Tuesday 21 January 2020

Parents in 1916 opted for staunch anglophone names

Daniel O'Connell, becloaked, in the famed 1838 portrait by Sir David Wilkie
Daniel O'Connell, becloaked, in the famed 1838 portrait by Sir David Wilkie

Almost a century before the Easter Rising, Daniel O'Connell (pictured), the Great Liberator, urged the Irish people to free themselves from their ancient native tongue if they hoped to take their place amongst the nations of an onrushing globalised economy. English would be the lingua franca of future prosperity.

His precise words on the Irish language were: "I am sufficiently utilitarian not to regret its abandonment."

The commercial middle-classes took O'Connell's advice, followed by much of the rest of the populace, and among the first things they abandoned were Irish names.

However, the most recent CSO statistics on babies' names are for 2014, and the top 40 for boys features 10 gaelicised names, while the girls' list had eight. For the record, the boys' names in question are Conor, Seán, Oisín, Liam, Cian, Cillian, Darragh, Fionn, Finn and Rian, while the girls are Aoife, Saoirse, Caoimhe, Ciara, Niamh, Cara, Róisín and Erin.

At the time of the Rising, it would have been a novelty to hear a mother to call after her little Liam or Róisín or Darragh or Ciara. Even as the Cultural Revival of WB Yeats, Padraig Pearse and Douglas Hyde was hitting its high-water mark, new parents of all classes were baptising their newborns with staunch anglophone monikers like John, Patrick, Mary and Bridget.

The variety of names chosen in 1916 was far more constricted than today, with John and Patrick accounting between them for one fifth of all new boys' names.

Today's top two boys' names, Jack and James, between them make up just one-twentieth of the total.

The same tale plays out with the girls. Mary and Bridget between them accounted for 18pc of all the newly baptised girls a century ago, while the most recent top names, Emily and Sophie, account for just 3.5pc.

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