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Doherty: family name history

Origin of the Surname

The surname Doherty has deep roots in Ireland, where it originated from the Gaelic Ó Dochartaigh clan, one of the most influential families in the region of Inishowen in the northern part of County Donegal.

Etymology and Meaning

The surname Doherty is an anglicized form of the Gaelic name Ó Dochartaigh, which means “descendant of Dochartach.” The personal name Dochartach is composed of two elements: “dochart,” which means “hurt” or “obstruct,” and a diminutive suffix “-ach.”

Earliest Known Usage

The earliest usage of the surname Doherty in Irish historical records dates back to the 10th century. The Annals of the Four Masters, a chronicle of medieval Irish history, mentions an Ó Dochartaigh as lord of Inishowen.

Geographic Distribution

The Doherty surname is most commonly found in the northern part of Ireland, specifically in County Donegal. However, due to emigration, the surname can be found worldwide, particularly in countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Original Geographic Location

The original geographic location of the Doherty family was in the region of Inishowen, in the northern part of County Donegal, Ireland.

Migration Patterns

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, many Dohertys, like other Irish families, emigrated due to political and economic hardships, particularly the Great Famine. They moved to places like the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Historical Context

Notable Historical Events

The Doherty clan has been involved in many significant events throughout Irish history. During the Nine Years’ War at the end of the 16th century, the Dohertys were notable supporters of Hugh Roe O’Donnell, one of the leading figures of the Irish resistance against English rule.

Involvement in Key Moments in History

Members of the Doherty clan were also active during the 1916 Easter Rising and the subsequent Irish War of Independence.

Notable Bearers of the Surname

Famous Individuals

A well-known individual bearing the Doherty surname is Pete Doherty, an English musician, songwriter, actor, poet, writer, and artist. He is best known for being co-frontman of The Libertines, which was part of the garage rock revival movement in the UK in the early 2000s.

Influential Figures

One influential figure with the surname is Ken Doherty, an Irish professional snooker player, commentator, and radio presenter, who was the 1997 World Snooker Champion.

Variations of the Surname

Spelling Variations

There are several spelling variations of the Doherty surname, including Dougherty, Docherty, and O’Doherty. These variations arose due to differences in regional dialects and phonetic translations from Gaelic to English.

Regional Differences

There are regional differences in the usage of the Doherty surname. For example, the spelling “Dougherty” is more prevalent in the United States, whereas “Doherty” is more commonly used in Ireland and the UK.

Current Statistics and Distribution

Frequency and Global Distribution

Today, the surname Doherty is common in many English-speaking countries. According to surname distribution data, it is most prevalent in Ireland, followed by the UK, Australia, the United States, and Canada.

Changes Over Time

The distribution of the Doherty surname has shifted over time due to historical migration patterns. While it remains most common in Ireland, its prevalence has increased significantly in other countries due to emigration.

Family Coat of Arms

The Doherty family coat of arms features a silver stag on a green background, symbolizing peace and harmony. The family motto is “Ar nDutcas,” which means “Our Heritage” in Gaelic.


  1. Edward MacLysaght (1985). The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press.
  2. Patrick Hanks, Richard Coates, Peter McClure (2016). The Oxford Dictionary of Family Names in Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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