How popular is your name? Not popular at all, according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), if it happens to be Róisín, Seán, Oisín, Sinéad or any other name that has a síneadh fada.
The State’s official statistician retains information on just about everything, but has no record of names with fadas, it has emerged.
The CSO unveiled its Baby Names of Ireland visualisation tool recently published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) tool allowing users to check the popularity of names officially registered in Ireland. However, it does not allow for names with the síneadh fada or other diacritical marks that denote pronunciation or meaning.
A search for names that have been officially registered with the State featuring a síneadh fada will return a message saying no records exist for those names.
Following a query by The Irish Times, the CSO said it was decided "from the outset" that different spellings of names would be treated as separate names. However, it also determined that the síneadh fada - which confers meaning and pronunciation upon words in Irish - would not be afforded the same recognition. "We don't regard names with accents as different names. Names containing accents have been analysed without those accents, e.g. Séan was analysed as Sean," the CSO said.
“The baby names publication is based on the analysis of the births registered in a particular calendar year and the fada/accent is not included in the source data,” it said.
Rossa Ó Snodaigh co-author of the book Our Fada: A Fada Homograph Dictionary said the síneadh fada is “highly significant”. Not only does it change the sound of the vowel, but it “can alter the meaning of the word utterly.”
Pointing out that incorrect spelling can lead to the lowering of grades in State examinations, Mr Ó Snodaigh said “a word or name is misspelled if this diacritical mark is omitted or used incorrectly.”
“This also occurs in English with the words Resume and Resumé”.
According to CSO data, the name Sean has featured in the top 5 boys’ names since 1998 but the statistics do not show whether the name in question refers to Sean, Seán or Séan. It is unlikely that protocols will be changed to allow for the inclusion of the Irish spellings.
“Any changes going forward would cause a break in the series,” the CSO said.
Professor of Linguistics at UCD Bettina Migge says language is recognised as a strong determinant of identity and that the application of the síneadh fada represents a connection to Irish-speaking culture.
“You have a lot of people who do not speak Irish but they still have a very positive disposition to it. This (using the síneadh fada) would be a very salient way of saying I have a positive link to that Irish-speaking culture.”
“Representing a name using the Irish version rather than the English version is an identity marker. It represents something. So then it should be done properly and not in a reduced manner,” she said.
Prof Migge said the State is happy to use Irish for ornamental purposes but can fall short when it comes to fulfilling its responsibilities as the main guarantor of the language.
“We like to say that Irish is the language of the State and that we are different to the UK. I think that is a particularly important aspect, at least for the State”, Prof Migge said.
However, she added, “the feeling is that [IRISH]should not complicate issues.”
“Just because it is a bit harder to include, that should not be (used as) a reason to omit it. Especially not by a State body - and especially if it is the first language of the country”, Prof Migge said.
“They should not be seen representing the language in only a casual way”, she added.
Visitors to the CSO site are also offered the opportunity to download a certificate highlighting the popularity of a given name. The CSO says the certificate is not available in Irish due to a download restriction.
“The Irish version of the certificate isn’t available at present. Currently we have a restriction on the amount of downloads we are allowed to do from our website. We are working with our provider to allow us unlimited downloads,” the CSO statement added.
“When this comes into effect we are going to change the way people download the certificates, when we do this we will be re-writing the code and will then look at creating an Irish version of the certificate.”
According to Mr Ó Snodaigh, the CSO’s approach is an example of how Irish has been treated by the State down through the years.
Citing the example of Ukraine where protection is afforded to 40 different recognised languages in the country, Mr Ó Snodaigh said anglophone bureaucracies are "hostile environments for other languages".
“Our language, while having a special status afforded it in the Constitution has been progressively marginalised to the fringes of bureaucracy.
“It behoves the Central Statistics Office above all other institutions to be correct in all matters it reports. This is where historians will first go to research,” he said.