I’m no saint

Patrick or Patricia, Paddy or Patsey, Pádraig or Pat. When you share your name with Ireland’s national saint, there’s a certain degree of flexibility required. Here, a parade of Patricks and Patricias reveal how they put their own stamp on their name

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

Patrick Freyne
Like an ancient demon in a horror film, I have many names – Patrick, Paddy, Pat, Pa, Nazgul Eater of Worlds. This comes from being christened Patrick, a name that comes with a whole menu of nifty abbreviations.

My family calls me Pat. I imagine a therapist would say that it’s because they like to diminish me. “Each letter subtracted represents a piece of your self-worth,” I can picture him saying as he doles out psychological insights from the back of a van.

Then there was a short period when I was younger when friends called me Pa (pronounced Paw), like I was a hillbilly patriarch. But this was well before I was really a hillbilly patriarch, so it never really took off.

But I was most commonly known as Paddy when I was growing up. If I introduced myself as “Patrick” it would be quickly changed to “Paddy” by a friend, neighbour or passer-by as though an unabbreviated “Patrick” was shameful.

It was recently explained to me thusly by a salt-of-the-earth Kildare man. “You see, Paddy, ‘Paddy’ is an Irish name, the type of name a proud Irish spiritual leader might have.” He paused to inhale deeply on his clay pipe. “‘Patrick’, on the other hand, that’s the name of a sheep-herding British immigrant.”

I tried to start cool nicknames. “My friends call me Bladez,” I’d say, whipping off a pair of wraparound sunglasses in a very cool fashion.

“No we don’t,” said my stupid friends.

Being called Paddy didn’t always make sense. I worked with a team of 12 builders at the age of 17, eight of whom were called Paddy. “Give this to Paddy,” someone would say and you’d be expected to know who was meant. “Which Paddy?” I’d ask, “Fat Paddy? Old Paddy? Bald Paddy? Paddy English Man? (one of them was an Englishman), Paddy Who’s Always In Hospital? Reasonable Paddy? It was all very confusing.

“You could call me Patrick,” I suggested one day. “That would be less confusing. Then there’d be seven ‘Paddys’ and one ‘Patrick’. And when you called ‘PADDY!’ really urgently only seven people would leave whatever important work they were doing and come running rather than eight.”

There was some murmuring among the Paddys. “Paddy Who’s Always in Hospital, mightn’t even be in hospital if Bald Paddy hadn’t stopped holding his ladder,” admitted Reasonable Paddy.

“No,” said the foreman sadly. “You’re to be called Paddy too.” It was clearly out of his control. There must have been an EU regulation demanding that two thirds of all building crews be named according to national stereotypes (in France they were called Pierre; in Germany, Hans).

There may have been a similar but different regulation in Trinity College. When I went there in 1992 and introduced myself as Patrick everyone actually called me “Patrick”. I imagine this was because people simply weren’t allowed to be called Paddy in Trinity.

There were no Paddys in Trinity at all. Not one. Not ever. It was probably a bylaw, like the one that allowed scholars to graze sheep there and to saddle up UCD engineering students like they were camels and race them around Front Square.

I still didn’t like being pinned down. “My friends call me Bladez,” I’d say, whirling my cape around in a very fetching manner.

“We’d prefer not to, Patrick,” said the Trinity students.

So “Patrick” stuck. But my old Kildare friends still call me Paddy and my family still call me Pat. And an English friend calls me Patsington. And a man in Cork calls me P-Dog. And a Galwegian I know calls me “the Freyniac”. For the most part, of course, I am known as Bladez – just the single name, like Madonna or Cher or, indeed, the patron saint of Ireland whose day is celebrated round about now.

Trish (Patricia) Long and her husband, Paddy Woodworth
If I had a shamrock for every time an American friend said “You must have been born on Patty’s day”, I could make quite a killing in the lead-up to our national holiday.

I’ve found that these friends greet explanations about being born in the Patrician year – there were four Patricias in my convent class – with glazed eyes. I now usually default to the much more easily understood “My father was called Patrick.”

Except, you see, he wasn’t. He was (depending on his mood, the time of day, or his state of inebriation) either Patrick Joseph Francis or, to his friends and more usually, Pa Jo. It was not until I was asked to write this piece that I realised I had a ton of both Patricks and Patricias in my life but, by the same token, I did not.

In Limerick, most “Patricks”, including my brother and brother-in-law, are more commonly known as Pa. Among my extended and chosen family, out of six “Patricks”, only one answers to their christened name.

