Origin of the O'Doherty Surname
The family surname O'Doherty, often anglicized as Doherty, Dougherty, Daugherty, Docherty, Dogherty, or a host of other ways comes from the Irish "Ó Dochartaigh", which literally means "descendant of Dochartach". The Irish were some of the first to begin using hereditary surnames. When perusing the Irish annals, one can see that Ó Dochartaigh is among the earlier of the Irish hereditary surnames formed. Before this era of heritable surnames, the Irish used patronymic names. We reached out to Dr. Damian McManus, Professor of Early Irish and Head of the Department of Irish at Trinity College, Dublin, who gave us further insight into the naming conventions of this era:
In pre-eighth-century Ireland surnames were not in vogue. At that time patronymics were in general use, i.e. a man was identified by reference to his father and/or grandfather. So, in early Ireland the famous Cormac mac Airt (mac = ‘son’) is so called because Art was Cormac’s father. Art in turn was son of Conn and so was called Art mac Cuinn. Cormac could also be called Cormac ó Cuinn, as he was Conn’s grandson (ó = ‘grandson’). Hereditary surnames began to come into use in the ninth century and were created from the patronymic by fixing on a particular ancestor and sticking with him, thereby taking all meaning out of the words mac and ó (compare the meaningless -son in Stevenson, originally meaningful in Stephen’s son). Today we capitalise these when they are part of a surname (Seán Ó Dochartaigh). Dochartach was originally a personal name like Cormac or Art. (Mc Manus).
Thus under the Irish patronymic names of the time, Dochartach's sons would have been called Maonghaile mac Dochartach and Diarmait mac Dochartach. Similarly Dochartach's grandson would have been called Donogh ó Dochartach. However, it did not become a heredity surname until later generations permanently adopted the name (Ó Dochartaigh), thus rendering the "Ó" to more broadly mean "descendant of" (rather than its literal "grandson of"). Our ancestors likely adopted this name to associate the honor or reputation of their ancestor's name with themselves distinguishing themselves and their family from the other members of clann Fiamhain.
Meaning of the Surname
The earliest reference to the personal name “Dochartach”, a man of Cenél Conaill (descendants of Conal Gulban, King of Tirconnell), appears in the Annals of Ulster (“U974.2 Diarmait son of Dochartach, successor of Mo-Laise, died.”). There are varying opinions regarding the meaning of the surname Ó Dochartaigh.
The Irish name "Dochartach" comes from the root word dochar meaning "harm; hurt, injury; loss, distress" and some say “destructive”, “hurtful”, “unlucky”, etc. (Ó Dónaill). There are a few who claim the name means “people of the oak houses”, but this is not an accurate translation of the word. Also, the word "dochartach" does appear in Scottish Gaelic dictionaries meaning “sick” or “very ill” (Macbain)(MacLeod), but the Scottish Gaelic word has a different meaning than in the Irish. Dr. Damian McManus, provided further insight and clarification to us:
Given its meaning (‘hurtful’ etc. from the noun dochor ‘harm, disadvantage’, legal ‘bad contract’) it probably started life as an epithet to another personal name and then became a personal name itself (compare the epithet caomhánach originally an epithet added to a personal name and meaning ‘fostered in the church of St Caomhán/Kevin’ but becoming a name in its own right, Caomhánach > surname ‘Kavanagh’). The sense ‘sick’ in Scottish Gaelic is matched by another derivative of dochar in Irish (we call Irish Gaelic ‘Irish’), namely docharda ‘miserable’ but I do not think you need to worry about these as meanings for Dochartach. Your first meaning is the correct one. (Mc Manus)
Thus, the Irish name "Dochartach", with its extended meanings such as “destructive”, “hurtful”, or “unlucky," was very likely originally a nickname or title earned by the progenitor of the clann for exploits on the battlefield. As his descendants were regional chieftains over their related cousins of clann Fiamhain, one might go as far as to say it's very possible that had he not been such a notably valiant warrior, protecting and providing for his people, we likely would not be here today.
See the entry below from Rev. Patrick Woulfe's 1923 book, Irish Names and Surnames (Woulfe).
Earliest Recorded use of the Surname
I have long read that the earliest written record of the Ó Dochartaigh surname was from "The surnames & place-names of the Isle of Man" by A. W. Moore (p. 44) which gives a reference to the name for the year 1119 A.D.:
DOUGHERTY, originally O'Dochartaigh, 'Dochartach's descendant' (Dochartach, 'stern''). 'Donnall O'DOCHARTAIGH, lord of the territory of Kinel-Enda and Ard Mire, died A.D. 1119† † Four Mast., Vol II, p 1009. (Moore)
When looking at the source of this image, it does not refer to an Ó Dochartaigh living in the Isle of Man, but rather originates from the Four Masters' Annals of the kingdom of Ireland, which mentions the death of an Ó Dochartaigh of Donegal, Ireland. Consulting the said Annals, it appears Mr. Moore made a transcription error citing the Annals for 1199 (not 1119 as he published). John O'Donivan's 1856 printing of the Annals gives the original Gaelic [Ua Dochartaig] as well as the English translation [O'Doherty, quoted below] side by side.
