March 2014: What’s in a name?

By February 26, 2014Sentimental Journey

Click here to hear “Harrigan”

George M. Cohan wrote the song “Harrigan” for the 1907 Broadway musical, “Fifty Miles From Boston.” It celebrates his own Irish heritage. James Cagney and Joan Leslie later performed the song in the 1942 classic film “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

“H, A, double-R, I, G, A, N spells Harrigan. Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me. Divvil a man can say a word agin me. H, A, double-R, I, G, A, N you see. Is a name that a shame never has been connected with Harrigan, that’s me!”

In kindergarten, I sang “Harrigan” in fine “Yankee Doodle Dandy” fashion at my school’s talent show. This song is synonymous with all things Irish and it was important for my mom that I embrace Irish songs and dance as well. With arms akimbo, a Styrofoam skimmer hat balanced on my head, leotard with vest and tie, I belted out the lyrics of “Harrigan.” I’m pretty sure it was not a stellar performance. A friend from kindergarten has since found me on Facebook and said that’s her memory of me. How quickly a song and a name are identified with you.

A reader shared a musical memory of her favorite song, “Rose Marie.” Since it is her own name, she fondly remembers her parents singing it to her at bedtime. Oh, the power of a name in song!

So many songs come to mind when I think of names. We always sang the song, “K- K- K- Katie, beautiful Katie, you’re the only G-G-G- girl that I adore. When the M-M-Moon shines over the cowshed, I’ll be standing at the K-K-K-kitchen door,” to my sister Katie as a kid. Whenever I see a friend named Kate, I am carrying on the tradition by singing it to her.

Names and songs bring quick associations. There’s “Peg o’ My Heart,” “Alice Blue Gown,” “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” “If You Knew Susie,” “Goodnight, Irene” and the list goes on and on.

From nicknames and terms of endearment to our full given name used when our parents meant serious business, we identify with our names. If we are lucky enough to have a name included in a popular song lyric of our time, even better.


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