12 June 2012
Meaning: "fair locks"
Fresh-faced and lithe, Céibhionn belonged to a fairy in medieval Irish lore — whose name implies a lovely head of hair.
Pronounced "Cave-in", like Kevin with more of a long-A (i.e., roughly rhyming with Haven or Raven), it's the "simplified" modern spelling of Céibhfhionn, a name made up of two elements: Irish cíab = "hair (of the head)" + fionn = "white, fair", a word used to describe a person with light hair or skin.
Hence, in meaning, charming Gaelic Céibhionn is comparable to Goldilocks. She's also in the company of such old Irish names as Fionnuala ("white shoulder"), Caoilfhionn ("slender and fair", commonly anglicized Keelin), Finnabair (possibly "white and smooth") and Barrfhionn (masculine; "fair hair").
The name is found in one tradition of how the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill (anglicized as Finn McCool) became all-wise, in which Céibhfhionn was one of three sisters who guarded their father's magic Well of Knowledge, so as to deny any wisdom-seeking mortals access to the secrets of the sídhe ("shee"). It was said to be located at the fairy-mound of Carn Feradaig in Cliú (now Cahernorry, near Limerick).
One day, however, they were approached by future hero Fionn and two companions, who were merely after drinking water. In her haste to block them, Céibhfhionn accidentally spilled the open vessel she happened to be holding, and lo, a few drops of well water splashed into Fionn's mouth — enough to give him wisdom.
Many now believe that the well maiden Céibhfhionn represented an ancient Irish goddess of inspiration, and comparisons have been drawn between her and Ceridwen of Welsh mythology: keeper of the cauldron of poetic inspiration (which Gwion Bach, like Fionn, unintentionally drank from).
Just think: The next time you make a coin toss "offering" at a wishing well, you may be mirroring the Celtic Irish in their worship of Céibhfhionn and other well divinities.
A small County Clare-based organization, the Céifin Centre for Values-led Change (pronounced KAY-fin) is named for the mythological figure.
"Céibhfhionn" is also the title of a Pinterest board dedicated to gorgeous locks o' hair.