Profile Image

'What's in a name? That which...'


What’s in a name?

By Neil Slevin

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Romeo and Juliet (2.2.1-2)

What’s in a name? Stories. Stories of who we came from, what we are, where we’re going.

‘Baby Slevin’ at first, I became Neil. My mother had always loved the name, her brother even had it.

But I could have been Fiachra, until her sister got hold of the notion: “It’s far too like fiachla [the Irish for teeth]. He’ll be teased!”

So I was stuck with plain old Neil, from the old Irish word niadh, meaning ‘champion’; or ‘cloud’, which I don’t discuss as much. Doomed to Irish people of a certain vintage calling me Niall, because Neil always sounds too English.

But the name card blu-tacked to my wardrobe describes me as ‘a mint of quality’. I’ve learned to live with it.

I am William (the ‘determined protector’) for my father, who was named for his father.

The original William was named for the Germanic Willahelm, who I imagine got lost and then misspelt somewhere along his way.

Although my father has always answered to Liam, and almost everyone knew my grandfather as Bill, I swelled with pride when I first asked “Why William?” and got my answer.

Whenever I am asked to recount it, I glow with that same feeling.

Patrick was my confirmation choice. I had always wanted a more Irish-sounding name.

I could have had Oliver, Ronan, Senan – even a second bite at Fiachra – but I’ve never been the most imaginative, not even at 11.

It just had to be Ireland’s number one saint. And I’ve never liked St. Patrick’s Day.

The name itself was adopted. Originally the Latin title, Patricius, to mark the class divide between the commoners (plebeians) and patricians, it was taken on by the Irish, much like they did Patrick in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Slevin was never up for discussion. I could have been Wynne-Slevin, but that wouldn’t have been my mother’s style.

It’s arguably an English surname, but it comes from sleibh, the Irish word for ‘mountain’, denoting a warrior of magnificent stature.

Now that our genealogy is hiding somewhere in the attic, Google informs me that ‘Slevin’ is most associated with poetry. The original nameholder one of the earliest recorded poets, apparently anywhere.

Giolla Comhghaill O'Sleighin was the Chief Bard of Ulster during the reign of High King of Ireland Brian Boru (1002-1014): I’ve been spewing poetry long before I began these flashes of fiction.

What’s in a name?

Neil (a quality yet cloudy champion who will always be a little too English for some people’s tastes); William (determined to protect the victory, even if no-one else ever quite realises what’s happening; Patrick (taken in, perhaps by mistake, but one stuck with for its adoptive Irish flavour); and Slevin (the clichéd ‘mountain of a man’ later most-associated with poetry).

What’s in my name?

Neil. William. Patrick. Slevin.

I am.


by NeilSlevin in Six Words About Work - Inspirations on Mar 23, 2016 | add favorite | T-shirt

Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr


No comments yet, why not leave one of your own?

Leave a Comment or Share Your Story

Please Sign In. Only community members can comment.

SMITH Magazine

SMITH Magazine is a home for storytelling.
We believe everyone has a story, and everyone
should have a place to tell it.
We're the creators and home of the
Six-Word Memoir® project.