Family Names and Faerie Evidence

Path in forest, courtesy elidawn14Many people contact me about faerie roots and their family names. Often, they’re looking for something that says, “… and John Smith’s mother was a faerie.”  (With “John Smith” being replaced by the name of someone in the family tree.)

Few records are that straightforward.

Wonderful books like The Door Home and the Borrowers series help us remember that the faeries (or at least the “little people”) aren’t very far away. I grew up with those traditions, myself, and I think they’re important… but you’re not likely to find clear confirmation that you have faerie roots.

Looking for faeries in your family tree, you may have to “read between the lines.” Many — perhaps most — cultures avoided mentioning the faeries. In Ireland, they were referred to as “the little people” (though, in many cases, faeries are/were larger than typical humans), “the good folk,” and so on.

If there was a way to avoid a faerie reference altogether, people did.

  • Some feared the wrath of angry faeries.Until Shakespeare’s time, most people thought faeries were malicious.
  • Other people were simply wary of faeries, or thought it was bad luck to mention faeries at all.

So, if  your family tree includes an ancient name in a country with lore that seems to lead back to faeries or gods, that may be as good as it gets.

(Due to faeries’ powers, some cultures felt that faeries were gods or godlike. For example: In Ireland, the Tuatha Danann — said like “TOO-uhh day DAH-nunn” — were described “gods and not-gods.” To me, that suggests unusual — perhaps “god-like” — powers, but apparently mortal characteristics, as well. In many stories, the Tuatha Danann are clearly connected to the faeries. )

Tracing your faerie roots is far easier in some countries than in others.

For example, if any of your ancestors came from Iceland — where more than 50% of the population still believe in elves and other faeries — everyone there is related within seven or eight generations. So, if your roots trace back to Iceland, you can be fairly assured that you have a faerie connection there.

That’s just one example. In fact, every culture with faerie lore has family names that trace back to ancient times. That subject is huge, and I’m not an authority. My expertise is limited to Irish surnames, since most of my own roots are Irish, and I’ve studied faeries in the British Isles, in general.

Tracing Your Own Faerie Heritage

Some people just want to know their geographic connection to faeries… where their ancestors came from, indicating which faeries they’re probably descended from. Ask your family. They probably have stories about your ancestral roots.

That may be all you need.

Others want more evidence, including their ancient roots and faerie connections. I’m not sure that’s necessary, but here’s how to get started:

Ask your family about the oldest family names they recall among their ancestors. Those names usually — but not always — suggest geographic roots.

If you can, check census and vital records (birth, marriage, death) as well as church records for the surnames of your ancestors. The list will fan out, quickly.

Your grandparents represent four surnames:

  • Your mother’s father
  • Your mother’s mother
  • Your father’s father
  • Your father’s mother

Your great-grandparents represent eight surnames:

  • Your mother’s paternal grandfather
  • Your mother’s paternal grandmother
  • Your mother’s maternal grandfather
  • Your mother’s maternal grandfather
  • Your father’s paternal grandfather
  • Your father’s paternal grandmother
  • Your father’s maternal grandfather
  • Your father’s maternal grandmother

In most families, that’s as far back as people remember. Even your parents may not be sure about the maiden names of their grandmothers, unless they have records — like a family Bible or old photos — to check.

You can research your own family tree. (and their free RootsWeb) and may have helpful resources. Or, you can enter your ancestor’s full name plus “genealogy” or “family tree” into Google or any search engine, and see if a relative has already done the research.

Odds are good that your family names contain some faerie ancestry. Finding out the geographic roots of your faerie ancestry can give you a greater sense of connection. (Faeries are usually associated with the land. They may have traveled with “their” families to other countries, but — to understand the habits and personalities of those faeries — their original geographic roots are important.)


For many people, it’s enough to know the countries their ancestors came from, and — therefore — the kinds of faeries they’re connected to.  Most families have a general sense of where their roots are, and that may be all you need.

But, some lucky people already feel a deep connection with a particular kind of faerie.

If you feel that way, there’s no reason to trace your ancestry to confirm the connection. It’s already there. Enjoy it!

Remember, scientists say we’re all related within 30 generations, anyway. So, if you feel a connection to one kind of faeries, you’d probably find it in your family tree… if you went back far enough.

The sense of connection is more important than the paperwork. It’s fun to document a real connection to a particular kind of faerie, but it’s not essential.

You can trace your family to find your geographic roots, but you’re unlikely to find anything that clearly states your ancestors were faeries.



