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Meaningful surnames are usually accurate descriptions

Michael Smith

If you had been born Smith you too might suffer from sneaking regardery for more exotic names. In college I remember my pals were called Long, Power and Thunder and I used to think it was impressive when our names were called out together, as they were on occasion by a coach driver or some such. I thought it all sounded strong. The others thought it all sounded strong, except for Smith. I called my first born Kappa in partial compensation but that’s another story.

If your second name means something, my patent universal law of the evolutionary survival of the most accurate surname, prevails. In other words if your name means something then it is likely to reflect something important about you.

The rule applies only to surnames. There are some apposite Christian names but they are only coincidental (FRANK Dunlop always convulses me; Newt Gingrich had his share of ethical problems and is now creepily living with a twenty-three-year-old). Initials rarely give guidance, though at school I did enjoy speculating that G O’ Neill’s occasional absences were due to sickness. And in adult life I always found former Dublin City Council head of development Sean Carey, S Carey.

I love the idea of Niall Hatch, spokesperson for Birdwatch Ireland, Robert Hogg in whose piggery the recent porcine debacle originated and Dr Robert Boyle – a famous Australian plastic surgeon. Even better are Nicholas Burns-Cox, urologist and Dr Lisa Minge, gynaecologist.  Tiger Woods was always going to be an animal off the tee. Irish life (former Chairman, David Went) is peppered with these gems.  In sport Damien Duff seldom delivers in an Ireland shirt and George Best was altogether, well, better. Both Brendan Drumm, head of the HSE and David Drumm, recently resigned CEO of Anglo-Irish Bank are taking a terrible pounding in the media. It was no surprise when Maurice Pratt, the lovely fellow who fronted those suspect Quinnsworth ads twenty years ago, lost his job as boss of C&C after they failed catastrophically to sell enough Magner’s Cider.

Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown does not appear really to understand the Green agenda, since he is about to sanction new nuclear and coal-burning power plants. For a long time Village Magazine didn’t really promote green issues, for the same reason.  As regards the environment in Ireland more generally, Stiofan Nutty was long-time General Secretary of the Green Party during their fringe years. The head of the Department of the Environment is  the very tenacious Geraldine Tallon and who could not trust White, Young and Green, the environmentalists who recently reported that Haulbowline is not dangerously hazardous? The Doolittle and Delay Act in the states achieved much less for ethics than its proponents suggested.The former Minister in that Department, Dick Roche, got a hard time at the last election for his scuttling unctuousness and anti-environmentalism. He was trailed for a while by a miscreant in a giant cockroach costume. I thought the beast should have been accompanied by a large double-fronted penis, giving the horrible options of Cock Roach or Dick Roach.

Names suggestive of bodily functions or sexual orientations are invariably illustrative of the law. I once had a friendly German teacher called Ullrike Bonk.  It was recently reported that Martin Meaney, a sixty-five year old former Marist Brother, had admitted shocking counts of child abuse. Nor was Fr Ivan Paine ever one to whom I would have leapt to assign the babysitting. As regards politicians I was always nervous about Emmet Stagg who spent too much time in the deerpark, Pat Cox seemed to me to have an intriguing other agenda, and I would not like to overnight in a tent with Alan Shatter. Similarly for the media: Will Goodbody, a correspondent with RTE, seems very well-formed for a journalist but we venture at our peril into the bushes with anyone called Goodwillie (though presumably Mark Little would pose no difficulties). Gay Byrne is, a Nation presumes, the exception that proves the rule.

The principle applies in any language. Ms Angeline Jolie is undeniably pretty. For Irish names it is permissible to remove the O or Mac to reveal something relevant. Conor O’ Luanaigh wrote Aware’s guide to Depression in Later Life.  It was always going to be uphill for Cathal O’Searcaigh to get us to believe his relationship with those young men in Nepal was not predatory on a grand scale.

For politicians, disconcertingly, your name may be a guide to your destiny. Jack Lynch was famously shafted as leader of Fianna Fail. Fine Gael politician Joe Doyle, after many years trying, eventually made it out of the Seanad. Joe Burke, like his namesake Ray, was always for me likely to implode in a torrent of silly arrogance. The principle has always driven US politics too – up as far as the President. Truman was not highly regarded until recently but his now-fashionable honesty is leading to a rehabilitation. President ray-gun started out his political career a left-winger but was always going to be a cold warrior playing Star Wars, in the end. Presumably Al Gore will eventually bare his environmental teeth as a politician. In his retirement we can surely say George Bush will be prickly about his place in history. A tip for the future: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island may be looking to greater things.

Sometimes knowing their surname may be a help in working out motivations. JJ Power became a councillor in Kildare for the Greens who don’t know why he left Fianna Fail. The residents of Ballsbridge may feel they are going to be done by Sean and his skyscrapers.

Overall a colourful name will extend you a hand on your journey through life, but an anodyne one may be worse than a meaningless one. You have almost certainly never heard of Ms Clair Noone, head administrator of the Department of Economics in NUI Galway.

Anyway, all in all, the discerning reader will take the law of names with whatever seriousness he or she must. It may be a life-changing and definitive guide to human behaviour. Or then again it may simply be Michael’s myth.