About A Name: Finn

September 19, 2011 § 9 Comments

(c) Fox

So what is it about this long trending name that makes me want to write about it now? In a word, hockey season. I’m Canadian, it’s in my blood. My home team, the Vancouver Canucks, kick off their NHL preseason on Tuesday night, and their mascot, Fin, an orca whale, will no doubt be in the house to entertain the crowd. Either that, or it’s also the third season debut of Glee, which I can’t get enough of, and fellow Canadian Cory Monteith plays Finn Hudson, confused yet lovable singing quarterback.

I also noticed that Finn isn’t quite yet ready to fall off birth certificates around the world, and has even begun to appear for girls and with alternate spellings (both big signs that a name is still ascending in popularity). Actress Autumn Reeser (The OC, No Ordinary Family) selected the name for her son Finneus “Finn” James in May, and Australian TV reporters Jemma Chapman and Tim Richardson just welcomed son Finn David on September 1st. Belgian TV host Erika van Tielen had son Finn on August 12th, and Australian Olympic Champion freestyle skier Alisa Camplin chose Finnan “Finn” Maximus for her son, who passed away ten days after birth in March. (So, so sad.)

In October 2010, Dutch actress Alwien Turner welcomed daughter Luka Liv Finn, and British pop star Duncan James, of Blue fame, welcomed daughter Tianie-Finn in 2005. In January 2009, Oscar-nominated actress Vera Farmiga welcomed son Fynn. The name is simplistic, but it has so many beginnings (mostly Irish, though Finn means “fair” or “from Finland”) that no matter what you put on a birth certificate, the common nickname increases this name’s popularity immensely. And most people choose the long form (Phinnaeus, Finnigan, Finnian, Finnan, Fintan, Fingall, Finley – which is a relatively popular choice for girls, whether Finn is used or not) with every intention to call their child Finn. (Fun fact: I first heard Fingall about a month ago, on a friend’s Old English sheepdog.)

Among the celeb babes called Finn born in the last ten years, but like Reeser’s son born with a long form, are Julia Roberts (Phinnaeus “Finn” Walter), Will & Grace star Eric McCormack (Finnigan “Finn” Holden), Y&R star Daniel Cosgrove (Finnian “Finn” Jack), actor Malcolm McDowell (Finnian “Finn” Anderson), and Jim Creeggan, Canadian bassist for the Barenaked Ladies (Finnian “Finn” Davies). Plenty of other celebs have just used Finn, including former Sinbad star Zen Gesner (Finn Harry – which was also used by North Irish newsanchor Andrea Catherwood), Dutch singer Thomas Acda (Finn Paul), actress Jane Leeves (Finn William), Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and actor Adrian Pasdar (Beckett Finn), American World Champion soccer star Tisha Venturini (Cooper Finn), Dutch TV presenter Roland Koopman (Floris Finn), soap actress Sarah Buxton (Finn Michael), and Christy Turlington and Ed Burns had son Finn in 2006.

But this name isn’t like Bear or Bing or Clover – you don’t hear it and automatically assume it’s just for celebs, and too out there for your real world kid. I first heard the name Finn when it made my aunt’s shortlist for boys in 1997, but at the time, if I recall, I was really into names like Jacob, Ryan, and Matthew. Twelve-year-olds gravitate to names they hear all the time, which is my explanation for how creative-namer Mel B. wound up with a Madison (and let us all down in the process, waiting a week for a name that made us go “…oh”) – she gave naming rights to her 11-year-old!

I next heard the name when an ex and I were comparing names we liked many years ago. I’d long since moved on to names that were far, far less common, and he liked Maggie (not my style) and Fintan. I liked Finn, but not Fintan (Irish Gaelic for “little fair one”). As time has gone on I’ve come to really love Finn, but can’t use it for this very reason.

The legend of Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill in Irish Gaelic; Finn McCool is the English spelling, based on the pronunciation) is easily among the earliest references to the name Finn. McCool was a 3rd Century hunter-warrior in Irish mythology, who also earned his moniker as a nickname. He was born Deimne (Irish Gaelic for “sureness; certainty”) but he became Fionn (means “blond” or “fair”) when his hair turned prematurely white. He was born the son of Cumhall (pronounced coo-al) and Muirne, who eloped when her father refused Cumhall as a suitor. The elopement angered her father, Tadg mac Nuadat, who declared war on Cumhall – he was killed in the Battle of Cnucha, but Muirne was already pregnant with Fionn. Cumhall was the leader of the Fianna – a band of mercenaries and hunters who lived in the forests of Ireland, apart from society but called upon by kings to fight in time of war. When he grew, McCool also became the leader of the Fianna. With his wife Sadhbh, he had a son named Oisin. It was said that water drunk from McCool’s hands had the power to heal, and popular legend claims that Fionn is not dead – rather, he sleeps in a cave below Dublin with the rest of the Fianna, and will emerge to defend Ireland in the time of her greatest need. (A similar Irish name for the opposite sex, Fiona also means “fair.”)

