☎️ Baby Name Hotline: Irish-American Girl
What's the female equivalent of names like Finn and Nolan?
Welcome back to the Baby Name Hotline!
Here, we let you in on the conversation as we discuss one reader’s burning baby name question – and then we throw open the floor to our wonderful followers for you to have your say.
Today’s question feels very timely, coming as it does just a couple of days after St Patrick’s Day ☘️
How to strike the right balance between honoring your heritage and assimilating easily into the environment your child will be raised in? Read on to hear our take!
We are expecting our second child, first girl, and we’re struggling for names!
Our son is named Nolan, which seemed like a perfect fit. It’s cool but not too common, and honors my Irish roots without being too difficult for people here in the US.
For years, my favorite girl name has been Niamh (pronounced “neev”), which is popular back in Ireland but gets butchered over here! We have considered spelling it Neve but it just doesn’t hit the same, although we haven’t ruled it out.
I’d love to hear some more suggestions for girl names that have a clear Irish connection but aren’t too complicated in the States. There seem to be so many more good options for boys!
Some more names we like for reference: Finn/Fionn, Declan, Senan for boys, Aoife and Eabha for girls.
Sophie: Congratulations on your baby girl!
Let’s talk about Niamh first of all. This is a tough situation – one in which there’s no perfect answer.
Clare: I feel your dilemma, because Niamh and Neve, despite sounding the same, feel like totally different names to me.
Sophie: Let’s break it down into your options:
Use your preferred spelling, the one that feels like the strongest heritage connection, with the understanding that you (and eventually, your daughter) will have to correct people – probably quite frequently.
Alter the spelling to Neve, which is more intuitive, but feels less authentically Irish.
Let go of the name – perhaps making it a middle name – and choose something else entirely.
Clare: Your other top girl names suggest that Irish spellings are important to you. We see our kids’ names on paper and on screen often enough that, if you’re not on board with Neve, it might grate over time.
Pam: True, but it’s important to be realistic about the spelling/pronunciation challenges. You can't name your kid Niamh in the US and be surprised when people think it's “Ny-am”. The pronunciation and spelling are completely counterintuitive for English speakers.
Clare: You haven’t said if your own Irish name is often mispronounced – my guess is it is – but that might help you decide.
If people usually get Aisling once they’ve heard it spoken, that’s reassurance that it may be the same for Niamh. But if you’re fed up of mispronunciations and wish you’d been named Ashlyn, then that’s a reason to lean towards Neve.
Sophie: Personally, I like option 2. Neve is still an Irish name, albeit one with a more streamlined spelling.
Emma: I lean towards Neve as well. While spelling is important – particularly if, as in your case, it connects deeply to heritage or to some other personal backstory, in day-to-day life you will speak your daughter’s name aloud so much more often than you’ll write it down.
It seems a shame to forego the name sound you have loved for so long for a future daughter, when there’s a different spelling that could give you the same sound without the pronunciation issues.
Sophie: Agreed. Plenty of Irish names have undergone these sort of transitions over the years, including your son’s! Nolan originally comes from the name Nuallán, but the Anglicized version doesn’t take away from Nolan’s Irish roots.
Clare: If you decide it must be Niamh rather than Neve, I like the suggestion of using it in the middle. As a one-syllable name, it would sound great in lots of combinations.
Pam: As Sophie said, this is a great question with no perfect solution.
Sometimes, we can have so many contradictory items on a wish list that there is no single “right” answer. It’s all about weighing these criteria against each other and drilling down to what is truly most important to you.
Emma: Let’s think about some fresh ideas! Your naming style feels soft yet strong, with deep roots but a current feel.
Clare: I agree. My first impression is that your style encompasses names that are currently popular in Ireland, plus some that are more beloved by American parents, like Nolan. So there should be a wide range to choose from, but it’s wider for boy names than for girls.
Emma: There definitely are fewer popular options for girls, but that sounds like it might actually be a bonus for you! Niamh or Neve is very uncommon in the States – just 93 births combined in the latest year on record – but it’s complexity, rather than rarity per se, that concerns you.
Sophie: One thing that stands out to me about these names is that they’re all very streamlined – if not in spelling, in sound.