Ancient Irish Families

If your ancestry – like more than 36 million Americans – includes Irish immigrants, RootsWeb has a list of the very oldest Irish surnames, but it’s not a complete list. Often, you’re looking for surnames that – now or in the past – started with O’ or Mac.

Expanding that further, RootsWeb’s Surnames and Irish Counties list says, “Although not always the case, names beginning with O’, Mac, Mc, De, Le, and others, may usually indicate a name of historical significance.”

However, some of those surnames – especially those starting with De or Le – are likely to lead back to Norman families, and their faerie history may be a little different than those tracing back to the Irish era of the Tuatha  Danann.

My own ancient Irish roots include:

  • Ó Baoghill (O’Boyle or Boyle)
  • Ó Braoin or Mac Braoin (Breen… mine emigrated through Nova Scotia, Canada)
  • Ó Croinin (Cronin)
  • Ó Donnghaile (Donnelly)
  • Mac Gearailt (FitzGerald, not on the RootsWeb list, but several traditional stories — including the one at Lough Gur — give a clear faerie connection)
  • Mag Uidhir (Maguire, MacGuire, etc.)
  • Ó Neill (O’Neill, O’Neil, etc.)
  • Ó Tuama (Toomey, Tormey, Twomey, etc.)

… and many other early Irish surnames.

Some Irish Resources

Lists of ancient Irish family surnames

To better understand the meaning of Irish surnames, see Do Chara’s Irish Surnames of Gaelic Origin. You’ll find another view of this subject at the Irish Times’ Irish Ancestors/Origins of surname. And, if you want to understand how Irish surnames changed, Wikipedia’s article about Irish names may be helpful… or even more confusing.

17 thoughts on “Family Names and Faerie Evidence”

  1. Hi Fiona – I check this site every so often to see if it’s been updated (not really expecting it to be since I know you are very busy reworking your books and posting on both ghosts101 and hollow hill), and I almost squealed out loud when I saw that it had. Thank you for the AWESOME post, very informative and thorough. Your content is amazing, as always.
    Wishing you the best,

  2. Hello Fiona!

    Just checking in to say what a wonderful job you’ve done and…. I just turned eighty-eight recently!

    As always dear Fiona, wishing for you wonderful things…. so sad to see that it’s all ending.


  3. I’m curious: a lot of the posts you write here talk about Ireland/Europe but not really anywhere else. Are there fae folk all over the world? Or do they really only exist in Europe? What about America?

    1. Faerie lore and cultures exist, worldwide. Most repeat similar (and even identical) stories, descriptions of the fae folk, and so on. I focus on Celtic and pre-Celtic faerie lore, but it’s certainly not the only source of faerie information. Norse legends, African tales, Native American stories, and more… you’ll find plenty of resources if you look at your local library.

  4. I JUST sent you a long, private message, Fiona… but then saw this! I am proud to say that I am related to King Niall Argetlam of the Tuatha Dé Danann and Queen Melusine (a Nixie) of the Plantagenet Dynasty. My family tree is vast and full of fascinating people and I absolutely love researching my roots. I’ve got a handful of O’Neill’s in there, as well! So hello there, from a very distant relative! :-P

