A rós by any other name..?

by Deirdre Dunlevy

‘That’s a weird name, what is it in English?’

For anyone with a name that is not easily identifiable as English, you’ve probably heard this before. And as someone whose name doesn’t have a ‘translation’- my name is just my name- it is incredibly frustrating as people try to figure out what my name ‘is’ in another language.

I know I’m not alone on this, as the hashtag #nílsécgl has been trending at various stages over the past year with people venting their frustrations over similar situations.

#nílsécgl, meaning níl sé ceart go leor (Irish for ‘it’s not ok’) first emerged in January 2018 when a radio show in Ireland was discussing the campaign being promoted by the government as part of the 20-year strategy for Irish. This campaign, bliain na Gaeilge (the year of Irish), aimed to promote and encourage the use of Irish across the country in everyday life. However, the radio show gave airtime to very negative opinions about the language, with little time spent on the benefits of speaking more than one language, and even less discussion on the positive role of Irish in our society more generally.  As a reaction to that, the hashtag #nílsécgl responded to the hostility by highlighting negative attitudes encountered by Irish speakers towards the language and its speakers.

Prompted by the writer Ciara Ní É, twitter users started sharing comments they have heard in relation to Irish to highlight the prejudices faced by the language and its speakers. The resulting stories highlighted attitudes people have to less dominant languages in general, as people questioned the point in learning such languages, and revealed perceptions of its speakers in some instances as rural and backward, and others as being elitist and snobbish. The tweets were generally light-hearted and funny in nature, but the approach drew attention to the absurd prejudices that speakers of some languages can encounter.



More recently, the hashtag started trending again when it emerged that the fada, a diacritic used frequently in the Irish language, was not supported by operating systems used by public bodies including the health service and the National Transport Authority and as such, people’s names could not be recorded correctly. This led again to many people taking to twitter to name and shame services and organisations that refused to allow for diacritics in names, and leading to another trending hashtag, #inthenameofthefada.

The fada can be as functional as a letter to the meaning of a word. It gives a clue as to how it sounds, and its presence can change the meaning of the word completely. But just as importantly, it is also a strong identity marker for many people and the exclusion of it from their name is denying recognition of their identity.




Campaigns such as the #nílsécgl and #inthenameofthefada on twitter raise awareness of language issues. People lodged official complaints with the language commissioner over the incorrect recording of names because of the exclusion of the fada, and as a result state organisations are taking steps to adjust their systems to allow for inclusion of diacritics.

This inclusion extends beyond Irish, as diacritics are present in many languages, and the recognition of the Irish writing system, which includes the síneadh fada, will also enable systems to fully recognise names and words in other languages, which in turn demonstrates a willing inclusion of all languages, embraces linguistic diversity and celebrates multilingualism.

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