Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's in a name?

Why one of a parent's most important jobs is getting more difficult with each passing year..........

Choice is a terrible thing. Isn’t life so much simpler when there are no decisions to be made? What clothes to wear, what film to watch, what twitter account to follow: it’s all a bit much at times. Maybe the Communists had it right. Maybe we’d all be so much happier if all of these difficult decisions were made for us. But there’s no turning back now, we want more choice, more options, more, more, more!!

I don’t need to explain how Ireland has changed in the last thirty years. It’s boring. For both me and you. All that needs to be said is we were once a proud nation of potato munching, cap wearing, Guinness drinking, church going people with repressed feelings of guilt and self loathing, and now: now we’re something else. We could blame the British or the Americans for polluting our minds with their high falutin’ ways but in truth we were ripe for the picking. A nation of gap-toothed simpletons just waiting to be corrupted.

So there we were cycling up and down our roads with the children in our pockets and lumps of coal in theirs. Off home to listen to Raidió Teilifis Éireann in silent reverence, mugs of tay in our calloused hands. “Come in outtofit Peader.....and bring your brother Seamus while you’re at it”, “Peggy if I have to call ya one more time”, Kathleen?! Kathleen??!!! KATHLEEEEEEN!!!!! This nightly summons heralded the end of another evening’s play. We would emerge from darkened bushes like thieves in the night and scuttle on home for more fuckin tay. Envisage that very same scene now in 2012. “Madison? Where are you Madison? Hurry on in for your fajitas and call Corey on your way”.

In 2010 the most popular names for newborn babies in Ireland were Daniel and Chloe. Not too bad in fairness. Daniel is a fine name. Aboy Danny, good man Dan. A fine name. Chloe is a bit underwhelming. It doesn’t really mean anything and feels weird when you say it but it’s mostly inoffensive. The other names circling around the top of the lists aren’t bad either; James, Robert, Thomas, Anna, Isabelle, Katie, maybe we’ve not gone completely mad. But what these lists don’t show is the widespread eruption of new, unheralded names.

Perusing the top one hundred names brings up some questions about just where Irish society is headed. Coming in at 83nd and 92rd places respectively in the boys list are Tyler and Sebastian. Worrying. Tyler, to me, is just one of those makey uppy names. A collection of letters thrown together which just happen to make a sound similar to a real name. To the best of my knowledge a Tiler is someone who tiles, with tiles and that. The only problem with Sebastian is how irrefutably posh it sounds. It’s a name designed to be spoken by well heeled, upper class Brits or American suburbanites. But then again any Irish people calling their child Sebastian probably speak like that anyway.

This brings me to my next point. The Irish accent and how it pronounces certain monikers. There’s a reason why names such as Chantelle, Britney and Abigail don’t really suit Irish babies. “Shan-tell”, “Brit-en-nay”, “Abbey-gaale”, our uninitiated little mouths simply can’t help but make a dog’s dinner of these names and many more like them. The children in question may be angels sent from heaven but as soon as they utter that sobriquet the game’s up. The cavorting chanteuse on MTV may carry off those types of names with style and grace but bestowing a similar title on an Irish offspring just doesn’t work. Even more so if they’re a ginger, freckled little urchin with snot caked on their upper lip.

And yes, like it or not, MTV does influence the parents of Ireland when deciding what accursed name to christen their poor progeny. Blaming MTV is lazy on my part however. It would be more accurate to point to a popular culture which borrows from more and more questionable influences. Television in general is responsible for putting all kinds of notions in our prospective mothers, and fathers for that matter. But just because the little fella out of < insert tedious reality tv show title here > is flippin’ adorable doesn’t mean your runt will instantly take on that same appeal upon birth.

Being, as of yet, childless myself I am in no real position to condemn others for their choices. But I’m doing it anyway. My valiant swimmers may have been repelled in their efforts thus far but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it. And what interests me is the reasoning behind choosing certain names. I am no different to those who I have derided for naming their little ‘un after someone “off deh telleh”. I imagine studious little Eli poring over his schoolbooks and giving me a knowing wink as I ask him whether he’s finished his homework yet. And the brazen yet bewitching Scholesy sticking her tongue out at me as I playfully ruffle her hair. What?? Scholesy is a name! If Condoleeza is a fuckin name then so is Scholesy!

And I choose these names because of their connotations. Eli, noble and brave yet kind and forgiving. Scholesy, heroic, majestic...yet unassuming and humble. Long gone are the days when Irish people simply chose from the shallow pool of names available. If I think back to my formative years in the Irish education system I’m almost certain there was only about fourteen to fifteen names in use across the entire secondary school I attended. But Irish names are so versatile. That’s why we didn’t need any other names for years. Patrick, Pat, Patsy, Paddy, Pa, Peader, Packie, Pádraic, Pádraig and of course Patricia for the girls. Don’t even get me started on all the variants of Michael.

Thankfully almost all of these names are still being chosen for the new generations. Not with the same regularity of course but they still exist which is the main thing. Another element to the changing face of Ireland has been the growth in traditional Irish names. Almost as an act of defiance the names of our ancient forebears have begun to crop up in previously unseen levels. We’re suddenly breeding a mob of young Celtic warriors as Oisins, Cillians and Fionns stare menacingly out of their cots with fiery little Irish eyes. How long before someone goes the whole hog and names their unsuspecting little brute Cú Chullain?!

But modernity will always claim its victims and it seems some names are destined to fall by the wayside. Imagine someone showing you their proud bundle of joy and exclaiming “Here’s baby Teresa”, you’d laugh your fuckin bollix off. My own Mother is called Teresa but she’s likely to be the last in our family to go by that name I’m afraid. How about ‘Baby Norman’? Or ‘Baby Nigel’? ‘Baby Eileen’ perhaps? It’s just not happening is it? Those are the names which you can only possess if you’re a grown up. People with those names were probably just referred to as ‘the babee’ when they were first born.

And what of my own name? Simon. I’ve grown to like it. Being born and bred in the UK where the name is quite popular I never really gave it a second’s thought as a child. However upon moving to Ireland, where just the sixteen names were currently in use, I became quickly aware of how much of an anomaly I was. Simple Simon, Simon the Pieman, Simon and Garfunkel, I heard it all and for a while I wondered why I couldn’t have just been called Jimmy like all the other boys. It’s a name that’s never really taken off in Ireland but just for your information the Simon’s of this world tend to be charming, witty and intelligent young men with devilish good looks to boot.

So maybe choice isn’t such a bad thing after all. You can call your children whatever you want nowadays. Fourteen girls were entitled Eh last year. That’s right, Eh. Outstanding. Five boys were given the rather threatening label of Notorious. They don’t stand a chance really do they? Best of all though and proof that there is no limits to humanities lunacy was the child, boy I presume, ordained Tank. I hope for his sake he grows up to be a sturdy, stocky young fellow with a penchant for the gym. One name remains mysteriously absent from all of these lists though. I can’t for the life of me fathom why it’s not on there. Not a Scholesy in sight. Well, we’ll see about that.