This article looks at how common Boyle is as a last name in Ireland and the United States from the 19th century to the present day.
You’ll learn the meaning and origins of the Boyle surname while exploring some notable and famous people that held it.
I use census records, emigration lists, and military archives to uncover fascinating patterns. If you’re studying your genealogy, check out my sources at the end of the post so you can do your own research.
How Common Is Boyle As A Surname In Ireland?
Detailed current statistics about surnames are not publicly released by the Irish government. Instead, they offer the ten most frequently occurring surnames among newborns in the previous year. Boyle
So, I had to look elsewhere for population estimates. Thankfully, an Irish genealogist researched the prevalence of Irish surnames through national phone directories published in the 1990s. Seán Murphy’s estimates aren’t as robust as a census but give a good broad estimate.
Boyle was ranked 57 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 13,100 entries.
This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:
Boyle In The Early 1900s
Only the full censuses from 1911 and 1901 in Ireland are available to the public. Earlier decades were either destroyed by the government (to make room for more storage) or by a huge fire during the Irish Civil War. Later decades are unavailable under privacy laws.
So, let’s concentrate on the early decades of the twentieth century.
I used online archives to calculate the total numbers by surname. I consider these estimates due to some percentage of transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest fifty.
There were 10,600 residents named Boyle on the island in 1911.
Ten years earlier, Boyle had about 10,900 residents in the 1901 census.
Population Estimates In The 1890s
A study of Irish surnames was conducted in 1890 by the head of the Civil Registrations Office. It was published as a “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”
The survey estimated that there were about 13,000 people named Boyle in the country.
Emigration To America After The Irish Famine
The Irish have traditionally emigrated to Britain, the U.S., Canada, and Australia in recent centuries. They were driven by various factors like political upheaval, scarcity of work, and food deprivation.
The largest wave of emigration to the United States occurred during the 19th century. The peak was in response to the Great Irish Famine, which took place between 1845 and 1852. A plant disease devastated the main food and income crop for much of the population.
I reviewed the Boyle name in the shipping passenger lists arriving in New York during this period. The departures were from both Ireland and England.
This picture shows how the numbers rose and fell in the years after the famine:
How Common Is Boyle As A Last Name In The U.S.?
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Boyle ranks about 883 among Irish names in America with 39,921 bearers.
Although the 2010 census has exact numbers and rankings, the rank I assign here is my estimate. If you’re curious about how I got there, here’s a brief explanation…
Estimating Rank In The United States
Historically, some Irish families with Gaelic surnames took English-sounding names as translations under the influence of colonization.
As these names also have English origins, they will have been brought to the United States by both British and Irish immigrants. Because the census doesn’t ask about specific European origin (e.g. England vs Ireland), it’s impossible to identify the proportion with Irish heritage.
I reviewed the census to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin. In order to estimate the relative rankings of “Irish” names, I’ve mostly excluded surnames that have varying origins.
Boyle In Historic Times
It’s interesting to look at how the numbers of a surname change over time in a relatively young country like the United States. These changes can reflect the broader demographic shifts within the nation. It’s not just migration from outside. It’s also birth rates, improved child mortality, and people living longer.
The historic census records have been transcribed and digitized. I used online archives to run counts of surname populations.
But the totals can’t be exactly accurate due to transcription errors. So, I’ve rounded the numbers to the nearest 50 in the graph below.
This picture shows the numbers every twenty years from 1860 to 1940:
These are the numbers in the graph:
- 1860: 7,050
- 1880: 14,400
- 1900: 19,850
- 1920: 23,200
- 1940: 26,250
Boyle In World War II
Approximately 8.3 million men and women joined the United States Army during World War II. Many had Irish ancestry. Some had been born in Ireland before leaving the country.
There were registration records for 44,424 soldiers named Boyle who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.
There were 28 who were born in Ireland.
Boyle Surname: Meaning And Origin
Boyle comes from the Gaelic surname Ó Baoighill, which means “descendant of Baoighill.”
The personal name Baoighill may derive from two Gaelic words: baoghal meaning danger and geal meaning pledge. So, the full name may refer to someone who makes a dangerous pledge.
Famous Or Historic People Named Boyle
Here are some notable people with the family name:
- An early prominent family contributed chiefs in the northwest of County Donegal. The name spread throughout Ireland from the mid-16th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
- Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691): born in County Waterford, Robert Boyle was one of the founders of modern chemistry. “Boyle’s Law” is a staple of high school chemistry.
- Charles Edmund Boyle (1836 – 1888): born in Pennsylvania, Charles Boyle practiced as a lawyer before serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and the House of Congress.
The Ireland 1990s estimates are from Seán J. Murphy’s research paper.
The population estimates of 1890 are based on the “Special Report on Surnames in Ireland“, published in 1909.
The population figures for the 2010 U.S. Census come from a file provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Some of the population numbers are based on my own research and calculations using online archives. I’ve rounded those numbers to the nearest 50 to account for transcription errors and other technical issues with online databases of this type.
The Irish census estimates for 1901 and 1911 are my calculations based on the Irish National Archives
I plotted the emigration figures from 1845 to 1854 based on calculations from the archives of the New York Passenger Lists (1820-1957).