Häagen-Dazs names

Feb 27th 2005

Today, an American girl is more likely to be named Gianna than Johanna. The very foreignness of a name can be part of its appeal: Nadia is exotic, Nancy too "ordinary."

The same phenomemon is well known to makers of consumer products. American companies adopt foreign-sounding names to build their brand images. The specific faux-nationality depends on the image they want to convey. (Check out the French accent of any U.S. cosmetics or hair-care aisle.) And that image can be more important than any authentic foreign connection.

Take Häagen-Dazs. The ice-cream maker, founded in Brooklyn, NY, was a pioneer in pure distilled foreignness, unencumbered by meaning. Vaguely Scandinavian in form, Häagen-Dazs is actually just artful gibberish. Few parents would go that far, coining a whole new name with fake foreign roots. But parents do take liberties with spellings and variants of common names to link them to other cultures. A case in point: Megan.

Several popular variants of Megan incorporate traditional Irish-style spellings. Meaghan, for instance, echoes Irish Gaelic classics like Eoghan and Fearghal. It's a particular favorite of families of Irish descent in the U.S., Australia and Canada. Yet it's not an Irish name.

Megan is Welsh, a traditional pet form of Margaret. Meaghan (and Meghann, etc.) appear to be modern creations, rare in Ireland and the U.K. In fact, to an Irish speaker, the extra "h" in the middle transforms the name entirely. G is prounced like the familiar hard g in Megan; gh softens to a gutteral cousin of y or w. So Meaghan would be...umm...something along the lines of "Ma-hwyn." (The rules of Gaelic pronunciation frankly overwhelm me, so if I've mangled that, be gentle!)

Yet across the ocean from Ireland, parents are choosing the name Meaghan to reflect their Irish heritage. As a quick demonstration, I ran Google searches for Meaghan paired with five of America's most common distinctively Irish surnames (Sullivan, Murphy, Kelly, Kennedy and Ryan) and totaled the results. Then I ran the same search using the English surnames closest in frequency to those names. The result: Irish surnames yield 11 times as many Meaghans. Clearly, this name is chosen to reflect parents' Irish roots -- even though the name itself has none.

Is this irrational, inventing a new name in the name of tradition? Not necessarily. Just as Häagen-Dazs achieves its goal by "signalling" Scandinavian, Meaghan successfully "signals" Irish. Parents are drawn to the name for its Celtic roots, but want to move it into their specific ethnic territory. The result may not be Irish, but it is Irish-American -- clearly and authentically.


By Lillie (not verified)
March 5, 2005 7:31 AM

A great example of something similar to this is Caitlin. In Irish, that's pronounced "Kathleen."

By Lillie (not verified)
March 5, 2005 7:32 AM

A great example of something similar to this is Caitlin. In Irish, that's pronounced "Kathleen."

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 5, 2005 6:20 PM

As parents strive to name their children using foreign spellings and words they have also increased the use of symbols and special accents to highlight the proper pronounciation of their childrens' names. What many parents don't realize is that the new computerize systems that most states, schools and Social Security are using not always equipped to print these characters. Caution should always be used when trying hard to use foreign words or names since they often won't be printable by most organizations here in the US. I think you're going to see this as a growing trend in the future -- especially with regards to spanish names and the n with a tilda (~).

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 5, 2005 9:17 PM

My name is Meaghan!

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 7, 2005 3:08 AM

Anyone remember some of the Haagen-Dazs knockoffs? Frusen Gladje, Perche No! (the "!" was part of the name...)The result? "Ben & Jerry's" wound up standing out in it's field, because you could pronounce it!

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 7, 2005 7:33 PM

Sorry this article wasn't as interesting to me as the previous ones. Hope you update soon!

By Teresa C (not verified)
March 8, 2005 9:23 PM

I actually found this article pretty interesting, probably because seventeen years ago I named my daughter Meagan (or rather, my husband did and I went along-glad I did, it fits her personality). This is the first time I have been to your site, and having read back only a little, I am glad you didn't lump same sounding, but differently spelled names together on Wizard. It was interesting to see the difference between Gillians (I have one) and Jillians, Meagans and the multitude of variations on that name. I have a feeling I am going to lose alot of time playing with the Wizard tonight.

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 9, 2005 1:09 PM

There are twin brothers in Oklahoma whose last name is "Fail." One brother's first name is "Always." The other's name is "Never." You guessed it, "Never Fail" is very successful in business and the comunity and his brother "Always Fail" has not been.

By dolz (not verified)
March 20, 2005 4:32 PM

my name is dolz and it seems to be german?? i don't know anything about this name, but my friends like me anyway!

By Erica M (not verified)
March 21, 2005 8:39 PM

I'm @ months pregnant and I know its a little early but I cant make up my mind on a boys name. I know if I have have a girl, her name will be "Nilla Nevaeh"(neeya navay). Backwards it spells "All in Heaven".I made it up and I love it!!

By Erica M (not verified)
March 21, 2005 8:41 PM

I'm 2 months pregnant and I know its a little early but I cant make up my mind on a boys name. I know if I have have a girl, her name will be "Nilla Nevaeh"(neeya navay). Backwards it spells "All in Heaven".I made it up and I love it!!

By Anonymous (not verified)
March 22, 2005 6:18 AM

Caitlin isn't pronounced as Kathleen, but it is a common misconception. It's pronounced COYT-hleen or CAWTCH-hleen. "hl"=aspirated l.

