WASHINGTON – Growing up Irish Catholic in his Towson neighborhood, there were always a few other Patricks around, said Pat O’Brennan, 59, a singer/songwriter from Lutherville.
“When it came time for St. Patrick’s Day, it was always good to be named Pat,” he said.
While Pat’s still a great name to have on St. Patrick’s Day, there are fewer and fewer of them, and the female version of the saint’s name, Patricia, than there used to be.
The names Patrick and Patricia have declined significantly in popularity in Maryland over the past 40 years, according to national data. What St. Patrick is gaining in parade popularity and green beer guzzling he’s losing in namesakes.
Patricia, in particular, has dropped virtually out of sight after a long reign of popularity, according to the Social Security Administration, which tracks first names by state. Patricia went from being the fifth-most-popular name in Maryland in 1960 to dropping out of the top 100 completely by 1991.
Patrick has experienced a steadier decline, ranking in the 30s for much of the latter half of the century before lowering in popularity in the late 1990s, and finally hitting 72nd place in 2004.
The lack of Patricks and Patricias may suggest parents are not looking as closely at saints for baby name inspiration.
“Today, the naming of children is highly influenced by popular culture,” said Lawrence Cunningham, theology professor at the University of Notre Dame. This was not always so.
“There has always been a tradition in Catholic Christianity to name a child after a saint,” said Cunningham, whose two daughters, Sarah and Julia both have saint’s names.
“Way back in the early Middle Ages, a pope changed his name to a saint’s name,” Cunningham said, explaining the tradition’s possible origin. Pope John II’s original name, Mercury, was pagan.
Referencing the Latin saying, “nomen omen” which roughly means “your name is an omen,” Cunningham explained that the patron saint is supposed to pray for the child in heaven and also provide a model of Christian behavior for the namesake here on Earth.
As a role model, St. Patrick’s history is full of perseverance and persuasion, and he is credited with bringing to Catholicism to Ireland. As a child, Patrick was captured by the Celts in Britain and brought to Ireland, he escaped and returned later as a priest, explained Monsignor Kevin Hart, pastor at St. Patrick’s Church in Rockville.
As to St. Patrick driving the snakes from Ireland, Hart calls that an Irish legend.
Hart has noticed little decrease in the naming of Patricks in his own community. “Every fourth kid in this school is named Patrick,” he said.
Regardless of namesake numbers, St. Patrick will still get his celebration. There’s the annual parade in Baltimore, and Hart’s church is having a pub night featuring corn beef, cabbage and beer, although he says he hopes the beverage won’t be green.
As for Pat O’Brennan, when it came to naming his own five children, Patrick only surfaced as the middle name of his son Michael. Michael, also a saint’s name, was the most popular boy’s name in Maryland in 2004.