As for the “Patricias” I know, they all prefer some variant – Patsy, Tricia, Trisha, Tish and quite a few Pats.

Why do so many of us reject our “official” names? Apparently, I came up with an answer at the age of three. An aunt tells me that I shocked the family when I announced I was changing my name to Ann (my second name) “when I became a woman”.

My wonderfully simple rationale was that I didn’t like Patricia, and didn’t feel like a Patricia. Anyway, why was I given two names, if one wasn’t for me as a child, and the other for my grown-up life? From my early teens I answered only to Trish. I saw my new name as modern, non-religious and not easily shortened. And so I became a person of my own making.

I have friends named Nicola or Nick, and they are almost invariably December babies. However, among the Patricks and Patricias of my acquaintance, none were born on St Patrick’s day, or even in March. I guess this just demonstrates the popularity – now waning I imagine – of our patron saint.

Then I met the love of my life, and guess what? He turned out to be called Paddy. And no, he was not born on Patty’s day either. But he can tell his own story.

A name is a very powerful, personal thing. Please don’t mess with mine. I’ve nothing against Patrick, or Pat, as such. And the variant Pa, which I’ve encountered in droves since my wife Trish (not Patricia, as you’ve seen) inducted me into the mysteries of Limerick city, is very attractive – for other people.

But if a stranger calls me Patrick – paradoxically, family members of a certain age get a free pass – I still slam the phone down. Paddy is ainm dom, period. Yet I was definitely christened Patrick, apparently because I was officially due on March 17th, 1951. I arrived a month late, perhaps in the hope of getting a better moniker.

I tolerated the name well enough until I was a teenager, though I clearly had little affinity with the saint, if snakes are anything to go by. There are several photographs of me as an otherwise cherubic little child in Dublin zoo, festooned with three pythons, each rather longer than I was.

Even as an adult, I’ve approached far closer to a green mamba than anyone ever should, because part of me refused to believe that anything so beautiful would hurt me. It obviously recognised me as a fellow heathen, and eyeballed me harmlessly for a full minute before oscillating (snakes don’t slither!) elegantly away.

I became Paddy at the age of about 15, though I can’t quite remember how exactly it happened. It was a rite of passage, the name chosen for me by my friends. It was part of a bright new identity with which to be reborn in the apparently blissful dawn that beckoned so many of us in the late 1960s. Patrick wouldn’t have had anything to do with sex, drugs, rock or revolution. Paddy wanted them all.

But I never expected my name to have quite the charge it did for an English foreman in 1969. “Would a black man call himself Nigger?” he roared at me in disbelief. We won a strike in that factory, I’m happy to recall.

My poor mother hated my new name at first. She would glacially ask, “Do you mean Patrick?” when friends rang up asking for Paddy. I think she grew to like it in time, though, especially when she saw it attached to articles in her favourite newspaper.

I always remained Patrick in person to her, though, and I was easy enough with that myself.

Patsey Murphy
It’s not easy being a Patsey, even one spelled with an “e”, as in Irish whiskey. The name carries a certain notoriety. Patsy Cline was best known for being Crazy. Patsy Stone, in Absolutely Fabulous , was a slutty lush. The silent screen star Patsy Ruth Miller made her name by playing Esmerelda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame , and Patsey in 12 Years a Slave , portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o, is cruelly oppressed. Patsy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail , stoically played by Terry Gilliam, was required to follow King Arthur around banging coconuts together to simulate the sound of a horse clopping.

When I was in school in the 1960s, and conspiracy theories were all the rage, the villainous Lee Harvey Oswald was often called a patsy, which was disconcerting, and led to some robust finger-pointing in history class. S-u-c-k-e-r was, I think, the common taunt. Aged 10 we didn’t really grasp the meaning of a red herring, nevermind a scapegoat, although Lord knows I got scapegoated by my elder siblings.

It would be a lie to suggest I was named after our great snake-banishing scholar and patron saint. I was named after my mother. As the fifth consecutive daughter (we were a same-sex family – way ahead of our time), they were possibly running out of names. They were also possibly hoping for a Patrick, but got me instead.

Anyway, I was named Patricia Leary Murphy after Mommy dearest, in what was then an Irish American enclave in the Bronx, in the parish of St Gabriel. My ethnicity was never a mystery. The Murphy girls flitted around the place like the von Trapps in descending order, behatted on Easter Sundays, dancing jigs on St Patrick’s Day, processing on holy days, and later campaigning faithfully for our father, a Democrat in an entirely Republican county upstate, who doggedly lost a succession of elections.

