Have you ever thought of your name? Do you like to? Have you ever thought about changing it? Would you definitely pass it on to your children? Will you leave all your material possessions to that favorite niece or nephew who was lucky enough to bear the same name? Do you get annoyed when people forget about it, or even worse, do they call you something different?
For good or bad reasons, the first question we are usually asked by government officials, future partners, game show hosts and the police is, “What’s your name?” It’s one of the first things we learn as a child. He is with us for our life, but we do not choose him.
According to CSO latest figures, the most popular female names in 2021 were Fiadh, Grace, Emily, Sophie and Éabha. The boys’ names were Jack, Noah, James, Conor and Rían. Some old dormant Irish names are also making a comeback. My favorite is Réiltín which means “little star”. When I saw this I thought it was such a beautiful name but it would wreak havoc on the person who has to make public address announcements at international airports for years to come.
Irish names are beautiful but are the bane of many airlines. My sister, Siobhán’s name was announced as Si-o-ba-han and Soban. To be honest, our middle child is called Tadhg and it took me about a year to learn how to spell him correctly without thinking about it.
The next time you go to a souvenir shop, look at the nameplates on the doors of the children’s rooms. You will see the most popular names of the day. You won’t see too many Bernards. It’s because I was named after my maternal grandfather, who was born in 1903. At the time, it was a relatively popular name, especially in England. As far back as I can remember, I was the only Bernard in primary and secondary school. I never knew or met another Bernard during my college years. In fact, the first other Bernard I knew and shook hands with, exchanging the “nice to meet you, Bernard” banter, was Karl Spain, the comedian’s father from Limerick, in 2003 when I supported Karl on a national tour. I’ve met several other Bernards since, but it’s a rare name.
Unlike the Irish and Brits who pronounce my name as Ber-NERD (Yes, I know the “nerd” joke, haha.) North Americans, Antipodians and South Africans pronounce it Ber-NARD. Which makes it much more sophisticated. I used to joke Ber-NERD is left behind on school visits. But, Ber-NARD is a mysterious man who has traveled a lot and has lovers in Milan, Paris and Urlingford (I like to keep my fantasies anchored in the third).
The Germans pronounce it like Bernhard, which makes me feel like a responsible adult who could design an invisible but essential part of an Audi if needed. But the French say “Bernaaaaaaaar”. I wish I paid more attention to French lessons at school just so I could walk up to a hotel reservation desk in France and say “Bonjour Je m’appelle Bernaaaaaaaaaaaar” and then be able to converse in French at the instead of standing there realizing I can’t speak or understand a word. (It happened to me)
When I lived in Dundalk, I was sometimes called “Barney”. My mother always said that was her father’s name. Every time I visited the barber on Avenue Road, he greeted me with a big “Well, Red Barney, hi, how about you?” It was the closest I’ve ever gotten to having a nickname form. Then for years I called myself Dermot and Brendan. It didn’t help that I had worked with a Dermot for years on TV, and I always thought “Brendan” was pretty close, so I gave up. In fact, I’ve been called almost every name under the sun except Bernard. But I understand why.
A colloquial expression of people is “I’m terrible with names.” It’s me. I’m so bad at remembering people’s names that I’ll avoid them at all costs if necessary. I can’t suppress my ignorance by calling them “champion”, “buddy” or “buddy”. As a kid, I couldn’t bring myself to call someone by their nickname. I do not know why. I never felt cool enough to call someone that way. These must be first names and, if necessary, middle names as well.
Warning! There is a limit point. You can’t turn to someone after two weeks or two casual meetings or work and ask their name. I’ve known someone for 15 years who still calls me Brendan. It’s pretty close. I can’t tell him now. But I agree with that. In fact, once someone tried to tell her that wasn’t my name, and I stopped her because she was having a relationship with “Brendan.” Bernard would have meant nothing to her.
I’ve been in real situations where I cancel meetings at the last minute if I don’t know the name of everyone in the room. It wouldn’t be worth mentally torturing yourself by saying to someone, “Sorry, what’s your name again?” Seems the height of disrespect to me, especially when they know mine. But Bernard is an easy name to say but very rare, which is why I think people remember mine. There just aren’t many Bernards. The relief I feel when the penny drops and I remember it. Then I’ll go into a total frenzy or name spray like my brain is that of a two year old who just learned the word “poo” and is determined to tell the world.
So after years of trying every trick in the book. Repeating their names ten times in my head when they say them. Or using a mnemonic device, like Phil Dunphy indone or visualize their faces and names together, none of them worked for me. But one weird thing has.
I now remember everyone’s name with a Dundalk accent. So if your name is Margaret, I tell my brain to recognize it as Marrrrrrrgrit. Or if it’s Thomas, I’ll remember it as “Tamas, hi”. It’s crazy, but it works. Also, if you are planning to have a baby soon, just remember the name, Bernard. Very few of us have left, and if they ever go to Dundalk they can choose the option of being called Barney, too hi. Reiltinhowever, maybe just a little nicer.