Doherty As An Irish Last Name

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

The Irish government doesn’t publish detailed surname statistics for recent years. The best that they give us is the ten most common surnames of babies born in the previous year. Doherty

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.

Doherty was ranked 16 in the top one hundred names in this decade with a total of 23,900 entries.

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

Doherty Ireland 1990s

Doherty In The Early 1900s

The only complete Irish censuses that are available to the general public are those from the years 1901 and 1911. They offer two detailed snapshots of the population.

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 17,700 residents named Doherty on the island in 1911.

Ten years earlier, Doherty had about 17,900 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 20,800 people named Doherty in the country.

Emigration To America After The Irish Famine

The Irish diaspora is large and widespread with a significant number of people emigrating to other parts of the globe. The destinations traditionally have been England, the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Emigrants were driven by various factors like political unrest, poverty, and food scarcity.

The peak of this migration was driven by what’s known as the Great Irish Famine, a devastating event spanning from 1845 to 1852. Potato blight had a catastrophic effect on Ireland, wiping out the primary food source for a significant portion of the population.

I reviewed the Doherty 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:

Doherty emigration after the famine

How Common Is Doherty As A Last Name In America?

Based on the 2010 U.S. census, the name Doherty ranks about 1,269 among Irish names in America with 27,787 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.

Doherty 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 Doherty in the U.S. between 1860 and 1940

These are the numbers in the graph:

  • 1860: 3,550
  • 1880: 6,350
  • 1900: 9,600
  • 1920: 12,650
  • 1940: 15,950

Doherty In World War II

About 8.3 million men and women enlisted in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. Many were of Irish heritage, and some were born in Ireland.

There were registration records for 1,002 soldiers named Doherty who enlisted between 1938 and 1946.

There were 60 who were born in Ireland.

Doherty Surname: Meaning And Origin

Doherty comes from the Gaelic surname “Ó Dochartaigh,” which means “descendant of Dochartach”. The personal name Dochartach is an Irish word that means disobliging or obstructive.

The legend is that the Dohertys are descended from Cineall Conaill, a son of the ancient king Niall of the Nine Hostages of the late 4th century. They became lords of Inishowen (in Donegal) in the early 15th century and built Buncrana Castle as their stronghold.

They were one of the most powerful clans until their lands were confiscated by the English in the 17th century.

Famous Or Historic People Named Doherty

Here are some notable people with the family name:

  • John Doherty (1798-1854): after growing up working as a cotton spinner in Donegal, he moved to Manchester where he helped to organize a spinners strike for better wages. He was later involved in the successful campaign to reduce factory hours in Britain.
  • Henry Latham Doherty (1870-1939): born in Ohio of Irish descent, he left school at age twelve to work for a gas company. After rising to senior management, he formed his own gas and oil company. As well as being a wealthy oilman, Doherty funded influential scientific research in the industry.


Doherty 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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