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What’s your name, man?

| Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My name is John Clarke Rooney.

That’s just about the simplest, most important thing I can say about myself.

I was named after my dad, John Flynn Rooney. Flynn was his mother’s maiden name. Clarke is my mom’s maiden name. To avoid confusion in the house, I became Jack. Still, I like to say that I’m a pseudo-junior.

I take great pride in my name, in large part because I’m proud of my family and our heritage. I’m proud that I get to live in Ireland, where I can blend my family’s history with my own present. And the weekend before last, Ireland reminded me just how important names can be.

I was helping lead the Notre Dame Dublin program’s weekend trip to Northern Ireland, a place that always provides plenty to think and write about (for instance, my column on empathy and understanding born out of last semester’s trip). Deep-seated religious and sectarian conflict still simmer just beneath the delicate surface of peace, evidenced by last week’s Northern Ireland Assembly elections and the uncertainty that has followed.

In this environment, I embarked on my third trip to Northern Ireland, each of which has given me new perspectives and plenty of intellectual, spiritual and emotional fodder. This time, the trip provided an example of how our names can tell so much about who we are.

In Northern Ireland — especially Belfast, where polar Protestant and Catholic communities live literally a stone’s throw from each other (though separated by a rather oxymoronically named Peace Wall) — names give important cues about how you can speak and act around other people. Our tour guide for the Catholic side of Belfast, Peter, is fairly easily identified as a Catholic. You probably wouldn’t find many Northern Irish Protestants sharing a name with the first Pope. Similarly, our tour guide for the Protestant side of the wall, Noel, is not hard to peg as a Protestant.

And when each of the guides first stepped on our coach bus, they were quick to ask the name of the bus driver, because they might be more or less guarded depending on the bus driver’s background (his name was Mark, which didn’t really give too much insight into his religious or political background).

In my two previous trips to Belfast, I hadn’t noticed this largely unspoken emphasis on names, but it makes sense, and it’s further proof for me that our names can shape who we are. I’ve long believed that names matter a great deal — I wrote one of my Notre Dame admissions essays about my name and what it reveals about me (and I tried to dig up that essay to include in this column, but tragically couldn’t find it).

The older I’ve gotten, though, the more I feel I’ve grown into my name. My dad, before he died last June, was a hard working, honest, faithful and deeply loving man, and I’m honored to share my name with him. Sometimes, I catch myself in a “dad moment” — using a phrase he would have used, reacting to a situation the same way he would have. A few years ago, that would have annoyed me, but as I’ve grown into my name, I’ve also come to appreciate that if I live the way my dad lived, I will have a good life.

At the same time, I like that I go by Jack. To this day, if someone tries to get my attention by calling me John, I probably won’t realize they’re talking to me. I’ve never really been a John. Being Jack allows me to chart my own course and put my own mark on the family name.

As the middle child, I also love that my full name encompasses both sides of my family: Rooney for my dad’s side and Clarke for my mom’s. I’ve been told time and again that I look like a Clarke and act like a Rooney, which seems only natural.
So, my name tells a lot about me. It contains much more information and detail than 16 letters normally would. According to some research, it could even help predict how I would perform in school or my career opportunities. In some contexts, it could reveal something about my religious or political beliefs, which could dictate how people treat me. In the end, though, it’s my most important possession, my biggest source of pride and one of my favorite parts about myself. And regardless of whatever else changes in my life, it will always be my name.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Jack Rooney

Jack is a 2016 graduate of Notre Dame, and The Observer's former managing editor. He is currently spending a year living and working for the University in Ireland, and writing columns to keep him busy. For more random thoughts and plenty of news links, follow Jack on Twitter @RooneyReports.

Contact Jack