"The Age of Christ, one thousand one hundred ninety-nine...Donnell O'Doherty, Lord of Kinel-Enda and Ard Mire, died." (O'Donivan, 1199).
As Moore's reference to 1119 should actually be 1199, the first mention of the surname, truly is from the Annals, dated 1180 which mentions that "Aindileas Ó Dochurtaigh died at Derry-Colm Cille" (see below) (O'Donivan, 1180).
(The Aindileas Ó Dochurtaigh referred to in the Annal entry for 1180 appears to be different from the Aindiles whom the Annals note as being "Chief of Ardmire" in 1292, as the entry is dated is entered for a time 112 years later. One individual suggested this earlier Aindiles might refer to "Angus" in the early Ó Dochartaigh lineage of the Ó Clery Genealogies [3rd great grandfather of the latter Aindiles], however the Annals of the Four Masters distinguish that they are separate names when they are used in one [non-Ó Dochartaigh] man's name in entry M1170.9 "Aindíles, mac Giolla Aonghusa Uí Chlúmháin". Thus we have no record from the Ó Clery or other genealogies of how the earlier Aindiles Ó Dochurtaigh ties into the Ó Dochartaigh pedigrees).
Why are There so Many Spellings of the Name?
In its native Irish language, our surname is spelled Ó Dochartaigh, though the original spelling in earlier Irish would have been Ua Docartaig. By the early 1600s, our chieftain, Sir Cahir Rua, was using the spellings Ó Dogherty and Ó Dougherty. However, after the he, being the last remaining Gaelic chieftain, died and full institution of English rule, along with the colonization of Ireland under the Ulster Plantation occurred during the 1600s, many of the native Irish dropped the Ó from their name as it was hard to find work and operate in the new society if you had an Irish sounding name (Irish Times).
As the name Ó Dochartaigh is from the Gaelic language, any other non-Gaelic spelling is actually a phonetic transliteration (a translation gives the meaning, such as “hurtful”; whereas a transliteration gives the pronunciation, such as “Doherty”). In the Ulster dialect of Irish, the "ch" is often weakened to an "h" sound, so just pronounce it "Oh-DAH-her-tee" (Library Ireland). Most of the many modern variants of the name are Anglicizations—a spelling using English characters to represent the way Ó Dochartaigh would be pronounced in Gaelic. It’s not that simple, though, otherwise there would only be one Anglicization.
Several influences have caused the formation of nearly 300 Anglicizations of our one name, many of which are still in use. First of all, the English language has morphed considerably over the past 400 years creating different transliterations depending on the era in which the name was Anglicized. Secondly, the “ch” in the Gaelic Dochartaigh has a soft guttural sound that is often neither learned nor pronounced in English, thus this part of the name is usually lost (Library Ireland). Thirdly, in historic eras, spelling wasn’t standardized—rather, it was based on phonetics (I have seen ancestors give two different spellings on the same sheet of paper). Fourthly, this was compounded as migrations occurred and Ó Dochartaighs moved into areas where their pronunciation was influenced by a number of varying accents and dialects. Finally, as time continues, and even the Gaelic language itself evolves, the gap between a man and his history becomes wider with each passing generation—creating a sort of life-sized “telephone game” where the way we pronounce or spell our name is most likely at least somewhat different than the way it was once.
Some common variations of the name include Dougherty, Dogherty, Dority, Dorothy, Daugherty, Daughtry, Docherty, Dockerty, Daugheetee, and DeHority. However, the most popular Anglicization, “Doherty,” arose during the 1800s. Many Irish today bear the “Ó” prefix because their ancestors added it back to their surname during the Gaelic Revival which occurred in the later half of the 1800s in Ireland (Irish Times).
How Large is our Family Today?
I queried the Census Bureaus of a number of nations, but only received replies that surname frequency data was not available or released to the public. I was able to query the surnames of the United States Census, but only for more populous variants of the name. The best I was able to find in regard to obtaining a worldwide distribution of the Ó Dochartaigh name and its many variants was at forebears.io a database of around 4 billion names obtained from third-parties. I'm certain this data is not perfect, but it is able to give us an estimation of the population and distribution of those bearing the name.
I will note that there are surely a number of individuals who bear the name who are not biologically descended from the legendary progenitor of our clann, however they may still be part of the clann (Clans of Ireland, Who is a member of a Clan?, History). Conversely, there are a number who have adopted or inherited other surnames which are biologically related to the more populous groups of the name.
Also the McDevitt/McDaid branch descended from David Ó Dochartaigh of the 12th century are not included in this count, as it would be hard to separate Anglicizations of this branch of our family from other surnames, but they would likely add at the very minimum another thirty thousand, if not significantly more.
