Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Irene

Irene is the anglicized form of the Greek “Eirēnē” (Ειρηνη) which means “peace”. Eirene (Irene) was the Greek goddess who personified peace and was particularly revered among the ancient Athenians. They began to build alters and temples to Eirene after winning naval battles against Sparta, in appreciation for the peace that followed war. She is often depicted carrying Plutus, the child god of plenty and prosperity (Demeter’s son), a cornucopia overflowing with food, and/or a scepter. In Roman mythology, Eirene’s counterpart is Pax. Outside of the ancient mythological figure, the name Irene was borne by a few early saints (which had more to do with the spread of the name in medieval times). In the Middle Ages naming children after popular saints was the de facto practice, and the Church provided a calendar of saints to guide parents. There were three prominent saints during Antiquity whose cults grew in medieval times. The 3rd century Saint Irene of Rome (feast day March 29) was noted for healing the arrow wounds sustained by Saint Sebastian. The 4th century chaste sisters Agape, Chionia, and Irene were venerated as Virgin Martyrs (a popular concept in the Middle Ages) because they refused to eat food prepared from a pagan sacrificial ritual and for hiding Christian writings (feast day April 5). Lastly, the 7th century Saint Irene of Tomar (Portugal) gave herself up to Jesus Christ and vowed celibacy. She rebuffed a potential suitor on these grounds which he accepted as a legitimate denial of his proposal, until another suitor (also refused by Irene) angrily spread untrue rumors that Irene was pregnant. When suitor #1 heard of this lie, believing it to be true, arranged to have Irene assassinated. This Saint Irene is venerated on October 20. So you see, there were lots of idealized saints named Irene which would have promoted her name in medieval times (it was especially common in Eastern Europe borne by an 8th century empress of the Byzantine Empire, Irene, who, after having her son’s eyes gouged out so that he’d be unfit to rule, became the first woman ever to rule over Byzantine. She became an important figure among Eastern Christians for the restoration of icons (Jesus, saints, and the such). Among English speakers, Irene was not adopted as a regularly used name until much later in the 19th century. Originally, the name was pronounced with three syllables as in i-REE-nee, as in Greek, but the English eventually changed it to the two-syllable i-REEN. The Spanish pronunciation is ee-REH-neh. Today, Irene is a Top 10 favorite girl’s name in Spain and a Top 25 in Catalonia.

All About the Baby Name – Irene



Romance is the hallmark of the Six personality. They exude nurturing, loving, and caring energy. Sixes are in love with the idea of love in its idealized form - and with their magnetic personalities, they easily draw people toward them. Like the number Two personality, they seek balance and harmony in their life and the world at large. They are conscientious and service-oriented, and a champion for the underdog. These personalities naturally attract money and are usually surrounded by lovely material objects - but their human relationships are always primary. They thrive in giving back to others rather than being motivated by their own desires. This is when they achieve great things. Sixes are natural teachers, ministers and counselors.



Irene was ϋber-popular at the turn of the 20th century. In the year 1900, Irene was the 31st most favorite choice for baby girls. The height of her usage came in 1918 and 1919 when the name reached position #16 on the charts. Irene would maintain a spot on the Top 100 list of most commonly used female names up through 1945. Irene’s popularity in the first part of the 20th century is owned in part to the publication of three novels called “The Forsyte Saga” (1906-1921) by English novelist John Galsworthy in which a beautiful character named Irene is prominently featured (see literary references below). Furthering pop-culture influences, in 1933 blues musician Lead Belly recorded a song he had written called “Goodnight Irene” which immediately became an American folk standard and was later covered by scores of other artists from Frank Sinatra to Little Richard. Although these references are long since forgotten or even known by up-and-coming generations. The decline of Irene’s usage as a name began in the 1950s and then became more pronounced by the 1990s. Today the name is only rarely used (about 400 baby girls receive this moniker per year now as opposed to 10,000 a hundred years ago). We guess it really is “goodnight” for Irene. Too bad, because we’d put this one in the neglected bucket. Too many people consider Irene an “old-lady” name and far too out-dated by today’s standards. But what about Emma, Lillian and Ruby? They’ve had successful revivals today. Why doesn’t Irene make the cut? We know Irene is an ancient name, but it feels like a classic with a modern edge. Although our opinion is clearly the minority. We love the “peaceful” etymology; it gives the name a soft and pretty quality without being too fancy-pants feminine. The great thing about Irene is that she just sounds like a name that doesn’t really care what you think about her. She’s confident with her own inner-peace.

Quick Facts























Cultural References to the Baby Name – Irene

Literary Characters


Irene Adler is a character in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series, and appears in the 1891 story, A Scandal in Bohemia, as well as being mentioned in several others. Irene has the exalted position of being a woman whom Holmes admires – no small feat, indeed. Born in New Jersey, Irene has a successful career as an opera singer and also has an affair with the King of Bohemia before retiring to London in her late twenties. The king describes her as “the most beautiful of women” with “the mind of the most resolute of men”, which surely must be the highest praise possible for women of the 19th century. Nonetheless, all this fine feeling does not stop the king, on the eve of his marriage to another, from hiring Holmes to recoup a compromising photograph of him and Irene. We are happy to report that our Irene out-foxes the great Holmes himself, earning her his undying admiration. Not only that, Irene does not hand over the picture, but she promises not to use it against the king as long as he does not try any more dirty tricks such as this. She has our admiration as well – way to go, Irene!

Irene is a character in John Galsworthy’s series of novels in The Forsyte Saga, published between 1906 and 1921. The novels follow the fortunes of an upper-middle-class British family, and have been made into several cinematic adaptations. Soames Forsyte is a self-described “man of property”, and this property includes, in his view, his beautiful wife, Irene. Although his possessions bring him little happiness, this does not stop Forsyte from accumulating more and more, or from obsessing over what he has. To this end, Forsyte seeks to isolate the lovely Irene by erecting a magnificent house in the country for her, keeping her away from all she knows and holds dear. In a neat piece of irony, Irene falls in love with the architect Soames has hired to design her fortress. Soames, in a rage, rapes Irene, who leaves him, and the architect, crazed over the rape, dies in an accident. As the saga continues, Irene forms a platonic friendship with Soames’ older cousin, the family patriarch, Old Jolyon, who leaves her money upon his death. She then spurns Soames’ entreaties to bear him a child and enters into an affair with and marries the elder cousin’s son, Young Jolyon, by whom she does have a child, Jon, and finally achieves happiness. Irene is a perfect example of women in a time when they could be almost literally bought and sold, held chattel by men and looked upon as no more than breeding machines. That she broke free of these chains, albeit at great price, is a tribute to all the Irenes of her time.

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Irene

Popular Songs


Goodnight Irene
Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra

Wake Up, Irene
a song by Hank Thompson

Motorcycle Irene
a song by Moby Grape

Irene Wilde
a song by Ian Hunter

a song by TobyMac

A Casa D'Irene
a song by Nico Fidenco

Famous People


Saint Irene (several saints)
Princess Irene of the Netherlands (royalty)
Princess Irene of Greece and Denmark (royalty)
Irene Cara (singer/actress)
Irene Dunne (actress)
Irene Ryan (actress)

Children of Famous People


We cannot find any children of famous people with the first name Irene

Historic Figures


We cannot find any historically significant people with the first name Irene