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Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, a worldwide celebration of Irish culture. With such a strong Irish heritage in Australia, you would think that St Patrick’s Day would be special here, and you would be right. As early as 1795, Irish convicts were celebrating March 17 in raucous fashion, and these later became more respectable dinners held by colonials of Irish descent. Parades began to be organised in the 1800s, and had become established institutions by the 1920s.

St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland, and people are sometimes surprised to learn he wasn’t Irish; he was a 5th century Romanised Briton from an aristocratic family on the west coast of Britain. Although his father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest in the Christian church, as a youngster Patrick wasn’t very interested in religion.

According to his own testimony, when he was a teenager he was kidnapped by pirates and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he worked taking care of farm animals in what he describes as a very cold and wet climate. During this time he learned the Irish language and converted to Christianity; after six years he managed to escape and return to his family.

Patrick wrote that a few years after his return, he had a vision of the Irish people begging him to help them. After training as a priest, he went as a missionary to Ireland and became a bishop. Here he converted many people, not only slaves and the poor, but also noblemen and women who became monks and nuns (this may not seem very liberating to us, but the church provided an attractive career path for educated medieval women).

Very little is actually known about Patrick’s life and work, and doubt has even been cast upon his claim of enslavement in Ireland. He wasn’t the first missionary to Ireland – that was St Palladius. Some of the details of Palladius’ Irish mission seem to have got mixed up with Patrick’s story, and Palladius’ role in Ireland may have been minimised to give Patrick the spotlight.

However where facts are thin on the ground, myths and legends flourish. A favourite is that St Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to illustrate the Trinity, so that the shamrock is a popular symbol on St Patrick’s Day. Another is that St Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland – an incredibly easy miracle to perform, as they were never there. It is even said that he introduced whiskey to Ireland, and used the drink as a teaching aid: thus drinking alcohol is traditional on St Patrick’s Day.

St Patrick overcame his slightly boring saintliness to become a colourful figure of folklore, and over the centuries a symbol of Irish identity and culture that transcends Catholicism, and even Christianity. And that’s why we all feel just a little bit Irish on St Patrick’s Day!

Name Information
In his autobiography, St Patrick always refers to himself as Patricius, a Roman name meaning “nobleman” (it is the source of the word patrician). It is possible that he chose this himself, because the name is linked with the Latin for “father” – pater – to suggest he was the father of his people. However, Patricius was in regular use among the Romans, and in fact the name of St Augustine’s dad.

It is often said that Patrick’s birth name was Maewyn Succat, a British translation of the Roman name Magonus Succetus, and translated with great optimism as “famous war god”. (Succetus was supposedly a Celtic god of war, although nobody seems to have heard of him, which doesn’t help the translation overmuch).

This already seems like something his followers might have invented, and looks even less convincing as it appears that the name comes from British and means “servant swine-herd” – a clear reference to Patrick’s period of slavery. If St Patrick had another name as a child, we do not know it.

Patrick is the Anglicised form of Patricius, with the Irish form being Pádraig, the Scots Gaelic Phádraig, and the Welsh Padrig. Due to the fame of St Patrick, Patrick was used in Britain by the Middle Ages (sometimes with Patricius as the official name), where it was especially popular in the north of England. It was also taken up with enthusiasm in the west of Scotland, where it was seen as a form of Peter.

Although we think of Patrick as a typically Irish name, it did not come into common use in Ireland until the 17th or perhaps even 18th century, when it was introduced by Scots immigrants to northern Ireland. Before this, the Irish felt that the name of their national saint was far too sacred to be given as a baby name, although they did use names such as Gilla Pátraic, meaning “servant of St Patrick”.

However, once the Irish gave in to peer pressure and decided Patrick was okay to use, it became a great favourite. Patrick was so popular as a boy’s name in Ireland by the 19th century that the nickname Paddy became a (rather disparaging) term for an Irishman.

With strong Irish immigration to Australia, there have been many Australian Patricks. Some examples include the Nobel Prize-winning author Patrick White; pioneering farmer Patrick Durack, who founded the famous Durack dynasty; Patrick Hannan, whose discovery of gold sparked the gold rush in Western Australia; Presbyterian minister Patrick Murdoch, progenitor of the famous Murdoch dynasty; and Patrick Sullivan, creator of Felix the cartoon cat.

It thus comes as little surprise that the name Patrick is a solid classic in Australia, never out of the Top 100, and rarely out of the Top 50. It was #36 in the 1900s, and reached its lowest point in 1978 at #71. Its peak was in 1994, when it reached #30. It is now stable around the lower end of the Top 50.

Currently it is #40 nationally, #51 in New South Wales, #26 in Victoria, #46 in Queensland, #36 in South Australia, #46 in Western Australia, #46 in Tasmania, and #29 in the Australian Capital Territory. In 2014 it was the fastest-rising name in Tasmania, and one of the fastest-rising in South Australia.

In the US, Patrick has constantly charted on the Top 1000, and never been lower than #166, which it reached in 1919. It was a Top 100 name at the turn of the 20th century, and again from 1936 to 2003, peaking at #30 in the 1960s. Currently it is #153 and fairly stable.

In the UK, Patrick has likewise been a long-time favourite. It was in the Top 100 from the mid-19th century until 2006, and is now #115 and stable. Patrick is a Top 100 name in New Zealand, and in Northern Ireland, where its popularity is similar to Australia’s. It is most popular in Ireland, where it is in the Top 20, and very stable.

Patrick is a strong, handsome name that is a timeless classic while remaining stylish. It’s popular, but has always been so, and its position on the charts is is extremely stable. It’s a traditional name with ties to Irish history and culture, and in Australia often considered a rather upper class choice. Traditional nicknames like Pat, Patsy and Patty are out of favour, but Paddy is still going strong, and Patch perhaps deserving of a mention.


Patrick received an approval rating of 79%, making it one of the highest-rated names of 2016. People saw the name as handsome and charming (24%), a stylish classic (21%), and a name which ages well (17%). However 9% thought it was too common and boring. Only 1 person thought Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants made the name too embarrassing to use.