My Name Is...
A Series of Books About
Irish Baby Names and British Baby Names
A Conversation with Authors
John Gallagher and Eithne Diamond
First, what are your backgrounds, what have you done that prepared you to create a series like this?
We essentially felt that there was a whole range of products in the shops with first names printed on them - pens, badges, mugs, key rings, but no books and nothing that provided real information.
Neither of us have a background in publishing. After deciding that these were the sort of books we would like to buy as parents we eventually said ‘hey we better go out there and do it.’
The further the project developed the more difficult it was to turn back. We also found a design company that was really keen on the project so this helped a lot.
How did the idea for the series come about?
We just could not find anything with information on our own children’s names except a few lines in baby name dictionaries. We initially thought of producing more factual book but then realised that would only benefit parents. We went through many concepts before eventually deciding on a format that we felt would be useful and entertaining for both big and little people.
How did you choose the names you cover? Which are Irish? Are there special relationships between the names?
We chose the names based on those that are currently the most popular in Ireland. Jack, Sean, Adam, Conor and James, for instance, have consistently been the favourite names for baby boys in Ireland over the past decade.
The distinctly ‘Irish’ or Gaelic names in the series so far are Sean, Conor, Aoife and Ciara. The names have no special relationship other than that they are popular choices with Irish parents.
Where do you get the background information that is the basis for the story?
Basically anywhere and everywhere. Encyclopaedias, research and history books, internet, the Bible and Koran. The name Ciara, for instance, was particularly difficult. Most baby name dictionaries in Ireland simply say it is the female version of the boy’s name, Ciaran. It took a lot of checking with religious registers, etc to discover that it has its own rich, if hidden history.
How does a typical story develop?
Basically we assemble facts about the name and then decide on a story arising from those facts. We always convert the character into that of a young child. For example, the name Conor (in North America it is more commonly spelled Connor which is normally a surname in Ireland!) is derived from a famous adult character in Irish legend, Conchobhar Mac Nessa, who was extremely devious and manipulative. We found one aspect of the nicer side of his character. That was his decision to set up a special sports academy for young people because of happy memories of his own sporting youth as the son of an Irish Druid. We then developed this into a story in its own right.
All our stories are original. They all involve a dilemma confronting the child and end happily with a lesson learned. But basically we reached that format after rejecting a lot of earlier models. It probably took five years from when we first got the idea for the books before we were happy that we had a presentable model.
How do you work together? Does one do text, the other artwork?
We discuss ideas endlessly and eventually settle on a theme. We would discuss ideas on many names all at the same time. Sometimes a draft will sit on file for some time if we are unhappy with it. We basically keep searching for new facts or backgrounds until we find something unique. Often small aspects of a historical or legendary figure’s life will provide the basis for a story.
Neither of us are illustrators so we have worked with two different illustrators. We decided on an animation style because that is what we feel young children are now used to viewing on TV on a regular basis.
What do you think it does for a child, to be able to learn about their name in this way?
I think they are fascinated, and so are the parents! Parents invest a lot of effort nowadays in dreaming up new names for their children, it is almost like a brand and a means to give their child a separate identity. But most of the time parents barely know what the name means. We know also that older children and adults with no children read the factual section in bookshops because they want to learn more about their own names.
Do you find that people in one country or the other, Britain or Ireland, tend to be more interested in this kind of in-depth understanding of baby names?
So far our books have only been on sale in Ireland. But we have a lot of emails from Britain in particular asking about the series. People everywhere are increasingly fascinated by names. Ask parents anywhere how much energy goes into deciding the name of their children, that’s is the answer to this question.
In the course of your work on the series, what has surprised you the most as you have done your baby name research?
The origins of names can often be quite unusual. Often there may seem to be little or no basic information. The history of a name as it develops, often over many centuries, can turn out to be fascinating. Of course many names today are recent inventions. Lauren seems to have only appeared after the actress Betty Joan Perske was given the screen name, Lauren Bacall. Keira effectively didn’t exist until British born actress, Kiera Knightley, changed the spelling to avoid mispronunciation in North America. The name Neveah arose when someone had the bright idea to spell ‘heaven’ backwards.
What plans do you have for more names in the series?
We currently have 10 names in the series, Adam, Aoife, Chloe, Ciara, Conor, Jack, James, Katie, Sarah and Sean. We are currently looking to expand the series significantly and making them more available internationally, planned for later this year. We will launch Paypal sales over the next few months as a step in that process. There has been a traditional view in the book industry that ‘name’ books don’t sell. We’ve managed to disprove that in Ireland, the task now is to do the same elsewhere.
Anything else you want to add for our readers?
We would like to hear what exactly parents would most like to find in a name book, what they think is missing from their own investigations about their children’s names. Also, if they have seen our books, what do they think could help to improve them. We can be emailed on .
Be sure to visit our popular page about Irish baby names, for a list of suggestions for Irish boy's and girl's names.
For more background, check out our article on Understanding Irish Baby Names.