The 19th Century Irish republican fighters, the Fenian Brotherhood, fought for Irish independence from Great Britain, and took their name from McCool’s Fianna. The organization spread to the United States, which had successfully built their nation without the support of the British Empire, and from there the Fenians staged several raids in Canada, then a British territory. Constant invasions throughout 1866-67 helped to encourage Canadian confederacy (achieved July 1, 1867), a seed which had long ago been planted among settlers in the territory. In one of Canada’s most prominent (they are rare) political assassinations, Irish-Canadian MP Thomas D’Arcy McGee was shot in 1868 by a Fenian sympathizer for condemning the raids. Canada began with just a few provinces, and none of the British territories of the west joined the confederation in 1867 (nor were they effectively invited to) – so the Fenian threat remained for decades from Manitoba to British Columbia.

Widely regarded as one of the United States most important writers, Mark Twain’s beloved 1884 novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, provides heavy American influence on the name, and today is probably the most well-known reference to it. His most famous book, Tom Sawyer (in which Huck Finn also appeared), has had the same effect on the name Sawyer.

Finn sits inside the Top 400 names for boys in the US, but remains most popular in Ireland, where it sits at 48 (Fionn is 34th). The name is also quite popular in Canada, Australia, and Scotland, but has never been in the Top 100 in Britain. The popularity of the name is also gaining traction in the Netherlands.

My advice? This name could be very, very close to falling back down the charts, if trends outside the US and Ireland will continue, and either that’s fine by you because it makes it more likely your son will be the only Finn in his class – or, whether it falls or not won’t matter because it has a long, long way to go before it’s as out of fashion as, say, Englebert. But it’s a strong Irish name with a great literary history, and clearly you can tell that I’m biased, but it’s a great name for a little boy that has almost entirely shaken it’s connection to a shark or whale fin (unless you’re a Canucks fan 😉


§ 9 Responses to About A Name: Finn

  • This is a name I love, mostly from the Irish legend side of things.

    I thought it might be climbing here, but in fact it seems to have remained more or less stable since 2003 (in New South Wales anyway).

    Perhaps “Glee” will give it a boost? Everyone I know is utterly “Glee” mad, so I may be exaggerating its power to influence others.

    • namemuststay says:

      Are you guys about to start season 3 down there? I know that in Canada we get US shows at the same time they do (except for cable shows like Weeds, we sometimes have to wait a week), but it’s more delayed for other countries sometimes.

      The character of Finn might have been named as a byproduct of the name’s popularity, and his effect on it may actually do the reverse. There’s big “Finn Hudson” backlash among Gleeks in North America, because every week he’s written a different way to suit the plot. He definitely seems to be rated among the least popular characters on the show.

      I noticed that Finn is still climbing in general in most countries, but the major surge of 5-6 years ago has slowed considerably.

      • Yes we seem to be on track with you. Hmm, I see, so bad news for Finn then! Hopefully people aren’t as Glee-crazy as they seem to be!

        We seem to be slightly out of step on Finn, as it hit the Top 100 8 years ago, rather than 5 or 6, and hasn’t really moved much since then, hovering around the 70s and 80s.

  • One of the Irish names I adore is Fionnuala (fin-OO-la), but would likely shorten it to Nuala, not Fionn. Currently the only Finn I know is about to hop of to University – so his parents really were forward thinking! As for how Finn fares here in England&Wales, I checked and in 2009 he was at #126 compared with #131 of 2010 and #119 in 2008, so he seems to be falling here.

    • namemuststay says:

      Researching the name, I also noticed that it was least popular in England, but I didn’t want to speculate why! Any theories?

      Over here, Celtic and Gaelic names, in their original forms, are quite frightening to many. Most people are so unfamiliar with how to pronounce words in the languages that they fear giving them to their child in case they go through life here with people calling them eh-oh-wif as opposed to ee-fah. Even I read your comment and though I think I know the answer, I see Nuala phonetically, but it’s probably meant to be pronounced noo-la? Anglicized representations of the names show up everywhere, but the original spellings are generally avoided.

      • I would say maybe because he’s already peaked in popularity – #104 in 2006, so is now falling out of favour.

        There’s a trouble-maker by the name in the popular BBC show Waterloo Road – Finn Sharkey. He only came to the show in 2010, but he’s a good reason why Finn may not rise again.

        As for Gaelic/Celtic names, I went to a Catholic school for my secondary education, and every other kid seemed to be named something like Sinead, Siobhan or Maire.

      • namemuststay says:

        Roughly the same story over here – looks like it’s still on the up in Ireland and the US, and growing in popularity the Netherlands now, too…

    • There’s a newsreader here called Nuala – her mother is from Ghana and her dad is English; I’m guessing it was the English side that gave her an Irish name?

      She’s pretty, so I associate it as a pretty name.

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