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.

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