On Celtic Names

Many Americans have Celtic ancestry.  In a modern sense, we usually think of “Celtic” as referring to Irish, Scottish, or Welsh.  However, it also can encompass Cornish, Breton, and Manx. 

Growing up, I knew plenty of Ryans, Kevins, and Caitlins I also can say I knew of an Aidan and an EilidhMackenzie was another I would sometimes hear, along with the once extremely popular Cornish name Jennifer (cognate of the literary names Guinevere and Ginevra).  Celtic-derived names were everywhere.

You may have noticed that all the boys’ names I mentioned are basically Irish in origin.  Irish and Scottish Gaelic (Eilidh falling in the latter category) are notoriously difficult for most English speakers to spell and pronounce.  If you can figure them out, however, you’re potentially looking at an incredibly unique and distinctive name.

I plan on posting more on Celtic names in the future.  For now, here are just a few of my favorites:

Briallen – Welsh.  I’ve read it’s supposed to be pronounced “Brie-AHSH-en” but I think the phonetic “Brie-ah-len” will work just fine (and indeed, better) for American ears.

Blodwen – Welsh

Bronwen – Welsh.  Pronounce it as you see it.  From my research Bronwyn is more commonly used in the U.S.  However, in Welsh, names ending in “-wyn” are considered masculine, and “-wen” are feminine.  Americans mostly view Bronwyn as feminine. 

Caoimhe (pr. like Keeva) – Irish and Scottish

Ceridwen – Welsh.  Pronounced with a hard “c” sound, as in “care.”

Fionnuala, Fionnuaghla – Irish and Scottish.  I’m personally not sure about pronunciation, but Finola and Fenella are English forms. 

Kerensa – Cornish

Niamh (rhymes with Eve) – Irish

Nolwenn – Breton

Rhiannon – Welsh mythology.  Americans started using this name in the 1970s because of  the Fleetwood Mac song.

Saoirse (pr. Seer-sha) – Irish name.  Namesake-wise, there’s actress Saoirse Ronan, who was recently an Academy Award nominee.

Alasdair/Alastair – Scottish forms of Greek Alexander.

Cadwalader – Welsh

Cadwgan/Cadogan – Welsh, and as in “Sir Cadogan” from Harry Potter. 

Caradoc – Welsh.  Caradoc Dearborn is a very minor Harry Potter character.

Ciarán (pronounced like Kieran) – Irish.  Namesake Ciaran Hinds.

Cormac – Irish.  Cormac McLaggen is a character in the Harry Potter series.

Duncan – Scottish

Emrys – Welsh.  I’ve been seeing a lot more of this name lately, actually.

Gawain – Welsh, cognate of GavinThink “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” and King Arthur.

Riordan – Irish

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