What’s in a Name?

My husband Dave loves to point out that “the mouth of the Shannon is wide and deep.”  Indeed, when we visited the mouth of the River Shannon it was so.

I’d grown up with the impression that my name was Irish–as Irish as my sister Heather’s name.  So it surprised me when I arrived at the Shannon Airport in 2003, ready to rent a car, and the man behind the counter asked me to spell my first name. “Shannon?” I replied. “You know, like the airport!?!”

On that trip, I found driving on the left side of the road wasn’t nearly as difficult as communicating my very Irish-seeming name to the Irish folks I met.

I visited Ireland again in 2010, and discovered the same problem.  Why did so few people click with the name, I wondered?  I realized that even at home, many people heard “Janet” when I introduced myself.  I tried to slow down and enunciate more clearly:  “Heeellllooooo, my name is Shhhaaaannnn-non.”

By my 2012 visit, I’d had a relevation.

“The Irish don’t name their girls Shannon, do they?” I asked Gavin, my colleague at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. This, despite that fact that Shannon is a well-known last name.

When Gavin asked other lecturers at the DIT, they reported knowing of a couple of (very) young women by the name.  They believed it gained popularity in Ireland due to American television shows… that it was actually imported from the States for use as a first name for women.

So, here’s to Beverly Hills 90210, a show I’ve never actually seen.  You can bet I’ll be hard at work this year, trying to set the bar a little higher for what a girl-Shannon can be.

And I’ll make sure to visit that lovely River Shannon.


  1. The river’s name comes from an Irish goddess, Sinann, who drowned in the water. So not only are we named after a river, we’re named after a river goddess who couldn’t swim. — This comment was posted on Facebook by Shanon Lawson



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