What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually…

Not for the first time, the makers of mainstream media have provoked me to write something out of rage.

Today, Louise Mc Sharry for The Daily Edge/ The Journal published an article which was not only personally offensive, but also verging on prejudice. Here’s the link: http://thedailyedge.thejournal.ie/awkward-irish-names-1005409-Jul2013/

The article entitled ‘CHALLENGE: Can you pronounce these baffling Irish names?’, uses examples of Irish names that the author claims ‘are so awkward, even Irish people can’t manage’.

The article lists off Mc Sharry’s choices of ‘awkward’ names, some of which aren’t spelled correctly or phonetically transcribed correctly either. Good journalism, eh?

My name is Siún Ní Dhuinn, and I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve been asked to spell it, re-spell it, and then translate it. I’ll spell, and re-spell, without reluctance, but I refuse to translate it. You see, if I went around asking everyone I met to translate their name into Irish I’d be seen as pedantic and weird, and quite rightly too!

Though I realise that Louise Mc Sharry’s article was probably meant in a light-hearted tone, the name game is one that really makes those of us with Irish names, or an interest, however passing, in our own culture, take offence. The basis of this piece only further alienates Irish-language culture within the national consciousness, and that’s what really infuriates me.

These names aren’t akin to Apple, Harper or Blue Ivy, they’re part of our own culture, a culture that is being squeezed into the margins more and more.

If you’re still not on board with me (and that’s allowed too!), put it this way, I doubt we’ll be seeing a similar article on any respectable publication on ‘awkward’ Chinese, African or Polish names. That would be disrespectful and nigh on prejudice, wouldn’t it?

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14 thoughts on “What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually…

  1. I have had people ask me am i sure that I’m not pronouncing my own name correctly, are you kidding me. Its the one thing that really gets my back up when I introduce my self as Cólleen (co-lean) and they go oh ‘Hi Coleen’. Like FFS. grrr!!!! I love Irish names, I am proud to have one, and my kids will having some ‘awkward’ names too whenever they arrive!!!

  2. I love having an Irish name, most of my family have Irish names. I do get the days where people don’t know how to pronounce my name (Granny or Grain-ya) or spell it but I’ve gotten past that.
    I think in every country there will be names that are difficult for people not from that area to get, but I love those differences and think we should all be proud of our heritages instead of bashing them, saying they are ‘awkward’.

  3. Growing up in England I hated my Irish name. Even though we lived in Irish enclave and my name is one if the more common Irish names, the number of teachers, parents of friends, after school activity leaders that couldn’t pronounce or spell my name irritated me. All the extraneous or missing letters in my birthday cards used to cause me consternation.

    It’s taken me an awful long time to come to love my name. Perhaps it took so long because I wasn’t a child here, only a teenager, so I don’t speak Irish. But I really do now. It’s so different to anything in the English language. That article made me angry this morning. It’s one thing to list what experiences we’ve had in the past (I’ve seen this article), but to call them baffling? Frankly, I’m baffled.

  4. I get you on the translating thing! My name, Aoife, isn’t exactly uncommon in Ireland so it’s not seen as ‘awkward’, but I think the sheer amount of vowels intimidates people from abroad. No one knows how exactly they’re supposed to pronounce it because it just look a bit weird. However, I think I’d rather a weird attempt at pronouncing my name, rather than for people to say ‘Can we just call you Eva?’ No, you can’t! That’s not my name. I can only imagine how much more trouble that becomes with a more unusual name like yours!

  5. yea that really is infuriating, you’re right to be offended! most of the irish that settled in America caved and changed their names to more easily pronounced ones. Lots of Shawns around theses parts. Nobody spells O’Connor right… they spell it O’Conner. only mildly annoying but still. keep flighting the good fight to hang on to our language girlie!

  6. Pingback: Racist Fun With The Journal.ie | An Sionnach Fionn

  7. I’ll never understand the Irish! Over in Scotland this is a non-issue. Every Gaelic name pretty well has a long-established English language equivalent, just the same as place names do. If you’re speaking Gàidhlig you use the Gaelic form and in English the English form, and it cuts both ways, English names are translated as far as possible. If a Jim Taggart went to Skye, the news would report, “Chaidh Seumas Mac an t-Sagairt gus an Eilean Sgiathanch an diugh …”. Surely the way to increase the exposure of Gàidhlig/Gaeilge is increase the number of domains in which the language is naturally used, not to try and thrust it into English, where it will flounder like a fish out of water.

    Whilst I agree that articles of the sort you’re complaining about are the height of ignorance and arrogance, you must admit that there are two factors working against you.

    1. Gaelic spelling is perhaps the most complex of any European language. You have a lot of different sounds to distinguish but use hardly half of the available Roman alphabet. For most European languages the basic pronunciation rules will fit on the back of an envelope (well I’ll allow a second envelope for Polish maybe), just try that for Irish. Plus all the different regional pronunciations, accentuations etc., without even getting into the ‘established mispronunciations’ of many names.

    2. The argument that such mockery of any other language would not be tolerated won’t wash, because there is one enormous elephant in the room. Even in places where local languages have in the past been oppressed or are only semi-official, they are still on the whole widely spoken, and so respected by foreigners including the pragmatic English. E.g. in Latvia you expect to hear Latvian (although there’s still some Russian around), in Catalonia most people now regularly use Catalan, in the Basque Country Euskara is on the increase, etc. etc. … never mind all the other small free countries of Europe, for even in those where English is widely known, their own languages are in everyday use. But hardly so in Ireland, regrettably. You’ve had almost a century to sort yourselves out, what went wrong?

    • Hardly half the Roman alphabet? Don’t pronounce from on high with such ignorance. Having an Irish name is hardly thrusting the language into English. Having Irish names and keeping the integrity of their spelling and pronunciation is part of how we keep our language and identity alive, despite the systematic attempt by colonisers to eradicate it. Sorry it is taking us almost a century to reverse the effects of 700 years of violent oppression and conscious attempts to erase the Irish identity and subsume into the British identity.

      You’re right about one thing; you’ll never understand the Irish.

  8. whether your name is irish or not, everyone deserves to have people at least make an effort to pronounce you name right. its simply a matter of respect. growing up in the states, i had a bear of a time with a name like deirdre (“is it deedee?) but its my name and i’ll be damned if i’m going to dumb it down for you just b/c you’re not smart enough to cop on! its not even that hard! likewise i was horrified to find that the all of my pharmacy friends at college with non-US names were required to change their names on graduating. Yong became John and so on. Aodhan is not Aiden, Sadhbh is not Sive, and Nam Hee is definitely not Amy! when it gets down to it, when you take away someone’s name, you take away a little bit of who they are and that’s not ok

  9. My full name is Síomha Béibhinn Lasairfhíona Ní Mhuircheartaigh and I am absolutely proud of it.
    I am proud that I was raised through Irish and that I am raising my son through Irish. I am proud to live in a Gaeltacht area. It is not a cause for embarrassment as the Journal article would suggest.
    Yes, people do have difficulty pronouncing it, and yes I’m Always being asked what the English for it is but that doesn’t mean that I’d be better off with an English name.
    When I have made friends or have met people who are originally from Slovakia or Poland or the Czech Republic etc. I’ve made the effort to pronounce their names properly as they have mine. Unfortunately, Irish people really can be the worst for making the effort.

  10. I’m a Grainne living in England. You can imagine…

    I have yet to meet anyone here who finds my name so awkward that they don’t bother, though. On the contrary, most people are very keen indeed to learn how to spell and pronounce it.

    And agreed re. further marginalisation of our culture (a culture that many non-Irish are only too quick to co-opt when they feel like it).

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