Meaningful Names

OPINION
20 March 2008

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Roches                                                   O’ Searcaigh

IF YOU HAD BEEN BORN SMITH you too might suffer from sneaking regardery for more exotic names. In college I remember my pals were called Long, Power and Thunder and I used to think it was impressive when our names were called out together, as they were on occasion by a coach driver or some such. I thought it all sounded strong. The others thought it all sounded strong, except for Smith. I called my first born Kappa in partial compensation but that’s another story.

If your second name means something, my patent universal law of the evolutionary survival of the most accurate surname, prevails. In other words if your name means something then it is likely to reflect something important about you.

The rule applies only to surnames. There are some apposite Christian names but they are only coincidental (FRANK Dunlop always convulses me; Newt Gingrich had his share of ethical problems and is now creepily living with a twenty-three-year-old). Initials rarely give guidance, though at school I did enjoy speculating that G O’ Neill’s occasional absences were due to sickness. And in adult life I always found former Dublin City Council head of development Sean Carey, S Carey.

I love the idea of Niall Hatch, spokesperson for Birdwatch Ireland and of Dr Robert Boyle – a famous Australian plastic surgeon. Even better are Nicholas Burns-Cox, urologist and Dr Lisa Minge, gynaecologist – referred to me by a correspondent below. Irish life (former Chairman, David Went) is peppered with these gems. Brendan Drumm, head of the HSE, is taking a terrible pounding in the media. Sean Love was the philanthropic head of Amnesty International in Ireland until recently. My former next-door neighbour Seamus Deane now runs the English faculty in Notre Dame. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown does not appear really to understand the Green agenda, since he is about to sanction new nuclear and coal-burning power plants. Village Magazine doesn’t really promote green issues, for the same reason. In sport Damien Duff seldom delivers in an Ireland shirt and George Best was altogether, well, better. Tiger Woods was always going to be an animal off the tee. As regards the environment in Ireland, Stiofan Nutty was long-time General Secretary of the Green Party during their fringe years. The head of the Department of the Environment is now the very tenacious Geraldine Tallon. The former Minister in that Department, Dick Roche, got a hard time at the last election for his scuttling unctuousness and anti-environmentalism. He was trailed for a while by a miscreant in a giant cockroach costume. I thought the beast should have been accompanied by a large double-fronted penis, giving the horrible options of Cock Roach or Dick Roach. Nor should it go unremarked that my Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a “hern” as a heron – a bird which famously eats insects and that Bertie dropped him from cabinet shortly after he was exposed as a Roche.

Names suggestive of bodily functions or sexual orientations are invariably illustrative of the law. I once had a friendly German teacher called Ullrike Bonk. Former Dublin City Manager Frank Feeley was very touchy (though never in a sexual or improper way). It was recently reported that Martin Meaney, a sixty-five year old former Marist Brother, had admitted shocking counts of child abuse. Nor was Fr Ivan Paine ever one to whom I would have leapt to assign the babysitting. As regards politicians I was always nervous about Emmet Stagg who spent too much time in the deerpark, Pat Cox seemed to me to have an intriguing other agenda, and I would not like to overnight in a tent with Allan Shatter. Similarly for the media: Will Goodbody, a correspondent with RTE, seems very well-formed for a journalist but we venture at our peril into the bushes with anyone called Goodwillie (though presumably Mark Little would pose no difficulties). Gay Byrne is, a Nation presumes, the exception that proves the rule.

The principle applies in any language. Ms Angeline Jolie is undeniably pretty. For Irish names it is permissible to remove the O or Mac to reveal something relevant. Conor O’ Luanaigh wrote Aware’s guide to Depression in Later Life. My friend Colm MacEochaidh is a very good man to have on your side as a barrister, but all that politics is a little unsavoury. It was always going to be uphill for Cathal O’Searcaigh to get us to believe his relationship with those young men in Nepal was not predatory on a grand scale.

For politicians, disconcertingly, your name may be a guide to your destiny. Jack Lynch was famously shafted as leader of Fianna Fail. Fine Gael politician Joe Doyle, after many years trying, eventually made it out of the Seanad. Joe Burke, like his namesake Ray, was always for me likely to implode in a torrent of silly arrogance. The principle has always driven US politics too – up as far as the President. Truman was not highly regarded until recently but his now-missed honesty is leading to a rehabilitation. President ray-gun started out his political career a left-winger but was always going to be a cold warrior playing Star Wars, in the end. Presumably Al Gore will eventually bare his environmental teeth as a politician. In his retirement we can surely say George Bush will be prickly about his place in history. A tip for the future: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island may be looking to greater things.

Sometimes knowing their surname may be a help in working out motivations. JJ Power became a councilor in Kildare for the Greens who don’t know why he left Fianna Fail. The residents of Ballsbridge may feel they have been done by Sean and his skyscrapers.

Overall a colourful name will extend you a hand on your journey through life, but an anodyne one may be worse than a meaningless one. You have almost certainly never heard of Ms Clair Noone, head administrator of the Department of Economics in NUI Galway.

Anyway, all in all, the discerning reader will take the law of names with whatever seriousness he or she must. It may be a life-changing and definitive guide to human behaviour. Or then again it may simply be Michael’s myth.

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2 Responses to “Meaningful Names”

  1. The correct way to say my surname is ucky not yucky. Which makes my politics okay and not in the least unappetising

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