíochta Prince — Réaltnéal Corcra (a memorial note with some Irish phrases) Posted on 25. Apr, 2016 by róislín in Irish Language (

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