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Opinion: My name is Gearóidín and I want the Irish State to give me back my fadas

‘According to the HSE, the internal systems in place cannot deal with fadas. But why? Fadas are not exactly a new invention,’ writes Gearóidín McEvoy.

USI Irish language rights protest in 2013
USI Irish language rights protest in 2013
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

ALL MY LIFE people have spelt my name wrong – teachers, family members, baristas and State officials.

They might leave out an ‘i’ or get creative and make it up as they go along. Sometimes people just give up halfway through and leave me with some variation of ‘Geroti’.

The most common misspelling I get, however, is an abandonment of the fadas.

As a child, I hated my name because of the fuss it always caused. Every substitute teacher had to be spoon fed the pronunciation, leaving my preteen self mortified at the spectacle. Over time, however, I’ve grown not only to accept my name but to love it.

It has become part of who I am as an Irish woman and an Irish speaker. My name and my identity are intertwined and indistinguishable.

Fadó Fada in Éirinn

Therefore, this week when we were subjected, yet again, to a debate about the validity of the identity of a group of people, I found it utterly bizarre.

The Data Protection Commissioner on Monday ruled that a person has no absolute right to have their records rectified by the HSE.

Ciarán Ó Cofaigh took a case against the HSE who he alleged were in breach of EU rules for refusing to correct an inaccurate record they held on him.

It seems that University Hospital Galway had informed Ó Cofaigh that its computer software does not allow for fadas.

This ruling means that Ó Cofaigh does not have a right to have his name spelled correctly by the HSE.

By virtue of having fadas on his name, he doesn’t have the right to his name when dealing with the HSE. To me, that’s what it boils down to.

A fada is a necessary part of a name – it’s not there for flair or decoration. It’s as important as the vowel it sits upon, and the letters which proceed and precede.

It tells you exactly the inflexion and how to pronounce the word – in a way that English never could. A teacher in Finland once told me that she couldn’t look at my name when saying it, because it would confuse her.

I told her that Gearóidín is spelled phonetically if you speak Irish. 

There seems to be an odd culture in Ireland to just generally assume that a fada is optional on someone’s name.

That my Irish name isn’t my real name. That Irish names are really just English names in disguise, for grandeur or self-importance.

Ireland is the only country in the world where I get asked ‘What’s your name in English? What’s your real name?’.

It’s the only country where people take liberties and decide to call me ‘Geraldine’ without ever asking if it’s ok.

I think it possibly goes back to the Sean Múinteoir, fadó fadó in Éirinn: the teacher who would only acknowledge Irish in their classroom, and ‘Ní thuigim Béarla’ was their mantra. Múinteoir would refuse to accept a child named ‘Grace’ or ‘John’, bestowing them with ‘Gráinne’ or ‘Seán’, often times creating an Irish adjacent surname from thin air.

That may have been the case for many Gearóidíns – they went to primary school as Geraldine and came out the other end as Gearóidín. And maybe it stuck, and they always went by Gearóidín, and when the official letters and passports came, it made for an interesting anecdote: “Oh yes, my real name is actually Geraldine, but I’ve been Gearóidín since I was a child.”

System error

Anyone with a fada on their name has a story – they either omit the fada by default every time or are met with countless system errors.

When booking a ticket on Irish Rail, a slew of question marks, asterixis and apostrophes appear where the fada should be, positioned in green above your seat.

Aer Lingus tells you that names may contain only letters, spaces, apostrophes and hyphens and will not accept fadas – this is in spite of the warning that your name must match your passport details.

In fact, the passport office is one of the few places in Official Body Ireland that seem pro-fada. 

In these cases, according to the argument made by the HSE, the internal systems in place cannot handle fadas.

But the larger question here is – why?  Fadas are not exactly a new invention.

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In fact, the HSE itself also goes by the name Feidhmeannacht na Seirbhíse Sláinte.

If the systems can’t deal with a core component of one’s name in the fada – and by extension, the umlaut, the circumflex or the cedilha – then the system is not fit for purpose. 

What about?

There is a multitude of problems in the health service in this country. I am not oblivious to the people on trolleys and the array of health-related scandals.

But there is never going to be a time when there are no problems, when we will say: “Now that all the country’s other problems are fixed – now you can have your fada.”

There will never be a time when people making the ‘what about’ argument will see our demand for fadas as justified.

They will only see me as just another annoying ‘Gaeilgeoir’ with nothing better to do than complain about a silly little fada. And I will never expect those people to understand.

But when it comes to the State bodies which are responsible for my records and my identity, I have a right to take issue.

My name is mine, and it is not for any body to decide that my name is too troublesome to fit their system and they must bestow me with an incorrect, anglicised version.

I am Gearóidín, fadas and all – and no one has a right to change that.

Gearóidín McEvoy is a PhD Candidate in Minority Language Rights Law in Dublin City University and a co-host on the popular Irish podcast Motherfoclóir.


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