Finnian: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on January 24, 2013

Finnian of Clonard imparting his blessing to t... Finnian of Clonard imparting his blessing to the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s an unexpected long form for Finn, a saintly and distinguished figure.

Thanks to Jaimia for suggesting Finnian as our Baby Name of the Day.

The first famous Finnian founded Clonard Abbey back in the sixth century.  What we know of his early years is scarce.  Well-born, Finnian was sent to study with another future saint, and eventually spent much of his early adulthood in Wales before returning home and establishing his abbey.

The twelve apostles of Ireland – a dozen of the most influential names in Irish Christianity – studied at Clonard, as did many others.  A hymn honoring Finnian claimed 3,000 students were at the Abbey at once.  That seems sky-high, but maybe so.

Clonard would remain a place of learning for centuries after Finnian’s death.  Today Clonard is a tiny village, and the original abbey is in ruins, but the founder is considered a saint, and one of the fathers of Irish monasticism.

He’s also recorded as Finian, and sometimes Latinized to Vinniaus or something similar, with the F becoming a V.  Just like Finn comes from fionn - fair – so does Finnian.  The an ending is a diminutive, so Finnian is “little fair one.”  The -an ending has given rise to one of the hottest names of our era: Aidan, “little fiery one.”

There are at least three other Irish saints by the name, so he ought to make an impeccable heritage choice.  Finian and Finnian have been in steady use in Ireland, with politicians, athletes, and other notables wearing the name.  And yet Finnian has never cracked the US Top 1000, and neither has the spelling Finian.

I was sure the single-n would chart, thanks to Finian’s Rainbow.

The musical first appeared on Broadway in 1947 and became a film in 1968.  Finian moves to the US with his daughter Sharon to bury his stolen treasure.  A leprechaun is in pursuit, and then there’s some other drama involving a US Senator, but all ends well.  Fred Astaire and Petula Clark starred in the big screen version.  Even if you don’t recognize the musical, some of the songs might be familiar, like “Old Devil Moon.”  It has been revived from time to time, most recently in 2009.

There was a short-lived character on General Hospital in 1991 named Finian O’Toole, but that was slightly ahead of Finn’s heyday.

But Finnian shouldn’t need any backstory to appeal to parents today.  The rise of Finn has boosted many a Fin- name, including:

  • Griffin (#228 in 2011)
  • Finn (#304)
  • Finnegan (#478)
  • Finley (#511)

Others are in use, from Findlay to Phinneas, and when they’re all added up, Finn is quite the powerful name today.  Even combining the two spellings and adding in Finnean, he’d still barely crack the US Top 1000.

Could it be that he’s too close to Fenian, a term associated with Irish nationalism and sometimes used as a slur against Irish Catholics?  Maybe.  But the latter seems relatively obscure in the US, and the first reference seems like it might be a positive for some parents.

All together, Finnian is a great heritage choice for parents seeking something less common than Aidan, Connor, or Ryan.  He’s nicely modern, and his three syllables can either be used in full, or shortened to the stylish Finn.  He’s a nice balance of the traditional and the unusual.  It’s a wonder more parents haven’t discovered Finnian.

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