Bank managers know me as Patricia, a name suggesting nobility and not “someone who is taken advantage of especially by being cheated or blamed for something”, as the Webster dictionary defines any old patsy.

I am also known by select childhood friends as “Patty”, which in New York is pronounced Paddy, so on occasions when they phoned The Irish Times switchboard looking for me and asked to speak to Patty Murphy, they were put through to Paddy Murphy the porter, who also rejoiced in being one of Major Tom McDowell’s trusty drivers. He was actually born on St Patrick’s day.

One of my aunts called me Pumpkin, my mother sometimes called me Petunia. Pats is occasionally said in affection. Howrya Pats? I was never glamorous or coquettish enough to be a Trish. I had a brief season of being known as Patreeeecia while au pairing in France. But my favourite moniker, if not Patsey, is PLM, like my mother’s initials, which appear as a monogram engraved on treasures I inherited from her. Now there was a Patsey who was truly a saint.

Patrick Wedgeworth-Byrne
Éibhear Byrne, Patrick’s dad, writes: Patrick loves his name and likes to be called Paddy too, ’cos its a bit “cooler”, especially when he’s playing rugby for the Greystones U10s. He’s the only Patrick in his class. Patrick is 10. He’s a twin and the youngest of six grandchildren on his paternal side. He was named after his paternal grandfather, Pat (The Wah) Byrne, who was born the day before St Patrick’s day in 1933.

When asked if he’d ever like to change his name, he says “no way”, as he is now even more proud to be named after his Pops, who passed away recently. He sometimes likes to be called “little Wah” after his granddad too.

His father’s second name is Patrick and his uncle, on his mother’s side, is also Patrick. But most of all, he just likes being Patrick among a family of Patricks.

So nearly 81 years after his Pops was born, a small family tradition may be in the making. Happy St Patrick’s Day to Patricks everywhere.

Patrick Smyth
The rain was pouring down as we reached the border at Aughnacloy. Troubles times, a cold, dark night. Out of a bunker, water bouncing off his helmet and camouflage cape, came a young soldier who waved us down with a torch and peered into the crowded car.

My younger teenage brother in the back seat caught his eye. “You got an identity, mate?”

“Course I’ve got an identity”, Malachi responded, striking a rhetorical blow against authority to the dismay of his fellow travellers.

“Right then, all of you out ... luggage too.”

It occurred to me then, as we stood disconsolate in the downpour, that of course I had a better answer – better, not least for remaining unspoken. “Identity. Sure. Which one do you want?” Take your pick. Each with a life of its own, a realm, a distinct circle, each, a confused version of me.

My name is Patrick. As in Saint. (Birthday, March 16th).

Or Paddy.

Or Pat.

Or Patty.

Once even, Padraig.

Or, of course, J, my real name, the name my mother chose for me at birth in tribute to a favourite aunt, and by which, until the age of 10, family and friends knew me. My hated name, which, in what I now look back on as my first political act, I discarded and tried, and try, to suppress, to eradicate from the record and memory, with limited success.

I was born in London of Irish parents, in 1955. They agreed on a short name that, let’s say, began with J, at my mother’s firm insistence. Or so she says. But there were clearly doubts in her mind from the start, and when the man came to the bedside at St Mary’s Paddington to register the birth, to my father’s surprise, she announced that I would be “J-Patrick”.

The problem was that, from an early age, though not in a household which manifested any great national sentiment, I became conscious of, and deeply uncomfortable, even irrationally embarrassed with, a sense that J- was quintessentially English and of a certain class, a name that epitomised Englishness in the way that the boys who inhabit Enid Blyton’s adventures or the chaps who flew with Biggles did.

So “Patrick” it would be – in part because it was available and not J-, in part an expression of my otherness and growing attachment to the land of holidays and grandparents.

Family and friends co-operated in the transition to my second identity and maintain their commitment to it, and specifically to “Patrick”, to this day – all except a formidable godmother who would know me as J- until her dying day with a firmness that was only matched by her rage at my growing commitment to leftwing politics. Somehow the two were related.

I was reluctantly persuaded that it was too complicated to get the school to change its records, and schoolmates continued, oblivious of the shame or the double life, to know me as J-. Once in a while one of them rings The Irish Times to catch up, and is firmly assured that there is no-one here of that name.

