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Sheridan – descended from a ‘mischievous’ leader

Sheridan is a popular name across the English speaking world. It originated in Co Longford in Ireland although it is now more common in Co Cavan.

There are a number of variations to the name including Sheridin, Sheridon, O’Sheridan, O’Sheridin and O’Sheridon.

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History of the Irish name Sheridan. Image copyright Ireland Calling
The motto on the family coat of arms reads: ‘Cervus lacessitus Leo’ which translates to ‘The stag at bay becomes a lion’.

Mythical elf

It is derived from the old Gaelic name O’ Sirideain. The ‘O’ prefix to the name meant ‘grandson of’ or descendent of’. Sirideain was a personal nickname that meant ‘elf’.

An elf was a mythical creature that would often cause mischief. It is likely that a person who was given that nickname would have also been a little mischievous.

During this period, clans used to take their name from their leader. So while Sirideain’s descendants would have taken his name, other people in the clan such as more distant relatives and followers would also have used the surname.

Lay lords of the church

The clan originated in Co Longford. They were an important family and held church properties as well as the hereditary positions of Erenagh of Granard, or lay lords of the church.

Over the years the clan left Co Longford and made the short journey north to Co Cavan. The name remains common in this area of Ireland to this day.

In the 17th century the English took control of Ireland as Oliver Cromwell’s brutal invasion saw the collapse of power of the remaining Irish clans.

The name became anglicised

The English wanted to anglicise Ireland and eradicate their Gaelic culture. English became the language of the country and people’s surnames were anglicised.

The reason for the change in surnames was a combination of the fact that English tax clerks would write down people’s names using spellings that made sense to them. As people had different accents or interpretations of how a name should be spelt, variations of the same name started to appear.

Another reason for the anglicising of surnames was that the Irish had to be pragmatic as they found it more difficult to find work with an Irish sounding name.

This meant that surnames were spelt in an intuitive ‘English’ way, and also many Gaelic prefixes such as ‘O’ and ‘Mac’ were dropped altogether.

Around this time O’ Sirideain became Sheridan, or one of the many variations.

The name spread across the world

In the early 19th century, there was a surge in Irish patriotism following the 1798 Rebellion. Many families reinstated the Gaelic prefixes to assert their Irish pride. This is why many Irish names today still have Gaelic prefixes. People spoke English by then so not many families reverted to the old Gaelic spelling of their name.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Richard Brinsley Sheridan

In the mid-19th century more than a million people left Ireland to escape the potato famine. They headed to countries such as America, Australia, Britain and Canada. They settled in these countries and started families which is why Irish names such as Sheridan are popular all over the English speaking world today.

Notable Sheridans

There have been a number of notable Sheridans throughout history.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan was an 18th century dramatist from Dublin. He was known for plays such as ‘The Rivals’, ‘A Trip to Scarborough’ and ‘The School for Scandal’.

General Philip Henry Sheridan was born in Cavan and emigrated to America. He became a commander in the American Civil War.

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Margaret Sheridan was an American actress. She was best known for her role in the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World.

Dave Sheridan is an American comedy actor and comedian. He has appeared in spoof movies such as Scary Movie and A Haunted House.


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