WHATEVER else her parents did for her, calling her Mary Lou, was an inspired choice for the baby who would go on to become an MEP.
It's a name that sticks in the mind, lodged indelibly with anyone who's ever heard Ricky Nelson singing Hello Mary Lou - Goodbye Heart'. An easily-recognisable name is also an essential appendage for two categories of people: personalities and politicians.
As yet we haven't really discovered which Mary Lou McDonald really is, or whether she's a bit of both. Certainly the good looks, the tan and designer outfits have transformed the usually dowdy donkey jacket and jeans image of the normal Sinn Fein candidates.
Of course the McDonalds, her father Patrick and mother Joan, did a lot more for Mary Lou than give her a catchy title. They brought her up in the affluent Dublin suburb of Rathgar, sent her to private fee-paying school at Notre Dame in Churchtown, one of the leafier suburbs of the capital, and they funded her studies in Trinity College.
Mary Lou McDonald came from a family of high achievers - her two brothers, Bernard and Patrick, are a scientist and a patent lawyer, while her sister Joanne is a teacher. There was every indication that Mary Lou was going places too - it's not the direction she took but the "fellow travellers" that she joined which took those who know her by surprise.
At first glance one would never suspect Mary Lou McDonald, 34, the new Sinn Fein MEP for Dublin of "radical chic", and even she herself does not necessary accept it, even yet. "I don't think there is that 'whiff of sulphur' [about me] as you put it," she told Marian Finucane, a little primly last week.
Until then she was just another political figure in search of a job. She didn't want to talk about her family, and she still doesn't, except in the most general terms.
But it does take a whiff of something to bring the candidate in the 2002 General Election from 2,404 first preferences to the remarkable 60,000 first preferences in last week's European election, thus securing Sinn Fein's first seat in the European Parliament.
Those who know her well haven't detected that whiff either. She was a bright, articulate girl who was a noted debater at Notre Dame School. She revealed last week that she had something of a 'Road to Damascus' moment at the age of 12 about the hunger strikes in Long Kesh. But there was no hint of the "radical chic" that would develop later, although some people did think she had a future in politics.
But the aftermath of the hunger strike didn't lead her into radical politics. She is remembered by school-mates as a normal, trouble-free kid who got on with her studies and got a good Leaving which got her a place studying English Literature in Trinity College.
She seems to have concentrated on her studies there too and certainly wasn't involved in radical politics, let alone Sinn Fein. She taught English in Spain for a year and later studied European Integration at the University of Limerick. She then worked as a consultant and researcher, first with Brendan Halligan at the former Labour TD's "think tank," the Institute of European Affairs and later with the Irish Productivity Centre, which is a talking shop for employers and trade unionists.
She met Martin Lanigan, an employee of Bord Gais and in the mid-Nineties and they settled down together in a nice estate in Carpenterstown in Castleknock. In 1998, she joined the Kevin Barry cumann, the Porterstown organisation of West Dublin Fianna Fail, and as a young and eager member of the party she was appointed treasurer. Her mother Joan, from Tipperary was also an enthusiastic party supporter and her father Patrick, a surveyor who now lives in the Middle East, told one local politician that he was glad she had joined the party.
That was a local election year and Mary Lou was already identified within Fianna Fail as bright, articulate and, well, a woman. She was approached informally to see if she was interested in going forward for a council seat. She declined. This has led to a certain amount of recrimination within Fianna Fail about "why can't we keep people like her". But sources in West Dublin said they did identify her potential and gave her every chance to represent the party, she just wasn't interested.
Instead she had teamed up with Mary "Gerry-Adams-is-a-Great-Man" White (currently a FF senator) in a Fianna Fail women's group. Together they organised a meeting in a Dublin hotel about events in the Garvaghy Road in Portadown, which some of the party faithful found a bit strange as they were trying to fight elections about more mundane issues like medical cards and water charges in working-class estates in Blanchardstown and Mulhuddart.
There were also "fraternal" delegations going back and forward with Mary Lou meeting Brendan McKenna and other "activists" with close links to Sinn Fein. Within a short time she decided to resign from FF and join SF. "It became clear to me that I was in the wrong party," she said last week.
"I thought she was a bit vacuous, she tended to retreat into generalities," said one West Dublin politician. "But we didn't block her, she just wasn't interested."
Her presence was certainly viewed as a coup within Sinn Fein and within a short time of joining up she was identified by the powers that be as a clean, cool woman who was going places and was put on the party payroll. Her job, up to last week, was to "co-ordinate" the elected representatives of Sinn Fein, north and south. That involves constant contact with members, councillors, MLAs, MPs and TDs. "We don't want to lose people to the institutions," she said. Mary Lou's job was, to use another of her favourite words, to keep them "focussed" and have them out doing the spade-work and not have them propping up the bar with decadent FF and FG types by "going native" in Leinster House.
About a year ago Mary Lou and Martin had a baby daughter and then she came storming through the last few weeks as the Dublin middle-classes' chosen Shinner and the woman some of the media dubbed "the Sinn Fein babe".
But some people are as unhappy about her middle-class credentials as they are about her radical chic.
"Sinn Fein believe that a significant inequality exists between the middle class and the working class in terms of access to the professions - then who do they pick, a spanking new middle-class candidate over a more experienced longer-serving, working-class candidate," said one of the old guard.
Of course, Sinn Fein, like most political parties, pick the candidate they think has the best chance of winning a seat, which doesn't always go down well with the grassroots. Mary Lou, with her youthful, clean-cut image has been a winner this time. Now as she settles down to the European grind, what the future holds, probably as part of a small ultra left/communist group in Europe remains to be seen.
But the question already taxing political minds in West Dublin is "what will Mary Lou do next?" Will she be what one commentator calls "cannon fodder" for Sinn Fein at the next General Election in Dublin West, or will she stick it out in Europe? Only time and Mary Lou will tell.