I’m not Irish and don’t particularly celebrate St. Patrick’s Day besides wearing a green shirt and making sure I get a shamrock shake from McDonald’s (hey, I’m a mom now; drinking and carousing comes at a high price), but as the owner of Maewyn dot net, I probably ought to have something to say today.
It’s about chosen names and growing up.
As is wise in this day and age, I’ve long had a Google alert that brings me any mention of the name Maewyn on the intertubes. Mostly, it had news about an Irish pub named Maewyn’s in York, Pennsylvania, which opened in 2010, closed in 2014, and is now a seafood restaurant called Rockfish Public House. These days, the alert is normally quiet but picks up again in February and March. The fact that St. Patrick was born with the name Maewyn Succat livens up many a St. Patrick’s Day history post.
I didn’t name myself after him, though. I made it up, or so I thought, by combining the name Mae with the -wyn part of names like Eowyn and Bronwyn. Voila, Maewyn. I Googled it to see who or what else might be using the name — this was 2002 or very early 2003; we did have The Google, but only just — and in my journal, I wrote that at the time, the results included an exotic cattery, a female gamer going by MaeWyn, and listings for a male UK government official named Maewyn Cumming. Most of the results were about St. Patrick’s Day.
Here’s what I wrote about it back in 2004:
Three of the better Google results: a 1996 CNN posting on St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday guide (scroll a bit, St. Patrick’s is the first listing), and a kids’ holiday-info sheet. I seem to remember also coming across the name Maewyn in St. Patrick’s Confessio, though I’m not sure if I actually found it there, or just read it looking for the name and didn’t find it.
A confessio is a medieval autobiography. The link above is the version I borrowed from the university library; I don’t remember reading anything remarkable from it. The name Maewyn really doesn’t appear in it, I can tell you, now that the whole Confessio is online and searchable.
However, there’s an added dimension to using Maewyn as my Craft name (well, technically, it’s just the name I use in online Pagan spaces): the antipathy many Pagans have toward St. Patrick because he’s credited with Christianizing Ireland.
Here’s my younger, more enthusiastic self in a 2004 post:
We’ll start with the usual anti-Christian sentiment among Pagans, that St. Patrick is widely celebrated as a Christian hero but there’s also the story that St. Patrick drove the snakes (symbolically, Druids) out of Ireland, St. Patrick was antagonistic toward the Druids, etc. So for those of you who don’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, call it St. Maewyn’s and you’ll be fine. Personally, I haven’t found anything substantiating the “snakes = Druids” story, and there are no snakes in Ireland because Ireland is an island, so it would be difficult for non-aquatic snakes to get there in the first place. That, and I think Pagans spend entirely too much time angsting over and persecuting Christians anyway…
So there ya go…Happy St. Maewyn’s Day!
I posted “Happy St. Maewyn’s Day” every year for a few years. From what I wrote in 2003 (one’s own journals hold a wealth of embarrassment), the CNN article linked above had the offhand comment “Good thing he changed his name. St. Maewyn’s Day doesn’t have the same ring,” and — feeling that I’d invented the name before I’d ever heard this history, therefore it was mine — I decided to take March 17 for myself. I read the Confessio because I didn’t want to “make a fool of myself (unintentionally, that is) when I start declaring March 17 St. Maewyn’s Day and my own personal worldwide holiday.”
Well. I hereby forgive my younger self for trying to make St. Maewyn’s Day a thing. I am grateful that it didn’t catch on with anyone, that my friends graciously let it roll on by, and that I eventually stopped saying anything about it in public.
What has caught on in some Pagan circles is calling today “All Snakes Day,” proclaiming “Bring back the snakes!” and wearing black, as if St. Patrick slaughtered Pagans by the thousands. Ian Corrigan, a past Archdruid of ADF, wrote about this “St. Patrick’s Fakelore” on his personal blog in 2015:
Let’s be very clear – St Patrick was no friend of Pagans. However he is in no sense responsible for a genocide of Celts, Pagans or Druids in Ireland. Since the bad folklore that circulates on the internet has trouble distinguishing between those three terms, let’s start there.
Corrigan goes on to mention, also, that the snake legend was borrowed from legends of other famous saints and that snakes were not a metaphor for Pagans in it. He links to Morgan Daimler, who traces the possible origin of the connection. (Also, National Geographic suggests that the most recent ice age kept Ireland too cold for reptiles, that the surrounding seas kept them out afterward, and that there’s no fossil record of snakes ever having been in Ireland in the first place.)
All that said, I’ve now gone by Maewyn for about 13 years — I had begun to use it before I started my journal in April 2003, but an entry on July 15, 2004, marked the “official” change — and it’s as much my name as the one I was born with or the one I married into. I give very few flying figs about St. Patrick or snakes in Ireland, but I took a name that was once his, so I have this awkward connection to March 17. And it is, in its own way, a story about where I come from and who I was, how I’ve changed and how I’ve stayed the same.
If you came to this blog to find information about St. Patrick, I hope the links in this post will be useful to you, because they’re all I can provide. If you’re here for musings, natterings, and the odd bit of navel-gazing, drop your email address in the Subscribe box below, and welcome!