I adopted a third persona in college. Paddy. A feeble attempt of some kind, I have rationalised since, to blend in, to blur the harshness of “Patrick”. And to the fury of my mother this has stuck to me in my working life since then, although in deference to her feelings, and to the need for archiving consistency – I have insisted my byline remains the more formal Patrick.

Then another clearly defined subset of my life and acquaintances, and another name, Pat. Often accompanied by “comrade” in those days when I immersed myself in politics.

And, during my time as a correspondent in Washington, Patty, to Americans, even Irish-Americans, who seem strangely unable to grasp “Paddy”. And Padraig, when I tried to slip a letter into the letters page anonymously. An identity? Take your pick.

Patrick Logue
Nearly 20 years have passed, but I still remember it clearly. It is March 17th, 1996 and I’m sharpening my elbows as I wade through layers of revellers at Le Violon Dingue public house, in Paris, France. I’m waving my passport at the barman and ordering two beers. My poor parents. Years of nurturing and piles of hard-earned money spent on educating me; for this. They were fuelling a bank account as I made good use of it in the French capital during my Erasmus semester.

But not on this occasion. Owing to my first name, I was drinking for free thanks to a St Patrick’s Day offer in many French bars available to anybody called after Ireland’s national saint. I was taking full advantage and the green beer flowed.

It was a pleasant side effect of a decision taken by my folks 21 years earlier when they called me Patrick. They say they called me Patrick because they “just liked the name”, but of course there were other factors.

Firstly, they had run out of grandfathers: Frederick Paul and Pierce Andrew Logue had come before me, so a bit of lateral thinking was required. The name Richard was decided upon. Richard Logue. Can’t imagine myself as Richard Logue, Dicky Logue, Ricky Logue. But that was the chosen name, until somebody thought on it.

Richard was ruled out of order before I was born on January 15th, 1975. On that very day, Richie Ryan, a Fine Gael Minister for Finance, took to his feet in the Dáil and delivered a Budget speech that that would make your ears bleed.

He said the “intensity, duration and unprecedented nature of the unfavourable economic forces operating across the world since late 1973” had added to the difficulty of preparing the national budget. He put 6p on a packet of fags and 3p on the pint, and that was only the start of it. So naming a baby Richard on the same day was deemed too much to inflict on one so young.

Patrick was decided upon instead and I’m glad. It is the most versatile name on the planet. Pat, Páid, Pádraig, Podge, Patrick, Packie, Paddy. Indeed, so versatile that some versions of it double as anti-Irish racist slurs.

If I’m being serious and formal, or writing in a newspaper, I can be Patrick. I was always Patrick when I was in trouble as a child, and at other times Pat. With my friends I’m always Paddy now, which is of course less formal and invokes images of a more friendly and likeable character. I became a fulltime Paddy in secondary school in the late 1980s, and by the 1990s, in university I was introducing myself as Paddy rather than Patrick. Now, even family call me Paddy some of the time and I respond to little else. So, Paddy it is.

Pádraig Collins
My name is Pádraig, or Patrick . . . or Simon. My name has long presented difficulties. One of my earliest memories is having a T-shirt which featured a cartoon elephant and the words “My name is Simon”. Strangers, usually American tourists, would come up to me and say “Hello Simon”. It infuriated me. I became the anti-Bórd Fáilte. How thick were they? The elephant was Simon. I was Pádraig.

Or so I thought.

I was baptised on St Patrick’s Day, 10 days after I was born. Twelve years later, prior to my confirmation, I found out just what I’d been baptised. To my shock, I discovered my name isn’t Pádraig, it’s Patrick.

As I’ve spent most of my adult life living outside Ireland, the Pádraig/Patrick thing has caused many difficulties. When I arrived in Boston on a J1 visa I went to a government office to get a social security card. I soon needed a second form.

Why did I need another, the lady asked. “Because I wrote the wrong ‘official’ name on the first one,” I replied, sounding not at all dodgy. Luckily, in those heady pre-9/11 days, this earned a withering look, not a one-way ticket to Guantanamo.

Non-Irish people when told how to pronounce my name, generally get it right. Irish people often don’t. When I introduce myself as “Paw-drig” to a non-Munster person, they will say “hello Paw-rick”, and get annoyed when I correct them, often asking what the difference is.

Being called Pádraig has been a good thing. It has twice helped me get work because it stood out to people who’d never come across it before. I’ve got used to being called Patrick too. Just don’t call me, or St Patrick, Paddy. I hate it. So would he.

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