  5. Hello. Very interesting. And strange. I was reading a novel about faeries and felt compelled to research and found you, or this site and am hoping for insight into what I may be and why I might be as I am.
    I was adopted at birth. My adopted mother died when I was five and raised by my adoptive father until I was 16. My childhood was traumatic yet I was always a bit of a mystical sort. I always played outside as a kid, and had a favorite tree house that I played Tarzan in haha. Come to find out I couldn’t share my tree with my friends because it was surrounded by poison oak, and I wasn’t allergic to it so I never knew that it was surrounded by the poison oak until two of my friends came over to play w with me and then they were covered in the rash. I found out when I was 11 or 12 that my blood type was AB negative and thought maybe that was why I wasn’t allergic?? Also I’ve always had strong bouts of De-JA-Vu and quite a few prophetic dreams. Also my life in itself has had quite a few prophetic circumstances. My adoptive father’s name was John Edward Riley. When I was 30, I actively searched for my birth mother on the internet, it was like looking for a needle in a hay stack, but I found her. My official birth record is sealed. The only information I had to go on was my place of birth. A website helped me with the birth index and found my birth. It helped that I was born in a small town. There was no hospital. I was born in a car in the front seat on the floor of a car. ( funny thing that I still remember that as a small child I always fought to sit on the bottom of the front seat of our family car) If I was not born in that car, in that town, I doubt I would have ever found my birth mother. As it turned out my mother was the passenger of the car, the owner of the car, was named Edward, and she married him just two weeks before I was born. She was just nineteen, and already has a daughter who was 3 years old, from a different man. I was already set to be put up for adoption because I was not the daughter of my mother’s current husband, but the daughter of a brief romantic encounter of a man named Juan Valdez. I was born in front of the house of my mother’s new husbands parents,a ambulance and doctor was dispatched to help my mother, and I was sent off to the children’s home society where in a couple weeks I would be placed in my adoptive family’s home. If you noticed, on the birth index registers that the organization from the internet sent me had three names. Father Juan Valdez, also Edward NG and Mother Gloria MaGraw. If you noticed My adoptive. Father’s name is John Edward Riley. Juan is Spanish for John. I found my birth mother through my would have been step fathers last name of Ng, very surprised to have found out that I ended up having one older sister Named Cheri Lee who was Caucasian, who raised by my mother, but did not her know her real father, and then that I had a 3 years younger sister who was half Chinese named Rene Lee, all who stayed intact as a family until and my name being Rebecca Lee who as a new born baby adopted into an entirely different family. All three of us girls all have the same middle name. My biological mother said she named “her” daughters with the same middle name so they’d always be connected with the same name. How odd that my adopted mother named me with the same middle name, when initially, before I was born she made a baby blanket with the name of Rebecca Ann, but must have changed her name just before I want to live with her. I even remember a conversation I had with my mother when I was around four, telling her I wish she named me Ann instead of Lee, because I thought that was a prettier name. : ) I somehow think I must be faerie, because so many things that I just can’t write down, are so strange, and some just too painful and embarrassing have happened to me, but Destiny has just played too big a part, and to this end has led me to write this all to you. What can it all mean. I have no idea. I hope this is post is not to rambled and can be understood. I am using my kindle to write this all out. I hope to hear from someone if it is possible to help me come to understand myself and all this possible being faerie stuff and how Destiny plays such a huge factor, and where and why did it lead me here?

  6. This is very difficult. I’m Portuguese. I can’t get any on-line info, and this is what I got from my parents (surnames):

    Prata♥Barbosa + Alves♥Grilo(My grand-grandparents on the father’s side

    Barbosa♥Grilo (My grandparents on the father’s side)

    Grilo (my father)

    (Unknown*)♥Miranda + Bargado♥Carriço(My grand-grandparents on the mother’s side)

    Miranda♥Carriço (My grandparents, on the mother’s side)

    Carriço (My mother)

    Grilo♥Carriço (My parents)

    Grilo (Me and my sister)

    This is all we know. I will try to ask some more information to my grandparents, but it’s not likely I will see them in a while and I’d like to ask them in person.
    We don’t know any direct relatives (before my grand-grandparents)from outside Portugal. I’d really like to know more about my ancestors, were they faeries or not… ?

    * – Possibly Dias, but very, very, very unlikely…

  7. Update on my last comment: I’d like to point out that I have some very distant African ancestors, from the part of my grandmother. Her grandfather or great-grandfather was African, though I don’t know what country specifically… possibly Angola.

  8. Ms. Fiona,

    I must say that your site is the best one I have seen dedicated to Faeries I have seen in a long time. You certainly are assign ate and you k ow your stuff. It’s perfect. There are not a great amount of people that understand the Fae and their world like you do, because of that I would like to invite you to be a guest on my internet radio show Beyond the Ceed on the Crossroads Paranormal Radio Network. It’s still very new but it’s doing well. I’ll leave my you my network email address and the link to the Crossroads website.i do hope to hear from you soon

    1. Katrina, thank you, and I’m honored by your request. At the moment, I’m not scheduling any media appearances, including radio shows, simply because this is a very busy time for me. However, in a few months, my calendar may be more open. (Well, I hope it is.) I’d be delighted to chat with you and your audience, then. Thanks again!

  9. I stumbled upon this page and it’s a crazy coincidence but my name is Rebecca Ann

    I have always thought I was of fae descent and when I was younger my older relatives told me that they didn’t know our family heritage but that my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Nicholas which of course has fae implications

  10. I’ve known for a long time I’m a descendant of the O’Neill clan but I can’t really find much of their history entwined with the fae. Is there anything out there that you know of that I might look into? Thanks in advance.

    1. Heather, you won’t find much that’s actually documented. Most of it is oral tradition (storytelling). Best resource might be Lady Wilde’s books.

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