Are there really more Murphys in the US than Ireland?

Jean-Claude Juncker says nearly everyone in Europe has been a refugee at some stage

“Have we forgotten . . . there is a reason the number of O’Neills and Murphys in the US exceeds by far those living in Ireland?”

The question posed by the head of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in his address to the EU Parliament on Wednesday reminded us that “Europe is a continent where nearly everyone has at one time been a refugee”.

But how accurate was his contention that there are more of these names in the US than there are living in the State? Well it depends on which name you look at and how you look at it.

In absolute terms the number of Murphys in the US stood at more than 300,000 at the time of the 2000 census. This compares to around 55,000 people with that name in the State according to a list of the most popular surnames in Britain and Ireland published in The Observer in early 2007.


The Observer data drew from two sources, A Dictionary of Surnames by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges and a University College London research project entitled Surnames as a Quantitative Resource, the latter of which evolved into a searchable database ( which derives its data from publicly available telephone directories or national electoral registers from 2000 to 2005.

The Central Statistics Office collects data on surnames as part of the Census. However, the CSO did publish a list of the top 10 surnames among Irish babies last year.

In 2014 the surname Murphy made up 1.1 per cent of the 64,000 births registered in Ireland last year. Extrapolated to the wider population this would equate to 52,000 people with the name Murphy, in keeping with The Observer figure.

But while the number of US-based Murphys far exceeds their Irish-based namesakes, their concentration here is much greater at around 12 per 1,000 population versus 1.1 per 1,000 population in the US.

O’Neill ranked in 10th place in The Observer list but no absolute value was provided. However, given that there were 48,656 O’Neills listed in the 2000 US Census is it safe to say these also outnumber those living in the State.