My mother always complained that there were five other Marys in her class at boarding school. At the Brooklyn party on Saturday, half the women wore “Mary” or “Maria” name tags. Standard issue 1950s Catholic names (Mum’s sisters are Breda and Theresa, hardly a great departure).
My grandparents’ generation were given solid English names, like Charles, William, Margaret, Winifred. They were born before Irish independence, and before airs and notions. We Lemass-era baby boomers, on the other hand, were given high-falutin’ old Gaelic names, hard to spell and worse to pronounce. Any Dearbhailes, Sorchas, or Siobhans you meet are almost certainly around 30. Mostly, our parents tried to punt with old names that were still saints’ names, like mine, but a few daring ones went all-out on Celtic myths and called their darlings Naoise, Oisin, or Niamh.
Then the pope visited Ireland in 1979. This was back before a papal visit was launched on just any old country, and we thought we were something special. People bought televisions for the event.
“Young people of Ireland,” he boomed, “I LOFF YOU!”
Seven years later, my mother started to see a trickle of small John-Pauls in her classroom. It grew to a flood in the next five years, and she dreaded them.
“John Pauls are nearly always thick as a plank. And bold, too. John Paul Brennan, John Paul Loughnane, the lot of them.” she says.
Why are baby names subject to fashion and class distinctions in some countries and not in others?