Meaning and History of the Surname Callaghan

One of the possible meanings for the Callaghan surname is "bright-headed."
Susan Chiang / Getty Images

The Callaghan surname is derived from the Gaelic name Ó Ceallagcháin, meaning "descendant of Ceallanchán." The "O" prefix indicates "descendant of," while Ceallagcháin is a diminutive of Ceallach, a given name of uncertain origin. The most widely accepted meaning is

  • "bright-headed," from the Gaelic cen, meaning "head" and lach, meaning "light"

Other possibilities include:

  • "lover of churches," from ceall, meaning "church"
  • from the Old Irish ceallach, meaning "contention, strife"
  • From ciallach, meaning "prudent, judicious"

Surname Origin: Irish


Famous People with the Surname CALLAGHAN

  • Fr Richard Callaghan - 18th century Irish Jesuit educationalist
  • Edmund Bailey O'Callaghan - Irish doctor and journalist
  • John Cornelius O'Callaghan - Irish historian and writer
  • Sir Francis O'Callaghan - Irish civil engineer
  • James Callaghan - UK Prime Minister, 1976–79
  • Dr. Patrick "Pat" O'Callaghan - considered one of Ireland's greatest athletes; Olympic gold medalist

Where is the CALLAGHAN Surname Most Commonly Found?

Forebears identifies the Callaghan surname as being most common in Ireland, where it ranks 112th in the nation. It is also fairly common in Northern Ireland (ranked 433rd), Scotland (541st), Australia (593rd), Wales (653rd), New Zealand (657th) and England (658th). Within Ireland, Callaghan is the most common in Cork. The O'Callaghan variant ranks just behind Callaghan in Ireland, coming in as number 113.

WorldNames PublicProfiler identifies the Callaghan surname as more common in Donegal and the other northern Irish counties.

Genealogy Resources for the Surname CALLAGHAN

Common Surnames of Ireland
Discover the meaning of your Irish last name, and learn where in Ireland these Irish surnames are most commonly found

Callaghan Family Crest - It's Not What You Think
Contrary to what you may hear, there is no such thing as a Callaghan family crest or coat of arms for the Callaghan surname. Coats of arms are granted to individuals, not families, and may rightfully be used only by the uninterrupted male line descendants of the person to whom the coat of arms was originally granted.

O'Callaghan/Callaghan/Callahan/Keelaghan DNA Project
Individuals with the Callaghan surname and variations are invited to join this project dedicated to combining the results of DNA testing with genealogy research to identify various Callaghan and O'Callaghan family lines.

Callaghan Family Genealogy Forum
Search this popular genealogy forum for the Callaghan surname to find others who might be researching your ancestors, or post your own Callaghan query. - CALLAGHAN Genealogy & Family History
Explore free databases and genealogy links for the last name Callaghan.

GeneaNet - Callaghan Records
GeneaNet includes archival records, family trees, and other resources for individuals with the Callaghan surname, with a concentration on records and families from France and other European countries.

The Callaghan Genealogy and Family Tree Page
Browse family trees and links to genealogical and historical records for individuals with the last name Callaghan from the website of Genealogy Today.


Cottle, Basil. Penguin Dictionary of Surnames. Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books, 1967.

Dorward, David. Scottish Surnames. Collins Celtic (Pocket edition), 1998.

Fucilla, Joseph. Our Italian Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 2003.

Hanks, Patrick and Flavia Hodges. A Dictionary of Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hanks, Patrick. Dictionary of American Family Names. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Reaney, P.H. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford University Press, 1997.

Smith, Elsdon C. American Surnames. Genealogical Publishing Company, 1997.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Powell, Kimberly. "Meaning and History of the Surname Callaghan." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Powell, Kimberly. (2020, August 27). Meaning and History of the Surname Callaghan. Retrieved from Powell, Kimberly. "Meaning and History of the Surname Callaghan." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 5, 2023).