The announcement that the Academic Registry would allow students to include the fadas in their name on their student identification card was a small step forward for language rights, and finally gave Irish-language names the courtesy of being spelt properly.
As an incurable pedant, it was a relief to me that I would no longer have to look at my card’s “Aoibh Ni Chroimin” and feel the spelling of my name – incorrect across both languages – plaguing me like a label in a new jumper. (Were it not for this, I would be pleased with the card, as by some miracle the photo turned out OK – it’s kind of like a headshot with 1980s vibes, but I digress.)
However, when I saw that, to make the change, I needed to show Academic Registry proof that my name actually had a fada, my satisfaction was somewhat stifled – not because I found the request unreasonable but because I realised that I would now need to make an active decision about what name I actually wanted on my T-Card.
I don’t have a photographic ID proving my name has a fada in it because, legally, my name doesn’t have a fada in it. Legally, my surname is Crimmins. Not that my dear, old gaelscoil cared about that when they registered us for the State Examinations, and by extension, the CAO under our Irish names. Some girls did ask to be registered for exams with their birth-certificate name, but I wasn’t one of them. Either way, they had no success: as far as my school was concerned, we made that decision regarding our names when we enrolled at a gaelcholáiste.
As an incurable pedant, it was a relief to me that I would no longer have to look at my card’s “Aoibh Ni Chroimin” and feel the spelling of my name – incorrect across both languages – plaguing me like a label in a new jumper
In September, I didn’t bother to ask Academic Registry to change my name back to the English. The email I began to write to them remained unsent – just as I hadn’t fought to get my school to do so the year before. While this was partially due to the horror stories us wide-eyed Freshers had been told about how long it takes Academic Registry to sort anything out, it was also due to an unclear relationship with my linguistic identity.
Besides the fact that since its first imposition upon me by my parents at birth, my first name alone (which has always been Irish) has been misheard, misspelt, mistranslated, misinterpreted and mispronounced so many times by so many different people that I have at some level accepted that a name is something other people give us to distinguish us from those around us in their minds, and not something for our own convenience.
So, I left off making an effort for my legal, English-language name. Now that this new measure has been announced I must decide whether to revisit that effort or make a whole separate effort to correct the Irish one, or to simply to accept “Ni Chroimin”.
I must make a decision that I have been putting off, and with it the reasons I’ve been putting it off. Language, for me and many others, is not a clear matter of in or out, Irish or English, fadas or no fadas. I associate my Irish surname with a valuable educational experience and my friendships therein. As nobody else uses it in my father’s family, using it has given me a thrill of self-invention and self-determination, as well as feeling that it allows me to include something of my mother’s family in my father’s name, as it was their side from which I got my connections to the Irish language education.
Language, for me and many others, is not a clear matter of in or out, Irish or English, fadas or no fadas
On the other hand, my English surname, because it has been my name before the meddling of schools and my own stylings, seems more familial, more fundamental, rawer than its Irish equivalent. Sometimes I suspect that beneath the multilingual, academic Aoibh Ní Chroimín of various Trinity societies is the stubborn, sensitive Aoibh Crimmins of my earliest memories who dreams and cries in English. But then I believe that the newer side of me is just as real as the earlier side – even if she is more deliberately crafted, she is a role I have grown into. The answer to the question, “what’s your real name?”, then, appears to be both of them.
Names are statements of identity, of creation, of power and of individuality within a community. They can be used to define others and to define ourselves. That is why they matter and why allowing fadas on the T-Cards matters. But it is for this reason, that it would feel so wrong for me to put a decisive foot down on the side of one language or the other.
I love both Irish and English, and I could never renounce either of them or believe that either of them could fully capture the extent of who I am alone. For the purposes of Academic Registry, I will make a decision sooner or later, but I suspect that for the rest of my life I will be shifting between and within the two names both in my own mind and in my dealings with others.
It’s more confusing – I sometimes have to take a moment to remember what name things were registered under when collecting things like tickets or prescriptions, but I don’t mind. I find a bilingual existence offers a more varied, polytonal experience of life and of learning, and a more flexible sense of self: I hope I will always be both.