Catholic/Irish Surnames

by Sara Kmiecik
Galvin, Corcoran, O'Dell, Gannon and Baldwin are all common Irish surnames with Roman Catholic backgrounds.

Galvin, Corcoran, O'Dell, Gannon and Baldwin are all common Irish surnames with Roman Catholic backgrounds.

Hundreds of common Irish surnames represent traditional Roman Catholic families that have lived in Ireland for centuries. A commonality among Irish Catholic names is an O' or Mac' prefix, which represented either the son (Mac') or grandson (O') of the first man with that name in Ireland. With the majority of Irish citizens being Roman Catholic, it is very common to find surnames with a Catholic origin.


Galvin, or O'Gealghain in old Irish, is a popular surname with descendants found all over Ireland. In old English, the names O'Galvin or O'Gallivane were used for this family. The O' prefix has been dropped in the present-day form of the name. The meaning of the name is a combination of the Irish words for "bright" and "white." Most present-day Galvins are found in County Claire, County Kerry and County Cork. The family has a history of assisting in the Battle of Loughraska, or the Battle of Corcomroe Abbey, which took place in 1317. A strong branch of the Galvin name was also included in the barony of Athlone in the 1659 census. Galvins can research their surname with the Irish Roman Catholic Church Registrar.


Corcoran is another common Catholic surname with Irish ancestry. The old English form of Corcoran is O'Corcoran or MacCorcoran. The surname comes from the Gaelic word Corcair, which stands for either purple or ruddy. Present-day Corcorans are most often found in County Offaly, County Tipperary and County Cork. From the 11th to 15th centuries, several Corcorans lived in the city of Fermanagh and produced many ecclesiastics. Edmund O'Corcoran was also the subject of a famous poem by O'Carolan and was nicknamed the "hero of Limerick."


Odell, pronounced Odle by family members, is another Irish surname that comes from a Roman Catholic background. The name was commonly written as O'Dell in the 18th century as a way of showing pride in its Gaelic origin. The name Odell is primarily connected with County Limerick in Ireland. Well-known Odells include John Odell, who was a juror of the Inquisition for the barony of Connello in 1644. Odell family members can find records on their Irish ancestry in the County Limerick records and Roman Catholic Irish Registrar.


Gannon, which was Mag Fhionnain in Gaelic, is another common surname from County Mayo in Ireland. One prominent family member, Father Michael Gannon, took part in the 1798 insurrection. Another famous poet named Nicholas John Gannon is said to be of the same descent and lived in County Kildare. American actress Mary Gannon was also alleged to be from the same descent.


The name Baldwin was established in southeastern Ireland as early as the 1500s. The name included three synonyms, Baldwin, Baldin and Baldon. In the census of 1659, the Baldwin family was prominent in County Waterford. Baldwins have also been found elsewhere in Ireland, including County Leix, County Cork and County Donegal.

About the Author

Sara Kmiecik is a writer and Internet marketing specialist from Chicago, Ill. In her two years as a professional writer, she has written for a variety of industries, including health care, legal and advertising. She has written for such companies as American Greetings and and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Dayton in 2007.

Photo Credits

  • ireland,limerick image by AGITA LEIMANE from