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Melody Davis

The Irish For The rise of Fiadh, the third most popular girl's name

With Fiadh now in the top five baby names for girls, Darach Ó Séaghdha looks at the origin of the name.

ON FRIDAY THE CSO released the data on baby names given to new arrivals in 2019 and while we are still very much living in a Jack and Emily world, the name that everyone is talking about again is Fiadh.

The most popular Irish-language origin name for girls came third, after Emily and Grace. It did not register on the database at all in the 20th century but has overtaken Saoirse and Aoife in the past three years.

In fact, around 2,000 Fiadhs arrived in the 2010s on the island of Ireland. It has also been reported as the top Irish-origin girls’ name for new first passports.

The virality of names is a peculiar phenomenon, with the influence of celebrity and TV character names on parents being overstated. While expectant parents take an active interest in names they hear, they are often reluctant to use one that has been given to the child of a close friend, colleague or neighbour.

The role of online pregnancy forums

It’s fitting that one plausible explanation for a name that arose in the 2010s is linked to online connections. The rise of pregnancy forums – as well as wedding websites whose community forums include members who stick around after their big day – have created spaces where people with the same questions on their mind can exchange ideas such as baby names.

These forums broaden the conversation for parents around baby names, introducing new ideas. They also provide partial anonymity, which means that the faux pas of taking a name recently used by a close connection can be avoided.

90323498 Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

It is on these forums that discussions around the name Fiadh can be traced back to the late 2000s and early 2010s, turning up in lists of suggested Irish names, questions about spelling and other chats.

The overlapping meanings of the name were a huge attraction: that a single word could mean respect, wildness and a beautiful deer gives the name cuteness and a hip, feminist energy. But there were other considerations too.

One mother to be enjoyed the symmetry of calling twin daughters Aoife and Fiadh, or twin siblings Fiachra and Fiadh. Other expectant mothers debated whether to go with Fia or Fiadh, wondering if their daughter would hate them for saddling them with silent letters.

One suggested that Fia might be construed as an abbreviation of Sofia, others remarked that it could cause problems in London where it would be interpreted as a clumsy phonetic spelling of Thea.

Fiadh vs Fia

Debates about Fia vs Fiadh are especially interesting for two reasons. First of all, it’s a conflict that speaks to the unfinished battle about spelling modernisation in Irish. The Irish for a deer/wildness is spelt fiadh in Dinneen’s dictionary but fia in the 1959 and subsequent foclóirí.

Critically, the spelling of fiadh for its respect/esteem meaning, with due regard to this usage being antiquated and poetic, was not updated. This makes the older spelling deeper in meaning.

Secondly, in the 2000s, Fia was the more popular spelling, being overtaken by the -dh version in 2011. By 2018, there were nine new Fiadhs for every new Fia, even though the latter is still rising steadily.

Time will tell which names rise and fall in popularity in this new decade, but the popularity of Fiadh would suggest that Irish names are still popular and silent letters aren’t as big a deterrent as some would believe.


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