THE ORIGINS OF THE DORGAN SURNAME
The DORGAN surname is derived from the Irish surname Ó Deargáin. The Irish name literally means the “The Grandson of the Little Red Man”. The Ó prefix means “descended from”, or “of” (i.e. “grandson”). The feminine form of the surname is Ní Dheargáin.
The “i” in Deargáin means ‘of’. Our ancestor’s name was Deargán. His grandson described himself as Ó Deargáin (‘grandson of Deargán’) and so established the surname. Irish does things like letting you stick ‘of’ inside a name like this because, basically, it’s a far more developed language than English. You don’t need a separate word to do it.
Here is the best explanation that I have seen about the DARGAN / DORGAN name courtesy of my Internet friend, Jerry Kelly, one of the best sources of “things Irish”.
“MacLysaght (Surnames of Ireland) writes “(O) Dargan – The Leinster form of Ó Deargáin (dearg, red). In Co. Cork it takes the form Dorgan and is perpetuated in the place-name Ballydorgan.” Let’s note that MacLysaght chooses to place your name under (O) Dargan because he knows that’s how the name should be pronounced.
de Breffny (Irish Family Names) writes “Dorgan – This name found principally in Co. Cork, derives from the Irish Ó Deargáin. The name of Ballydorgan townland in the barony of Condons and Clangibbon indicates an early home of the family. The variant form Dargan is found in Leinster.” We should add that properly speaking, Dargan isn’t the variant. Dorgan is the variant.
Woulfe (Sloinnte Gaeidheal 7 Gall / Surnames Of The Gaeil & The Gaill) writes “Ó Deargáin (Dargan, Dergan, Dorgan, Dorrigan); descendant of Deargán (diminuitive of dearg, red); an old surname in Westmeath, Offaly and Cork. In the last-named county, it is now anglicized Dorgan, which is not very correct.”
So Woulfe points out that Dorgan is a poor pronunciation of the original Ó Deargáin, and he’s right.
So there’s apparently no doubt that your original surname is actually Ó Deargáin.
And here we see the moment that your family made the move from speaking Irish to also speaking English:
Meanwhile, Woulfe, and only Woulfe, cites the existence of the name Ó Dorcháin in Irish, but can’t come up with a suitable explanation for its existence.
Woulfe writes “Ó Dorcháin – Dorgan, Dorrigan, (?) Doorigan; ‘descendant of Dorchán’ (diminuitive of Dorchaidhe); a rare surname in Cork and Kerry, probably the same as Ó Dorchaidhe.” Well, this isn’t exactly right.
The diminimuitive of Dorcha, meaning ‘dark’, would be Dorchán, and I can’t find either Dorcha nor Dorchán in the old manuscript sources as an actual Irish name. The diminuitive of Dorchaidhe would actually be something like Dorchaidheán, and I can’t find that either, although it could conceivably exist.
Further, Ó Dorchaidhe (‘grandson of dark-man’ from the root dorcha meaning ‘dark’) has been anglicized as Dorkey, Darkey, and even Dorcey, Darcy, and D’Arcy, but nobody has ever actually found an example of the name being anglicized to Dorgan. And notice that Woulfe has not tried to connect the name to some actual or ancient family of the name Ó Dorcháin.
He knows no such family existed. Instead, he concludes that Ó Dorcháin / Dorgan must be a very wide variation in spelling and pronunciation from some other actual Irish name. And he’s right. But he chooses the wrong family, he chooses Ó Dorchaidhe.
Why? Because Ó Dorchaidhe is the only actual Irish family name which uses dorcha (‘dark’) as its root. And dorcha would have to be the root of a surname spelled Ó Dorcháin. Unfortunately for his theory, however, the 2 distinct, unrelated families which share the name Ó Dorchaidhe are
1) a branch of the Uí Fhiachrach way up around Lough Mask in Mayo; and
2) a branch of the Uí Mhaine in Galway. No Kerry or Cork in sight.
So Woulfe was right about Ó Dorcháin being a wide variant of some other name. But he was very wrong about which one.
So what did actually happen? How did the name Ó Dorcháin come into existence, at least in Woulfe’s work?
Well, here’s one guess. Woulfe was writing at the beginning of the 20th century. By then, as your own family history attests, east Cork had gone mostly English-speaking. But in west Cork and Kerry Irish was still widely-spoken, even more so than today. So, maybe what happened is that the poorly anglicized form of your name (i.e, Dorgan) found its way back into Irish further west in the Irish-speaking areas of Cork and Kerry.
And because it was so badly pronounced, so different from the original Ó Deargáin, the Irish-speakers of those areas assumed it was a totally different name and Gaelicized it phonetically as best they could. Therefore, as Woulfe points out, Ó Dorcháin was rare indeed. In fact, from a genealogical perspective, it was actually non-existent.
So, that’s the best explanation I can come up with for the existence, at least in Woulfe’s work, of the name Ó Dorcháin. Either way, whether I’m right or wrong about how the name Ó Dorcháin came to exist, you’re actually an Ó Deargáin, not an Ó Dorcháin nor an Ó Dorchaidhe.
As for the annals, I only have the Annals Of Connacht, Ulster, and Inishfallen here – no sign of Ó Deargáin. But these are western and northern sources. The family exists, the surname Ó Deargáin is real, like other Irish Gaelic surnames yours has been in use for the last thousand years or so, so we should have every reason to expect that your people are out there documented in Irish somewhere.”