‘If my name wasn’t Valentine, I might enjoy the day’

Is it a blessing or a curse to share a name with the patron saint of love? We asked some Vals

The actor Val Kilmer: Not above using his name to sell some merchandise on February 14th

The actor Val Kilmer: Not above using his name to sell some merchandise on February 14th

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St Valentine’s Day is upon us, and while you’re all rushing around buying the last of the cards, flowers and chocolates, and ringing around every restaurant in town trying to book a candlelit dinner, spare a thought for the special ones who share a name with the patron saint of luuurve.

Is it a blessing at this time of the year, or is it a hellish curse?

You’d imagine if someone was possessed of the most romantic name in the dictionary, they’d have an immediate advantage in the love stakes. I mean, who could resist having an actual Valentine as their valentine? They wouldn’t even need to bother with a card or any other paraphernalia – just introducing themselves would be enough to make you swoon into their arms.

Or perhaps their name places an unwanted burden on their shoulders, setting them up for unrealistic expectations. After all, with a name like Valentine, surely you must be a master of seduction, a veritable Don Juan. Your name is synonymous with love, so you better be up to the challenge, Sonny Jim. That kind of pressure can really mess with your mojo.

How have famous Valentines fared? Well, Val Kilmer didn’t do too badly, having been married to Joanne Whalley. But then, he was blessed not only in name but also in smouldering good looks, which must have helped when February 14th came round.

Kilmer has smouldered in such movies as Top Gun, The Doors, Heat and Batman Forever, but he also has another career as an artist. And he’s not afraid to use his saintly namesake as an opportunity to sell some of his artwork. On his website at valkilmer.com, the actor offers some keen Valentine’s Day bundles, including a VALentine’s Day Batman Gift Box for $250, a VALentine’s Day Iceman Top Gun Giftbox ($300) and a VALentine’s Day Jim Morrison Gift Box ($400). What an old smoothie.

Challenge for the title

But if anyone can challenge St Valentine for the title of patron saint of love, then it has to be Michael Valentine Doonican aka Val Doonican. The Waterford-born crooner has soundtracked many a love story in the 1960s with his smooth, easy-listening tunes – many of us wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for old Val singing If The Whole World Stopped Loving while our parents danced cheek to cheek at the local ballroom of romance.

If you’re planning a romantic night in on Wednesday, make sure to have your Val Doonican playlist ready on Spotify – just maybe skip over Delaney’s Donkey.

Val Quinn (67) might well have been dancing along to Val Doonican when he was a young man, but he doesn’t recall his Christian name giving him any unfair romantic advantage over all the Micks and Pats and Ferguses.

He did, however, get a lot of comments on his name, many of them completely related to his namesake’s feast day. “I got lots of comments all year round,” says Quinn. “My unusual name usually drew jokes about valve rubbers.” Okayyy…

Quinn was also asked numerous times if his name was short for Valerie, which, let’s face it, is even more puerile than valve rubbers.

The arrival of February 14th always made Quinn feel slightly uncomfortable, because that’s when people would make the nominative connection. “I didn’t like Valentine’s Day – too many stupid comments.”

He did receive plenty of cards asking him to “be my Valentine”, but it wasn’t a big deal because back in those days, says Quinn, most Valentine’s Day cards were sent anonymously (not like today, when they come complete with hashtags, naked photos and Google Map directions to your love shack).

But sharing a name with the patron saint of love definitely dampened Quinn’s enthusiasm for the day. “Valentine’s Day was nothing special, as far as I was concerned. I never asked anyone, male or female, to be my Valentine. My apologies if this gives the slight impression that I’m not very romantic!”

Au contraire – they just show that he’s not going to allow himself to be upstaged by some ancient Roman lothario flashing the hearts and flowers.

What were your parents thinking about, calling you Valentine and you born in April?

Publisher Val James may share a name with the most famous love merchant of all, but he doesn’t exactly share the world’s enthusiasm for this most loved-up (and hyped-up) of days.

“It’s just the whole hype about it – it’s a bit overdone. I don’t get any enjoyment out of it. Maybe if my name wasn’t Valentine, I might find it more important. Or if I was actually born in February, I might get more into it, but when you’ve got the name but you don’t have the title. I was born in April so I can’t really call myself a valentine. So it’s not a big deal to me.”

Happily, his wife Deirdre shares his lack of enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day.

“I bought her flowers one Valentine’s day when we were going out – and she hit me over the head with them. We were having a drink in the Baggot Inn, and this guy came over selling flowers. I bought her two or three roses and she ended up hitting me with them. That was 30 years ago, and it’s the best thing that ever happened. It got me out of jail.”

Having the name Valentine doesn’t give him a romantic edge, he says, so the most part, James has discreetly let his namesake’s day pass without incident, and is usually spared the awkward questions about his name.

“The only comments I get this time of the year are, ‘what were your parents thinking about, calling you Valentine and you born in April?’”

Coombe-born Val Farrelly is a graduate of Liberties College and IADT, and has lived and worked in the US for the past 12 years as a TV and film producer in Washington DC, Texas and LA. He’s currently working in media production for the tech industry in Silicon Valley. 

Mixed bag

For Farrelly, Valentine’s Day is a mixed bag. “I like the sense of romance, being someone’s valentine, the feeling that love is in the air, but at the back of my mind I know there’s going to be the same litany of questions, as people will have their semi-annual ‘penny-drop’ and ask ‘Is your name short for Valentine?’ or ‘Is it your birthday?’ 

“Yes, it is short for Valentine. No, it’s not my birthday. I was born on the 30th of July, but I am named after an Uncle Val who was born in mid-February and who was parish priest in Bray in the 1970s, and my granny used to pray to St Valentine in Whitefriar Street Church.

Farrelly will be exchanging Valentine’s Day cards with his wife of 12 years, Britton, and both cards will contain humorous references to his name, “although mine tend to be far more cheesy than hers”.

Seeing his name up in big, bright, flowery letters every year doesn’t bother him too much, says Farrelly, although “it was a bit strange as a kid, but you get used to it”. 

It also helps that, as long as he can remember, he was always known as Val. “My Mammy never gave out with the full ‘Valentine Farrelly, wait until I get my hands on you’ when I was in trouble as a kid. 

So, which is the lesser of two evils – being called Valentine on St Valentine’s Day, or Patrick on St Patrick’s Day? 

“I’ve often wondered that, especially living in the US, and I think I got the better of the two. Being a real Irish Paddy in the US on March 17th seems like it would be a nightmare.”

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