You may or may not know this, but the patron saint whose name became almost synonymous with Ireland was neither Irish nor born with the name Patrick. He was in fact a fourth century Briton christened Sucat. His dramatic story includes being kidnapped as a boy by pirates and taken to Ireland at the age of 16, where he worked as a slave shepherd for six years. When he eventually escaped, he trained as a priest, probably in France, determined to return to Ireland to convert the pagan population. It was after he was ordained that he changed his name to Patrick, Latin for ‘nobleman.’
He went to Tara, the seat of the Irish kings and pagan Druid priests, whom he debated and overcame, supposedly plucking a shamrock from the ground and using its three leaves to explain the Trinity to the kings. He then traveled the country making further converts until, by the time of his death in 463, most of Ireland had been converted to Christianity.
But instead of his name spreading as well, the opposite happened: the names Patrick and the Irish form Pádraig were held in such high esteem that they were not used as first names until the 17th century (this was not true in Scotland, where is it was common in early times). But by the 19th century, Patrick was so widespread that it came to be considered a generic Irish name.
This was true in America as well, as it was especially associated with the Irish immigrants who arrived in great numbers from 1840 through the early years of the 20th century. Flashing forward to today, where does Patrick stand?
Well, it’s still in the Top 20 in Ireland (#19), but in the U.S. it currently ranks #127, the lowest it’s been since 1928, having dropped out of the Top 100 six years ago. (Its highpoint was the mid-1960s Pat Boone era, when it reached the Top 30.) Its steady fall is surprising in view of the hunky namesakes it’s had over the past few decades—Patrick Swayze dirty danced in 1987 and Patrick Dempsey became McDreamy in 2005. Plus there are any number of notable football and basketball heroes for inspiration, and of course the towering historical figure, Patrick Henry.
Most contemporary Patricks are called Patrick, as old nicknames like the unisex Pat (thank SNL for that) and Patsy and the Irish Paddy have faded, not to mention the occasionally used Rick. We think that, taken in full, Patrick has not only regained some of its old energy and spunk, but is beginning to embody its definition– and is also sounding patrician.
And in addition to the original Latin Patricus (also used by the Dutch) and authentic Gaelic Pádraig and Páraic, other attractive international versions abound—the French Patrice (though Patrick is heard there as well), the Italian Patrizio and Spanish Patricio, the Polish Patek and the Slavic Patrik—all worthy of consideration.