Barry Manilow Is a Limerick Man

How name changing hid his Irish heritage

Megan Smolenyak
8 min readMar 3, 2021


Barry Manilow’s Irish great-grandfather, John Sheehan (Ancestry)

As Irish-American Heritage Month begins, I thought I would highlight a hidden Irish American: Barry Manilow. Yes, I know, most think of him as a Jewish fellow from Brooklyn — and he is. But he’s also a quarter Irish, and due to certain circumstances in his family, that Irish share has had a disproportionate influence on his family tree.

Name Changing

Though he wouldn’t have known it, when Barry changed surnames, he was the third generation of Pincus men to do so. Born Barry Pincus, he decided to change his name around the time of his bar mitzvah. By then, his father was long out of the picture and his mother had reverted to her maiden name. That, coupled with the fact that he was fond of his Manilow grandfather whose name would have otherwise died out, is what led him to become Barry Manilow.

I dare say that immigrant Joe Manilow, who can be heard encouraging his reluctant grandson to sing on one of Barry’s early albums, appreciated this gesture. It’s possible that there might have been more stateside Manilows if Joe’s father hadn’t been deported when he arrived at Ellis Island, but at least that didn’t discourage Joe from trying his own luck the following year.

Barry’s mother eventually remarried to a man named Murphy, the most common of Irish names. Manilow never adopted his stepfather’s name, but it was a comfortable relationship and he sometimes credits him for sparking his interest in music.

Barry’s father’s situation was a little more complicated. Like Manilow, he was born a Pincus, but his own father also left the family. When he was ten, his mother remarried to a Keliher, the New York-born son of Irish immigrants, and he subsequently ping-ponged between the two surnames.

So Manilow was a Pincus who became a Manilow and his father was a Pincus who became a Keliher. His Pincus-born grandfather also changed his name — from Pincus to Brenner - because he was hiding from the law, but that’s a story for another time (more here if you’re curious). If you guessed that this complicated my research, you’d be correct.



Megan Smolenyak

Genealogical adventurer & storyteller who loves solving mysteries! You may not know me, but chances are you’ve seen my work. (www.MeganSmolenyak.com)