Daly As An Irish Last Name

This article looks at how common Daly 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 Daly 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 Daly As A Surname In Ireland?

Ireland does not disclose current statistics on surnames in much detail. The most that we get is the top ten last names in birth registrations for the previous year. Daly

Thankfully, an Irish genealogist named Seán Murphy studied the names in national phone books published in the 1990s. His estimates aren’t as accurate as a census, but they are still a good way to get an estimate of numbers.

Daly was ranked 30 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 18,200 entries.

This graphic shows how it ranks compared to the 1st, 33rd, 66th, and 100th entries in the survey:

Daly Ireland 1990s

Daly 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.

Some records exist from earlier censuses, but most of the documents are lost to history. So, we’ll focus on the turn of the 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 14,200 residents named Daly on the island in 1911.

Ten years earlier, Daly had about 14,200 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 17,000 people named Daly 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 Daly 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:

Daly emigration after the famine

How Common Is Daly As A Last Name In America?

Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Daly ranks about 1,134 among Irish names in America with 31,330 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.

Daly 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:

how common was Daly in the U.S. between 1860 and 1940

These are the numbers in the graph:

  • 1860: 3,950
  • 1880: 10,100
  • 1900: 15,950
  • 1920: 18,300
  • 1940: 20,650

Daly 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 1,274 soldiers named Daly who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.

There were 38 who were born in Ireland.

Daly Surname: Meaning And Origin

Daly comes from the Gaelic surname “Ó Dálaigh”, which means “descendant of Dálach”.

Dálach as an old personal name is related to the words dál or dáil. This is generally considered to refer to a meeting or assembly. The modern Irish parliament is known as the “Dáil”.

Although there are different accounts of the first ancestors of the O’Daly clan, there is agreement that their legacy was a long line of bards and poets.

One legend is that the original Dálach was the foster son of the poet and scholar Colman Mor. who taught him the great poetic arts before dying in 600 AD.

Another legend is that the Dalys descend from Maine, a son of the great king Niall of the Nine Hostages whose era was in the late 4th century.

Famous Or Historic People Named Daly

Here are some notable people with the family name:

  • Augustin Daly (1838–1899): American playwright and theatre manager in the late 19th century, who was influential in the development of American theatre. He launched his own theatre in New York in 1879 and another in London four years later.
  • John Donald Daly (1841-1923): American businessman and landowner who built Daly City in California. The city was incorporated in 1911.
  • Marcus Daly (1841–1900): born in County Cavan, he was part of the California Gold Rush before buying a silver mine in Butte in the late 1870s that he recognized had potential for copper. He subsequently made his fortune as a Copper King.
  • Daniel Daly (1873-1937): a U.S. marine renowned for his fighting tenacity and ferocity, he was awarded two medals of honor. Also known for the famous rallying cry in WWI: “come on, you ***, do you want to live forever?”


Daly As A Last Name

External Research

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.

Internal Research

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).

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