Beginning with a list of many names collected by earlier Ó Dochartaigh researchers, I added to this list additional variations discovered, but also removed variants which may have skewed the population results due to including individuals belonging to other known surnames (see the list below). With that said, you will find over 300 variants of the Ó Dochartaigh name below; over 150 of which appear to be currently in use. The data indicate the current estimated worldwide population of those bearing the Ó Dochartaigh name at around a quarter of a million with over half of them living in the United States of America and around a quarter of them living in the British Isles.
If you have another variant of the Ó Dochartaigh name to add—either a name presently used or another extinct variant—please let me know using the Contact page.
2019 Population Count & Variants
Historical Surname Variants
Worldwide Distribution of Ó Dochartaighs
Ó Dochartaighs mixed into other Names?
The above listing does not include the following non-O'Dochartaigh surnames or their variants. However, because of their similarity to Ó Dochartaigh variants there are undoubtedly Ó Dochartaighs among them.
Dortey / Dartey (Primarily a surname of Ghana)
Doughty / Daughity / Daughety (Primarily English in origin)
Daughry / Daury (Primarily French in origin)
Dockety (could be variant of English Dickety or of our "Dockerty")
Dockery / Dockrey (Most are probably a variant of Dockwray, but some could be of our "Dockerty")
Daughtry (Appears to be English in origin)
Darty (Most are likely of French origin, but some may be a variant of our name)
Dorothy (Most are likely of English origin, but in the 1700s some Doughertys were spelled this way in New England)
The Importance of a Name
The 1763 play, A True Born Irishman, by Charles Macklin's (Cathail McLochlainn) demonstrates the importance of a name to the Irishman. In this particular scene the character O’Dogherty is reprimanding his wife for changing her name in London from O'Dogherty to Diggerty, upon which she vows to correct her name back to O'Dogherty.
"Ogh, that’s right, Nancy—O’Dogherty for ever O’Dogherty—there’s a sound for you—why they have not such a name in England as O’Dogherty—nor as any of our fine sounding Milesian names—what are your Jones and your Stones, your Rice and your Price, your Heads and your Foots, and Hands and your Wills, and Hills and Mills, and Sands, and a parcel of little pimping names that a man would not pick out of the street, compared to the O’Donovans, O’Callaghans, O’Sullivans, O’Brallaghans, O’Shagnesses, O'Flahertys, O’Gallaghers, and O’Doghertys.—Ogh, they have courage in the very sound of them, for they come out of the mouth like a storm, and are as old and stout as the oak at the bottom of the bog of Allen, which was there before the flood—and though they have been dispossessed by upstarts and foreigners, buddoughs and sassanoughs, yet I hope they will flourish in the Island of Saints, while grass grows or water runs." (McGough).
Mc Manus, Dr. Damian. "The name/surname Dochartach/Ó Dochartaigh." Message to Will Dougherty III. 25 Oct 2018. E-mail.
Neill, Ó Dónaill. "Dochar." Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla. Ireland: Colton Book Imports, 1977. Web.
Macbain, Alexander. "Dochair, dochar." An etymological dictionary of the Gaelic language. Stirling: Eneas Mackay, 1911. 137. Web. <>.
MacLeod, Norman and Daniel Dewar. "DOCHARTACH." Dictionary of the Gaelic language. Edinburgh: J. Grant, 1909. 244. Web. <>.
Woulfe, Patrick. "Ó Dochartaigh." Sloinnte Gaedheal is Gall: Irish names and surnames. Dublin: M.H. Gill & Son, 1923. Web.
Moore, Arthur William. "Dougherty." The surnames & place-names of the Isle of Man. London: E. Stock, 1890. 45. Web. <>.
O'Donivan, John. "1199." Annals of the kingdom of Ireland.Dublin: Hodges, Smith, and co., 1856. 119. Web. <>.
O'Donivan, John. "1180." Annals of the kingdom of Ireland.Dublin: Hodges, Smith, and co., 1856. 54-55. Web. <>.
Burdness, Neil. "A dozen things you might not know about Irish names." The Irish Times. The Irish Times, 25 Oct 2016. Web. 31 Dec 2018. <>.
Adams, G. Brendan. "The Ulster 'egh' Sound." The Academic Study of Ulster-Scots: Essays for and by Robert J. Gregg.Cultra, Northern Ireland: Ulster Folk and Transport Museum Yearbook, 1974-75. Web. <>.
Clans of Ireland. "History." Clans of Ireland. Clans of Ireland, Web. 29 Dec 2018.
Clans of Ireland. "Who is a member of a Clan?" Clans of Ireland. Clans of Ireland, Web. 29 Dec 2018.
Quoted from Hugh McGough's McGough Miscellanea which is sourced from Bridget O’Toole's review of A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van der Kemp, ed., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century [Dublin: IAP 2006, p.169], in Books Ireland, April. 2006, p.77).