I thought for this first post I would start with the basics, or the not-so-basic as the case may be; my name – Niamh.
First things first. In case you don’t know me well (in which case you will soon stop reading due to the uncomfortably narcissistic nature of this post) I am an student of English literature and Gaeilge (Irish language or ‘Gaelic’) from Co. Tipperary, Ireland and I’m currently on exchange in Sweden.
If you come from somewhere other than Éire, firstly be happy that you aren’t followed around by a temperamental rain-cloud all-day and secondly believe me that my name is very common at home. I know that to the untrained eye it might seem like an overly consonant-reliant name that you might see scrolling across the Jerry Springer screen. But no, it’s not unique, it’s very typically Irish. I’m just not that special (queue violin music).
However, I always loved my name as a child because it sounded beautiful and confirmed my role as the destined queen of Tír na nÓg. Unfortunately though, there were several thousand pretenders to my throne up and down the country. I wasn’t even assured sole monarchy of my primary school. And whenever I got lost in a supermarket as a toddler/young adult parents would call “Niamh!” at intermittent intervals to my five-hundred namesakes in the shop and ignore me as I wept by the free samples of whatever foodstuff had caused my disorientation.
Having never ventured that far from home, or when I did being a typical tourist and having minimal interactions with local people, I had never before had to introduce myself to so many new people in a different country. And here in Sweden my name is causing all sorts of consternation. First off the pronunciation. “Is it ‘Neef’, is it ‘Nif’, is it ‘Neev’?” The closest I can get to it in English phonetics is ‘Nee-uv’ (suggestions welcome – especially for the Irish nasalised ‘Ni-‘) Once they master the pronunciation most people proclaim their love for my name. And then the waiting game begins.
Will I have to sign something? Will they add me on Facebook? (I have dispensed with my habit of immediately adding friends due to this problem, a sad day for social networking) Will they innocently ask that most basic of questions – ‘How is that spelled?’
Then starts the lesson on why ‘mh’ would be pronounced as a ‘v’ which will inevitably lead onto the fact that the name is of Celtic origin which will lead onto a run-down of the language Gaeilge and how it isn’t English pronounced with an Irish accent!
I have found it a bit trying at times, especially when I get halfway through this discussion and realise I’ve completely forgotten the other persons name (“But I’m good at faces!” I insist , as if recognising the faces of other humans was not a pretty basic skill..)
However, slowly slowly I have grown to appreciate the new-found novelty of my name. It’s a great name to open up a conversation. It tells people where I come from and sparks conversation about language and culture. And that’s what I’m all about.
Jag heter Niamh. Välkommen!
Niamh is ainm dom. Tá fáilte romhat!
I’m Niamh. Welcome!