Ancestry: What’s in a Name?


I met some people recently who may, or may not, be distantly related to me. I base this on the fact that we share a name – well, sort of. Their last name is my first name. But it goes deeper.

Their last name is my first name. But it goes deeper.

My first name, or given name, is Deegan. I am only aware of one other person who has Deegan as a first name, and that was due to his father, an old friend of mine, liking my name. The folks I met were Deegans (i.e last name).

My maternal grandmother was christened Margaret but was usually known as Madge. Her family name was Deegan. Her parents met and married in Dublin, Ireland, then, like many Irish in the 1890s, they moved to England to start their family. It was, in keeping with the custom of the day, a large family – my grandmother had nine siblings.

Although for reasons never revealed, her husband preferred to call her Willie.

Details of what happened to all those Deegans are a wee bit sketchy, however, we know that my grandmother’s sisters, upon marrying, would, like my grandmother, assume the last name of their husband. For instance, when she married my grandfather George Blackwell, Madge Deegan became Madge Blackwell, or sometimes Margaret, and even the occasional Madeline. Although for reasons never revealed, her husband preferred to call her Willie.

Therefore, am I a Deegan by surname? No. Am I a Deegan by blood? Indeed
Me and my namesake Madge “Willie” Deegan

About Madge’s brothers little is known including their marital status or whereabouts of any offspring. Without the availability of database searches on computers, relying solely on word-of-mouth, it appeared in the late 1950s that Madge’s line of Deegans was, due to name changes and vows of celibacy (priests and nuns), coming to an end. So let’s fast-forward to 1959 and my birth. My mother had the great idea to try to stretch out that line by giving me Deegan as a first name.

Therefore, am I a Deegan by surname? No. Am I a Deegan by blood? Indeed.

How I envied the Freds and Billys of the world on those first days of school

As I have gotten older I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of my name. But in grade school, I always dreaded the first day when, although the name is pronounced phonetically, not an extra letter to be found here, the new teacher seemed to always have a problem with it. Duggan? Deacon? Derek? How I envied the Freds and Billys of the world on those first days of school.

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