TWU: Bruno Mars is a world away from your name, so where did that come from?
Bruno Mars: My father and my mother. There was a wrestler in their day called Bruno San Martino and he was a very heavy-set wrestler and I guess when I was a kid I was a real chubby, chunky kid. Everyone calls me Bruno; they don’t ever call me Peter, that was just my government name.
As for me, I was named Conor in 1974 (the Irish spelling of that name, with one ‘n’) by my Irish father and worldly mother, at a time when that name didn’t exist as a first name. I got the same question every day: Is Conor your first name or your last name? And one memorable day in Kindergarten I came home crying, furious at my father because the other kids had made fun of my unusual name.
So my father, the Irish poet Eamon Grennan, told me the story of the first Conor — Conor mac Nessa, the legendary Irish king. He told me how Conor was born the same day as Christ himself, how he became king when he was just 7 years old (“That’s in two years, lad!”) and how he became the greatest ruler in the history of Ulster.
I still hated my name. But those stories, that meaning, made it a little easier to bear. It told me that my parents weren’t just punishing me. It told me that they knew what they were doing. That they had been purposeful in their choice. That they had named me — the goofy, red-haired, ill-mannered, walking-temper-tantrum of a boy — after a King.
People were more likely to imitate popular choices, particularly those choices that are on the upswing, a dynamic Goldstone and his IU colleague Todd Gureckis had documented earlier in an observational study of baby names in 130 years of U.S. Social Security records. People likewise choose names that have “positive momentum” in their popularity. For baby names, over 130 years, the United States has shifted from a society in which decreases in popularity in one year are likely to be followed by increases in popularity in the next year (and vice versa) to one in which increases are likely to be followed by increases, and decreases by decreases.
Portia: When I was 15, I changed it legally. In retrospect, I think it was largely due to my struggle about being gay. Everything just didn’t fit, and I was trying to find things I could identify myself with, and it started with my name.
I picked Portia because I was a Shakespeare fan [Portia is the character in The Merchant of Venice who famously declaims, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”]. De Rossi because I was Australian and I thought that an exotic Italian name would somehow suit me more than Amanda Rogers. When you live in Australia, Europe is so far away and so fascinating, so stylish and cultured and sophisticated.
As for my own story, family lore has it that my mom wanted to name me Kama Sutra, after the famous Indian sex positions book. Was my mother under the effects of some kind of drug after she pushed me out of her loins and chose this name? I have no idea. I just thank the nurses who supposedly said “no” and took me out of the room until she came up with something slightly more suitable. And I ended up with a weird one anyway.
From the book Christian Names in Local and Family History by George Redmonds:
Other regional concentrations worth noting are Edith in Dorset, Felice and Petronille in Staffordshire and Amice in Leicestershire, but a close examination of the evidence reveals significant small ‘clusters’ right down the list. Typical of these are Goda (East Anglia), Godelena (Kent) and Osanne, the last of these found only in Spalding in Lincolnshire. It derives from ‘Hosanna’, a Hebrew word used as an appeal to God for deliverance, which was adopted into Christian worship as a more general expression of praise. We are familiar with it through the Bible and it occurs as ‘osanne’ in Chaucer’s Tale of the Man of Lawe: ‘Mary I mene, doghter to Seint Anne, Bifore whos child aungeles singe oscanne’. Less well known is its use as a baptismal name from the twelfth century, possibly to commemorate a birth on Palm Sunday. The earliest examples have been noted in Dorset and Herefordshire and it occurred often enough to serve as a by-name. Typical of these are ‘Reginaldus filius Osanna’, in the pipe roll of 1180, and Richard Osan of Shelley in 1277.
On a related note, if you’re going to be “that guy” and give your kid an effed up name, don’t also be the guy who refuses to share the name because you’re afraid of negative commentary or feedback. As soon as someone tells me they’re not sharing baby names, I assume the name they picked sucks or will scare people–and they know it. When you pick a name for your kid–good or bad–own it. Don’t be a puss about it. If someone begins to pooh-pooh your name, cut them off. Who cares if the biggest moron in their high school was Skippy, or the biggest douche was Biff? That’s their experience, not yours. Who cares if your coworkers think Maroon Marmalade is a terrible name as long as you love it. Most people know better than to slam your baby name anyway. Everyone is so damn sensitive nowadays. But on the bright side of the unwanted commentary, someone might actually have a helpful tidbit about your name that you should know before legally assigning it to your child. Like, “Adam Samuel Samsonite? Soooo…his initials will be ASS?” Oh hell no. Thanks for pointing that out, Friend.
I discovered the RTÉ Radio 1 documentary One Hundred Years of Names (2009) a long time ago. Finally I’ve had a chance to listen to the entire 40-minute program.
It’s pretty good — I like how it tells the story of how Irish names have been revived in Ireland.
Because, back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Irish names were not being used in Ireland, at least not officially. I think this fact would surprise a lot of people. The vast majority of children were given non-Irish names (e.g., Katherine, Rose, John) though some did use the Irish versions of their names in everyday life.
Around the 1930s, a handful Irish names (e.g., Seán, Séamus) began gaining traction. This was thanks to the efforts of those trying to revive Irish such as Éamon de Valera, who later became president of Ireland. (Éamon’s wife, born in 1878, went by Sinéad but was officially a Jane.)
The use of Irish names increased, little by little, over the next few decades.
With the 1970s came a lot more name variety, thanks to Gerard Slevin’s 1974 revision of Rev. Patrick Woulfe’s 1923 book Irish Names for Children. An Irish genealogist interviewed in the documentary said this revision was “quite influential, it was probably the only book on bookshelves at that time on Irish names.”
Since the 1990s, both the popularity and the variety of Irish names in Ireland have continued to increased. The narrator of the documentary summed it up well when she said that, nowadays, “names like Deirdre, Róisín, Gráinne are so familiar, we’d nearly forget they’re revived names.”
Interesting stuff, no?
The documentary is worth a listen if you’re a fan of Irish names. Or if you simply want to hear some Irish name pronunciations, as a bunch of Irish names — Cian (kee-an), Aoife (ee-fa), Ciara (kee-ra), Caoimhe (kwee-va), Niamh (nee-av), Saoirse (sir-sha), Sadhbh (sive), Róisín (ro-sheen), Aoibhinn/Aoibheann (ee-veen), etc. — are mentioned about 10 minutes in.