Friday, May 1, 2015
Back Story: O'Brien and Donohue Naming Traditions
Get to know Mary and Dave Donohue and their families by reading their Back Story.
Or what authors like to call: Info Dump.
As Mary worked on making her oatmeal bread that fateful Friday during flu season, she remembered, when she was a kid, her mother gave her milk toast when she was sick. What an awful thing to give someone who’s sick! You should never have milk when you’re sick. And all the butter ma put on the toast.
Still, she had to admit, it tasted really good, at least in her childhood memory. I have never given my children milk toast. They don’t even know what it is. Ma sure did some quirky things. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Don’t even get me started on the names, Fluffy," she said to the dog. Too late. Her thoughts drifted.
Mary was the oldest girl of eight children: three sisters—all named Mary: Mary Margaret, Mary Elizabeth, and Mary Anne—and five brothers. Her sisters were called by their first and middle names, Mary Beth and Mary Anne, but Mary used just plain Mary. Confusing to most, but not to her mother.
Her mother had affected a small Irish lilt in her voice while telling her daughters one day, "First and foremost, you were named after the Blessed Virgin," which, in her upbringing, was the greatest of women who ever lived.
"Mary Elizabeth, after the cousin of Mary who had an idea in her own heart and womb that Mary, our Blessed Mother, was carrying Our Lord." She touched her middle as if remembering carrying her own children. She continued, "Mary Anne was named for Mary and Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin. Saintly names, all," she said and sighed as she ironed the boys' Sunday shirts all those years ago.
She, Mary Margaret, was named Mary (after the Blessed Virgin) and Margaret, after her mother’s mother, Margaret Mary. Elizabeth was her father’s mother's name, and Anne was her own mother's name, Anne Marie, to be exact, consistent with traditional Irish naming patterns.
My mother's family has been in America for four generations, but old habits die hard, I guess. She swiped her forehead with her left forearm. Why is it your nose always itches or your hair gets in your eyes when your hands are full of dough?
Her older brother, Martin, then Patrick and Dennis, were named consistent with her grandfathers' names and her father, Denny O'Brien. The other two boys were named after her father's cousins, Michael and Rory. Martin, and Mary, two years younger, set the precedent for gender and age span, their parents bringing eight wee ones into the world every two years: boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy--until they got to Rory at the end who broke the pattern by being born male, to the girls' chagrin.
The girls rebelled when they got to high school. Mary Beth creatively changed her name to M'Eliz and Mary Anne introduced herself strictly as Anne. The family still followed tradition during get-togethers, calling them by both names. Old habits die hard.
Now that she was researching her family's genealogy, Mary could see the wisdom in naming children after family members, but at the time she named her Donohue children, she just wanted them to have their own names.
She and Dave had been totally original, that is, totally not Irish. There were no Seans or Brians, Erins or Bridgets in her family. Hannah, Rebecca, Joshua and Zachary; good Old Testament names, hardly heard of in a Catholic household of earlier times.
Her mother had been distraught at the names Mary and Dave chose.
"Ma, Hannah is the Hebrew name for Anna," she tried to explain to Anne Marie O'Brien one day.
"Ach! Hebrew? That's not Catholic!"
Mary sighed. No use telling her Joshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus. She would just deny it.
Having married a Donohue, from an equally large Irish Catholic family, Mary and Dave decided they would break from all those saints' names and traditions and give their children names they liked. And certainly not names that began with 'D', as his parents had done.
In addition to David, his siblings were Daniel, Dylan, Diane, Douglas, Debbie and Delia Gallagher. Dave, smack dab in the middle--number four out of seven--behaved just like a middle child. He was the go-to guy, even tempered, mediator of the family, even now. It was one of the reasons why Mary fell in love with him.
As the oldest girl, Mary had the oldest child place in the family. Bossy, she gave advice freely, even, and maybe especially, when unwanted. Take charge and Type A, she sometimes stressed herself out by striving to be the best, do the best and expect the best. She needed Dave's evenness to keep her—and their family—calm and on target.
My north star. Mary sighed as she thought of her leprechaun of a husband, with his now graying orange hair. "Just like an orange creamsicle," she was known to say to him in a tease.
Look for more back story coming soon.