What’s in a name?
It’s been quite a journey to figure out who I am. On my birth cert, my name is Sarah Ann Ryan. I read Anne of Green Gables as a kid and began insisting on the E at the end of Ann – why wouldn’t you? My secondary school operated through the medium of the Irish language and insisted I use the full translation of both of my names – Sorcha Ní Riain. During university, I used the English version of both of my names Sarah Ryan for most things, and Sorcha Ní Riain for my Irish modules. For the next two years, I was Sarah Ryan.
I decided in 2005 when I returned to Ireland from a year in New Zealand to use my given forename – Sarah, and the Irish version of my surname – Ní Riain – for everything. I changed as much as I could, but I was surprised that NUIG, where I was studying at the time, wouldn’t accept this. I had to use either the name on my birth cert, or change the whole thing to the Irish translation.
When I finally started work at RTÉ, I began to use Sarah Ní Riain, and gradually expanded its use to all aspects of my life. To change your name to the Irish version in Ireland, there is no need to do this legally by deed poll, so long as it’s the name you regularly use.
It’s been a journey, but I’m happy with my name now. It’s MINE, not some version of my name that some organisation or another is insisting on. My journey towards my own name has had two stumbling blocks.
The first is getting people who’ve known me during my journey to accept that Sarah Ní Riain is now my real, official and only name. For most people, this just takes time, and I don’t mind at all if people forget. The other side to this is people thinking that I don’t mean it, but really, I do. And you might think I’m being flip, but I honestly think this is the only name I’ll be happy with.
My given name – my forename, my first name, my “Christian” name, is Sarah. Not Sorcha. The two words have a few letters in common, but they look and sound totally different. They MEAN different things. Sarah is a biblical name meaning princess. Sorcha means Lightness, Brightness or Brilliance. I prefer the meaning of Sorcha, true, but IT’S NOT MY NAME. The only reason that Sarah corresponds to Sorcha “in Irish” is because of use, not logic.
In Gaeltacht areas, children will be registered with English names like Grace, and then called the “Irish version” of Gráinne for their entire lives.
This has led to the most annoying questions for people with Irish names. A friend’s baby was recently named Caolán – and of course the question they get is “What’s that in English?” Caoimhe, Fionnuala, Cathal, Maoilíosa, Gormfhlaith… they are NAMES. Unless they are commmonly in use as equivalents with the same root – like Sean/John/Johann/Jean – they are not the same thing, and your given first name should be your name unless you have some odd family tradition.
Now, family names – my reasoning on this is that Ryan is an anglicisation of Riain – so returning to the Irish (i.e. original-ish) version of my family name is no big deal, and indeed much preferable to me.
So there you have it. My name is my name, and now you know why!!!!
P.S., if you want to learn how to pronounce it, it’s nee REE-uhn. The “ní” is an indicator that I’m a girl as opposed to part of the name, so the emphasis is on the REE part!