“Really, a ‘b’?”
It’s a common response after pronouncing my name then spelling it out for people who need to write it down, whether that be a telephone operator or your friendly neighbourhood Starbucks barista.
Do they suspect I was mistaken or do they really want to know more? Perhaps I should always have some snippets to hand before heading into a Starbucks, here are some to get me started:
- Yes, a “b”. It comes after the “s, i, o” and is then followed by “h, a, n”. Some people pronounce it as “shi-vonne”, some say “shi-vawn”, I don’t really mind which you choose.
- Irish names are fun, right? You saw a video online about it? I might have seen that one, or perhaps it was another one.
- “B” as in “Bananarama”, a pioneering trio of baggy-t-shirt-and-dungaree-wearing booty-shaking popsters from the 80s. You may know them from such bangers as Cruel Summer, Love in the First Degree, or the ever classic Venus. This was the music my parents danced to. The music of the decade in which I was born. And the feistiest, most talked about band member happened to be a certain Siobhan Fahey.
- Yep, and that “b” right there’s a survivor. It belongs to an ancient language that even the largest empire human history has ever known couldn’t destroy. Together with the “h”, it’s pronounced and placed exactly as it’s meant to be according to the rules of the Irish language.
- It wasn’t only Bananarama that drew my parents to “Siobhan”. My father’s grandparents had been amongst the hundreds of thousands of Irish migrants to arrive at the port of Liverpool during and after the Great Famine. Through a series of events as seemingly random and disconnected as these snippets, my parents would meet in the north of England and my dad would think of his grandparents as they thought about names for their youngest child.
When people stop to question the “b”, I know it’s simply a surprise at something that’s out of the ordinary in the English language. The question comes from curiosity, which is always something I admire.
It’d make my life easier if I tried to pass myself off as a Ceri, a Susan perhaps, but I’m tied to my name. And, as Starbucks well know, I’m not the only one.
The stories behind our names are numerous and multi-faceted. They’re tied to many different parts of our identity including, but by no means limited to, our culture, our surroundings, and the people we love. Native Americans honour these connections through a fluid naming tradition and numerous countries in Europe have dedicated name day celebrations.
As someone with an unusual name for where I live, I’m often stopped to think about it, but there are many stories to be discovered from even the most common seeming names. What’s the story behind yours?