Statistics from the Irish government estimate that Byrne was the fourth most common surname in Ireland in 2022.
However, it is not as common in the United States where it ranked about 44th of all Irish last names in the 2010 U.S. census.
This is an exploration of the Byrne surname from the mid-19th century to the present day. Census records, birth registrations, and passenger lists uncover the fascinating patterns of this notable Irish name.
How Common Is The Byrne Surname In Ireland?
I’ve researched the population statistics from current times back to the late 19th century. Byrne has consistently been in the top ten last names in the country.
Ireland’s Central Statistics Office published the ten most common surnames of babies born in 2022.
Byrne was fourth on the list of birth registrations that year. Of course, that isn’t the same as a population count from a census. The Byrne families may have been particularly flourishing that year!
Unlike the United States, Ireland doesn’t publish recent census numbers. But the birth registrations are a good estimate for a country of about five million people.
Here are the top five names in descending order.
Population Estimates In The 1990s
Irish genealogist Seán J. Murphy studied surname numbers in Ireland between 1992 and 1997 based on entries in telephone books.
Byrne was the sixth most common name in this decade. This bar chart shows the names in the 6th to 10th position of top names in this survey.
Byrne In The Early 1900s
The only full censuses that are publicly available in Ireland are from 1911 and 1901. As these were conducted before Irish independence, they cover the entire island.
Byrne was the seventh most common name on the island in 1901 with about 28,600 residents. The variant O’Byrne was rare with about 370 people using that spelling.
Ten years later, Byrne’s ranking hadn’t changed. It had about 29,100 residents in the 1911 census.
Population Estimates In The 1890s
Sir Robert Matheson published a study of Irish surnames in 1890 called “Special Report on Surnames In Ireland.”
Byrne was the estimated seventh most common name in the survey.
How Common Is The Name Byrne In The United States?
The United States publishes high-level details from the 2010 census that includes the totals of surnames with over one hundred bearers.
I reviewed the list to identify which names are predominantly Irish in origin to provide an estimate of the rankings of Irish names in the United States.
For example, Moore and Collins could be said to have Irish origins and rank higher than Murphy in the U.S. census. 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.
As it’s impossible to split the numbers in the census to different European origins, I’ve excluded names that have varying origins when considering “Irish” names in the U.S. censuses.
With that explanation out of the way, let’s look at how Byrne ranks in America.
Byrne In The 2010 U.S. Census
Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Byrne is about the 44th most common Irish name in America with 29,503 bearers.
The alternate spelling of O’Byrne had just 1,198 bearers.
Byrne In Historic Census Years
When we go back to 1940, Byrne was the 27th most common Irish surname in the U.S. with about 17,150 bearers.
Let’s jump back another seventy years to the first census taken after the American Civil War.
Byrne was ranked 28th amongst Irish surnames in the 1870 census with about 3720 bearers.
Byrne Emigration After The Irish Famine
Traditionally, Irish people have emigrated to England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States.
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.
This is illustrated when looking for the Byrne name in the shipping passenger lists arriving into New York during this period. Here is the line chart:
Byrne Surname: Meaning And Origin
Byrne is the Anglicized (English) form of the Gaelic name “Ó Broin“. The Irish name means “descendant of Bran”. Bran as a personal name means a raven.
The traditional strongholds of the O’Byrne clan were in County Kildare and Wicklow in Leinster, the eastern province of Ireland. The first Bran was a King of Leinster until he was blinded by a Viking king. Bran’s descendants took his name.
You can read more about the story in our quick history of the O’Byrne clan.
Family Coat Of Arms And Motto
There are several versions of a Byrne coat of arms. This is one example:
The family crest shows three raised hands on a red shield. The color of red symbolizes sacrifice in war. The raised hands denote justice and faith.
The family motto is the Latin phrase “Certavi et Vici”, which means “I fought and conquered”.
Historic And Famous Byrnes
- Fiach McHugh O’Byrne (1534-1597): A warring chieftain who was known for his daring during the Elizabethan-era wars.
- Robert Byrne (1928-2013): American chess player who became a Grandmaster and won the U.S. title in 1972. He wrote the chess column for the New York Times for 34 years.
- David Byrne (1952- ): Born in Scotland but moved as a child with his family to Canada and then to the United States. Singer-songwriter and guitarist with the Talking Heads.
- Gabriel Byrne (1950- ): Irish actor who has won a Golden Globe, two Emmys and two Tony awards.
Sources For This Article
The top ten birth numbers in Ireland for 2022 are published by the Central Statistics Office.
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“, originally 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).