Concerning the Name

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1997 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved

Last updated 11 July 1997

Deirdre is the name of the fictional heroine of The Sons of Uisneach [5], the daughter of Feidlimid of the Tuatha Dé Danann [1]. We know no evidence of its use by real people in pre-1600 Ireland, although there is some evidence that it was used in Scotland.

The name appears in Irish literature as Derdriu (Early Gaelic), Deirdri, and Deirdre (Middle Gaelic) [2], all of which were pronounced approximately \DEHR-dreh\. (1, 2) It is recorded once in use by a real person in Scotland in 1166, spelled Deredere [3], an anglicized spelling representing the same pronunciation. Given this example, one might speculate that the name was used in Scotland at other times and that its use in Scotland reflects a contemporary usage in Ireland; but such speculation goes beyond the available evidence.

The widespread popularity of the name dates from the Celtic revival of the 1910s and 1920s, and was prompted by the use of the name in several modern literary works: in Ireland, Yeat's Deirdre (1907) and Synge's Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910); in Scotland, Fiona Macleod's Deirdre (1903) [1, 4]. In modern times, it is occasionally mis-spelled Dierdre and Deidre.

So while there is one example of the use of Deirdre in 12th century Scotland, there is no known evidence that it was used by real people in Scotland in other centuries or by real people in Ireland at any time before modern times.


(1) Pronunciation guides appear between backslash brackets, \ \, and are intended to be read as if they were modern standard American English with the emphasis placed on the capitalized syllables.

(2) Early Gaelic (aka Old Irish) is the form of Gaelic used in Ireland and parts of Scotland from roughly 600 - 900 AD. Middle Gaelic (aka Middle Irish) was used from roughly 900 - 1200 AD, while Common Classical Gaelic (aka Early Modern Irish, Common Literary Gaelic, etc.) was used from roughly 1200 - 1700 AD. Pronunciation of Early Gaelic was pretty much the same in Ireland and Scotland, but in the Common Classical Gaelic period differences in pronunciation had become more marked. Very generally, both Early Gaelic and Common Classical Gaelic spellings were used in the Middle Gaelic period, with Early Gaelic spellings being more common in the earlier parts of the Middle Gaelic period, and Common Classical Gaelic spellings being more common in the later parts. Early Gaelic spellings are occasionally found in the Common Classical Gaelic period. Please note that although they shared a common language, the Scottish Gaelic and Irish Gaelic name bases and naming traditions were slightly different.


[1] Donnchadh Ó Corráin and Fidelma Maguire, Irish Names (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1990).

[2] Dictionary of the Irish language : based mainly on Old and Middle Irish materials (Dublin : Royal Irish Academy, 1990).

[3] Black, George F. The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning, and History. New York: New York Public Library, 1986. Original edition, 1946.

[4] Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling, The New American Dictionary of First Names (New York: Signet, 1983).

[5] E. G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).