March 17th being St. Patrick’s Day, it seems appropriate to talk about the name Patricio/Patrick. I’d always assumed that the original was Celtic, and A Dictionary of First Names, by Patrick (!) Hanks and Flavia Hodges, confirms that Latin Patricius, which has become Spanish Patricio, Italian Patrizio, French Patrice, English Patrick, etc., “may actually represent a Latinized form of some lost Celtic (British) name.” On the other hand, Patricius was without doubt a Latin adjective that English has carried over via Old French as patrician, meaning ‘of or pertaining to the Roman patres (fathers) or senators.’ For that patriarchal, nobility-related sense Spanish uses patricio, whereas patriciano is a reference to followers of St. Patrick; the DRAE gives this definition of patriciano: ‘Se dice de ciertos herejes del siglo XI seguidores de Patricio, que aborrecían el cuerpo, porque creían que era obra del demonio, lo cual, a veces, les llevaba al suicidio.’ As that definition makes clear, those followers of St. Patrick in the 11th century were considered heretics because they detested the body, which they considered a tool of the devil that could sometimes lead them to commit suicide.

The man who eventually came to be called St. Patrick and who is so closely associated with Ireland grew up on a different island, in a part of Britain controlled by the Romans. Only at the age of 16 did he have his first contact with Ireland, where he was taken as a slave after being captured on his home island. You can read a lot more about St. Patrick in a Wikipedia article.

To give balance to the female side, we note that there are feminine counterparts to the male name Patrick. Spanish and English have Patricia (which Portuguese writes Patrícia), while Italian has the similar Patrizia. Patrice, which is normally a male name in French, serves as a female one in English. The English diminutives Patsy, Patty, and Pat can be male or female. Patricia has also given rise to the shorter Tricia or Trisha and the still shorter Trish.

The English patsy that means ‘a dupe’ may or may not to be from the name Patsy. The American Heritage Dictionary offers a possible link to Italian pazzo ‘fool.’ The Online Etymology Dictionary entertains a second possibility, in which the lower-case noun would have come from Billy B. Van’s 1890s vaudeville character Patsy Bolivar, who was a perpetual fall-guy. Albert Jack has traced the fictional Patsy a little farther back, but presumably in neither case did anyone mistake Patsy Bolivar for a relative of Simón Bolívar, who was no patsy.

© 2013 Steven Schwartman


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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