Emma: Streamlined is a great description!
Sophie: Here are some you might like:
Fia – Fiadh is #3 in Ireland, but Anglicized Fia might wear better in the US. But is the Irish connection strong enough?
Rooney – I’m seeing Rooney a lot for baby girls, but it was only used 68 times in 2021.
Carmody – The 2000s What Not to Wear references are fading, and Carmody is a great one-of-a-kind surname name for girls.
Daly – I’ve seen this name in real life, and it wears very well!
Eavan – Close to Eabha, but more intuitive.
Breslin – Feels feminine thanks to the -lin ending and association with actress Abigail.
Liadan – Irish saint name that is pretty phonetic.
Nuala – Almost like a hybrid of Niamh and Eabha! I’ve known multiple Nualas, and the pronunciation (NOO-la) typically only requires one quick correction.
Eilish – Singer Billie has taught everyone how to pronounce her surname, which would be adorable on a baby girl.
Oona – Love the double O! Oona is unobjectionably Irish but very intuitive.
Orla – Irish mythology choice with an excellent meaning: “golden princess”.
Enya – Easier to pronounce than the original Eithne, and many people are familiar with the Irish connection.
Clare: I agree we’re looking for a streamlined Irish name. My favorites here are Fia, Orla, and Oona (or Una). Also Nuala, but it feels too close to Nolan for comfort.
Emma: As for whether Fia is Irish enough, I think so! It’s true that the Fiadh spelling is more popular in Ireland, but Fia is also used regularly enough to put it just outside the Top 200 there. It’s a beautiful name – light but punchy.
Clare: I also love Eavan as a wildcard: it’s very rare, but definitely more user-friendly than Aoibheann!
There’s also Evanna, another form of the same name and familiar from Harry Potter actor Evanna Lynch.
Speaking of household names, Saoirse is well-known to Americans thanks to Saoirse Ronan. It’s even been in the Top 1000 baby names for six years.
I’ll also throw in…
Maeve – Is this too obvious? Just like Nolan, it’s popular but not Top 10 popular (not even Top 100 at the moment), it’s clearly Irish, and everyone knows how to say it. And it’s so similar sound-wise to Niamh.
Quinn – An on-trend Irish surname like Nolan.
Cliona – Not quite so short, but a breezy, modern-sounding but authentic Irish name.
Emma: Great suggestions! I think Fia, Orla, Oona (😍), Maeve and Quinn in particular fit the bill – and all sound fabulous with Nolan.
Cliona is also a lovely, very underused choice that would give you the gorgeous nickname Clio. Nolan and Clio make a fantastic pair – cool and unexpected, with an upbeat feel.
For a more outside-the-box idea, how about something like Clover? Not technically an Irish name, but a symbol of Ireland, with a sleek and stylish feel and that crisp V sound you seem drawn to in names like Niamh and Eabha.
Clare: I like the suggestion of using more symbolic names!
Emma: I’ll also add…
Lyra – Means “harp”, another national symbol of Ireland. Harper is perhaps the most obvious choice for this meaning, but sweet, strong Lyra feels more your style.
Emerald – For the Emerald Isle.
Juno – I may be biased (it’s my daughter’s name) but I love the clean, lively sound and it has a surprisingly long history of use in Ireland as a variant of Una. It’s also the name of the title character in Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey’s play Juno and the Paycock.
Saorla – An unusual but fairly intuitive Irish name meaning “free princess”.
Pam: I don’t think Saorla is very intuitive, alas. Sorcha?
Clare: Sorcha I personally love – so underused!
Readers, over to you! 🎤
Do you have any comments or suggestions for Aisling and her partner? Share them below, and don’t forget to add your own question for the chance to have it answered in a future edition 🤗
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I think just go with Niamh. People have to deal with other cultures and their differences in spellings. Plus there are loads of people in the USA with Irish roots. In the UK most people know how to pronounce Niamh and even name their children it and that wouldn't have happened if every Irish person living here had anglised it.
I love the name Niamh too. Anglicized though, I prefer Neeve because it seems closer to the Irish version to me. I'd also suggest Tierney or Keely, which I think pair well with Nolan.