One of you wonderful readers requested a spotlight on Niamh — what a fun name to research! You all know how I feel about Irish names after all. 😉😍🍀 Specifically, this mom wants to know:
“What I’m curious about is whether you can think of any Catholic roots or meanings to the name Niamh. As we are pretty conservative Catholics, we like our children to have saints’ names and I was somewhat surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be a Saint Niamh — with Ireland’s Catholic history, I’d just assumed there would be.”
Right? “[W]ith Ireland’s Catholic history, I’d just assumed there would be” — it’s so true, and I love love love that Ireland has that history and reputation.
So first, let’s discuss pronunciation: The “mh” in Gaelic is often (always?) a V sound, so Niamh can be said NEE-iv or NEEV (among native Irish this pronunciation will vary based on what part of Ireland they’re from; for us, we can choose which pronunciation we prefer).
Second, though I also couldn’t find any Saints or otherwise holy Niamhs, I think a faith connection can be made to its meaning, which Baby Names of Ireland says means, “radiance, lustre, brightness.” I don’t know about you, but that immediately gives me a mental image of the description of the Transfigured Jesus:
“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Mt 17:1-2)
It makes sense that the Transfiguration is one of the Luminous Mysteries, because the Luminous Mysteries as a whole also go along with the “radiance, lustre, brightness” meaning of Niamh (other Luminous Mystery names here), and really, the meaning of Niamh makes me think of holiness in general, both as a concept and as an artistic presentation.
Third, speaking of holiness, I wonder if this mom might be interested in a tweak in spelling? The Irish name Naomh is rarer than Niamh, I believe, but said the same (either NEE-iv or NEEV), and there also seems to be the additional possibility of NAYV or NAY-uv (you can hear several examples here). Naomh actually means “holy” or “saint,” so St. Patrick in Irish is Naomh Padraig, the Holy Spirit is Spiorad Naomh, etc. As I’ve written about before, naming a little girl Naomh would then be similar to other not-unheard of names like Toussaint (“all saints”), Sinclair (St. Clair), and Santino (“little saint”; a famous fictional Santino went by Sonny 😉), and can nod to any Saint or holy person the parents so wish, including Our Lady — in fact, in Don Quixote, Sancho Panza (whose first name also means “holy” or “saint”) has a daughter whose name is variously given as María Sancha, Marisancha, Marica, María, Sancha and Sanchica — all clearly referring to Our Lady, as Maria Sancha means “holy Mary.”
Do any of you know any other holy connections to the name Niamh? If you like Niamh, what do you think of Naomh? Do you know anyone with these names? What do they think of them, and do they have any other insights that would be helpful?