Irish Language Blog

Irish Names for Girls: Pronunciation and Meaning (Bláthnaid, Faoiltiarna, Fionnuala, Sadhbh, Saoirse) Posted by on Mar 29, 2016 in Irish Language

(le Róislín)

grafaic:; téacs le Róislín

grafaic:; téacs le Róislín

We recently looked at some different forms of the Irish name “Niamh” and the variation “Néimhe.”  In this blog post, we’ll check out a few more girls’ names, focusing on ones I’ve received numerous questions about over the years.

Unlike a lot of other pronunciation guides online, this blog post will also give the direct address forms.  These are crucial if you plan to actually use the name in an Irish language context.  Remember, almost every Irish name changes form for direct address.  The same is true for nouns in general, but we’re less likely to use them in direct address, unless we’re waxing poetic or daydreaming  — we rarely need to say things like “O table!” but if we did, it would be “A bhoird!,” not simply “Bord!”  If we are talking to a mirror (scáthán), we have to remember to insert an “i” just before the end, so we have the infamous phrase, “A scátháin, a scátháin, ar an mballa!

I’ve also added the meaning or origin of the name, as available.

Anyway, here’s a small selection:

Bláthnaid [BLAW-nij], direct address “A Bhláthnaid!” [uh VLAW-nij]. Equated with “Flora.”   Meaning: little flower, from the word “bláth” [blaw], flower.

Faoiltiarna [FWEEL-TCHEER-nuh]. direct address: “A Fhaoiltiarna!” [uh EEL-TCHEER-nuh].  Anglicized as “Whiltierna.”  Meaning: wolf-lady (“lady” as the opposite of “tiarna,” which means “lord”)

Fionnuala [FIN-OO-uh-luh], direct address “A Fhionnuala!” [uh IN-OO-uh-luh].  May be anglicized as Finola or Fenola, but often is left in Irish, sometimes shortened to “Nuala.”  Equated with “Penelope” and “Penny” although there’s no historic connection.   Meaning: white-shouldered.

Sadhbh [syv, rhyming with “thrive” or “jive”], direct address: “A Shadhbh!” [uh hyv, rhyming with “hive” as in “beehive”]  Anglicized as “Sive” (same pronunciation) and equated with Sophia.   A diminutive or affectionate nickname form is “Saidhbhín” [SYV-een], which would be “A Shaidhbhín!” [uh HYV-een] in direct address.  Origin: the name of the mother of Oisín, his father being the famous giant/warrior Fionn Mac Cumhaill.  Her name derives from Proto-Celtic words for “sweet and lovely,” but keep in mind that the typical modern Irish words for “sweet” (milis, cumhra, binn, aoibhinn, álainn, srl.) and “lovely” (álainn, galánta, gleoite, an-deas, srl. ) are not connected.  Nasc do shnáithe suimiúil faoin ainm seo thíos.  

Saoirse: These days I guess everyone outside of Ireland is wondering about the pronunciation of this name, due to the popularity of the young actress, Saoirse Ronan.  Of course, some celebrities have also addressed the issue (the likes of Ryan Gosling and Ellen DeGeneres).  But have any of these dealt with how to greet “Saoirse” properly in Irish — ag baint úsáide as an tuiseal gairmeach?  Ní shílim.  Since this name is so prevalent in the media today, we’ll give the whole shebang here (i.e. we’ll include an tuiseal ginideach as well as an tuiseal gairmeach):

basic form: Saoirse [SEER-shuh]

direct address: a Shaoirse [uh HEER-shuh]

possessive form: Shaoirse [HEER-shuh] as in “ról Shaoirse sa scannán ‘Brooklyn’” or, for a fun linguistic workout, “aois Shaoirse” (Saoirse’s age), “saoisteog Shaoirse” (Saoirse’s pouffe) or “faoiste Shaoirse” (Saoirse’s fudge) or “iarann saoirsithe Shaoirse” (Saoirse’s wrought-iron).

meaning: freedom, related to words like “saor” (free, cheap, having the status of a freeman), “saor” (a free man), “saoradh” (liberation, deliverance, etc.), and less directly to “saoránach” (citizen), “saorbhreathach” (open-minded), saormheadaracht (free verse), saorstát (free state) and that grammatical nemesis of many, “an saorbhriathar” (the autonomous verb).

Bhuel, sin cúig ainm as cúpla céad.  B’fhéidir níos mó sa chéad bhlag eile.   SGF — Róislín

Nasc (don ainm Sadhbh / Sive): (Opinions on Name — Sadhbh)

Opinions on name – Sadhbh


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  1. Sheila Leary:

    I have heard a Connemara man pronounce Sadhbh as Sow (as in female hog). He was singing “Óró, a Shadhbh, a Shadhbh Ní Bhruinneallaigh” as “Oro How, How NÍ Vrinyula”. I also have noticed that other sungers use this pronunciation, eg Liam Ó Maonlaí:

    Are “sive” and “sow” regional variant pronunciations?

    • róislín:

      @Sheila Leary Dia dhuit, a Shíle agus go raibh maith agat as scríobh isteach. The pronunciation you suggest sounds typical for Connemara. I’ve mostly heard the “Sive” / hive / thrive sound. But practically every Irish word I’ve ever heard has at least two ways of being pronounced, and sometimes three. I’ll add your suggestion to the blog post. GRMA!

  2. Caoimhín Mac Thréinfhir:

    Tá go maith a Róislín. Agus go raibh maith agat.

    • róislín:

      @Caoimhín Mac Thréinfhir Tá áthas orm gur bhain tú sult as, a Chaoimhín. B’fhéidir na hainmneacha Caoimhín (agus Caoimhghin) agus Caoimhe i mblagmhír éigin eile sa todhchaí!

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