By Spidra (not verified)
March 22, 2005 9:53 PM

It's a family legend-ette how my parents argued over the spelling of my name. (They were a bit ahead of the curve. I was born in 1965 and didn't run into anyone else named Megan/Meagan/Meghan for the next 13 years...) You're absolutely right it was chosen as a marker of Irish-American pride. All my siblings have Irish names (or names we *thought* were Irish). It wasn't until we met an actual off-the-boat Irishwoman that we found out the name was Welsh.Thanks for the interesting blog entry. I learned a couple new things.

By eilis (not verified)
March 26, 2005 4:50 PM

Caitlin isn't pronounced as Kathleen, but it is a common misconception. It's pronounced COYT-hleen or CAWTCH-hleen. "hl"=aspirated l.Or, in the Ulster dialect, CAT-hleen or CATCH-hleen.The t is "soft" and very difficult to pronounce to English speakers, so I can see how it could be mistaken for Kathleen.

By Anonymous (not verified)
April 27, 2005 2:20 AM

Colleen means "girl" and Shannon is a river, but that doesn't stop American-Irish from naming their girls Colleen and Shannon.

By Anonymous (not verified)
May 15, 2005 12:24 PM

any history in the spelling of maegan??-maegan

By Anonymous (not verified)
May 18, 2005 7:20 PM

My family is Scandinavian and my husband & I are trying to find modern yet ancestral names for our first baby. So far we have Ingrid for a girl and Gust for a boy.

By Married to a 'Caitlín' (not verified)
June 22, 2005 9:16 PM

"Caitlin isn't pronounced as Kathleen, but it is a common misconception. It's pronounced COYT-hleen or CAWTCH-hleen. "hl"=aspirated l.Or, in the Ulster dialect, CAT-hleen or CATCH-hleen.The t is "soft" and very difficult to pronounce to English speakers, so I can see how it could be mistaken for Kathleen."I've only come across the CAT-hleen/CATCH-hleen/CAWTCH-hleen variations, never the first syllable containing an 'oy'. My wife's family is Irish and British (one parent of each), and her name is the CAT-hleen, most common variation. I despise Kaytelynne and all her sisters. Idiots.To the lady calling her child Nilla Nevaeh, two questions:1) Nilla, as in "Nilla Wafers"?2) You do realize that it's heaven all in, not all in heaven when reversed?

By Anonymous (not verified)
July 11, 2005 1:02 AM

well my parents named me Hollie its pronounced Holly but no one seems to relize there are tons of Hollies out there so why does everyone assume that all Hollys are spelt the same way?

By Anonymous (not verified)
August 16, 2005 5:58 AM

Maybe because that's one of those names that your parents demanded on spelling originally. Sorry, but I don't know any Hollys that are spelled Hollie. I wouldn't even ask, since I know at least ten Hollys. In time, maybe there will be other Hollies... but as of now, not so much. However, I feel your pain...My name is Anne, and everyone thinks it's one of those incredibly common names. That's funny, since Anne peaked in the thirties, and it doesn't look like Sarah, Jennifer, Tiffany, or Jessica. Of which there were about four each in my schools.

By Anonymous (not verified)
January 22, 2006 1:21 AM

Gust does not sound like a real Scandinavian name to me. I think it is short for either August or Gustav.Gustav is a really old Scandinavian name, and so is Ingrid.

By Meaghan (not verified)
April 13, 2006 7:53 AM

My name is Meaghan and I can't make my mom believe it's not Irish. (She's obsessed with Ireland and five of my six siblings were given Irish or Scottish names.) It's an all right name, though no one can ever spell it. I pronounce it like Megan.

By Abi (not verified)
June 24, 2006 9:34 PM

You know most Irish people scorn Americans pretending to be Irish. So what if your great-great uncle was from Dublin? If you were born in America to American parents, you're American, not Irish. The ignorance of people towards 'Megan' is proof that these people have no real links to Ireland.

By Ciarán Ó Cuinneagáin (not verified)
July 11, 2006 8:53 PM

Caitlín is actually pronounced (Kotch-leen) in Irish, much nicer in my opinion but that's just my opinion. I would always check the background to a name before I would name my child.

By Amy A (not verified)
January 21, 2007 2:31 PM

Question: how is Megan pronounced in America?
Here in the UK it is always pronounced the way it is spelt - "MEG-un". But I've heard on TV one or two "MEE-gun"s and "MAY-guns"! How do most people pronounce it over in the US and also Australia/NZ?
I adore the name Megan but I'm not a fan of the 'Meegan'/'Maygun' pronunciation and I wouldn't want my hypothetical daughter to travel to other countries and be 'Meeganed' by all and sundry!

By meaghan (not verified)
January 26, 2007 12:33 AM

ok my family would like to know how to pronounce my name Meaghan. Is it Mee-gun or May-gun.

By Amy A (not verified)
January 26, 2007 9:38 PM

To Meaghan, above: I'm confused, your family don't know how to pronounce your name? :-)

Well, as Laura wrote in the post, the original Welsh name is Megan, and the Meaghan/Meagan etc. variations are purely American. In Wales, and the rest of Britain, Megan is pronounced Meg-un, like the nickname 'Meg', rhymes with leg!
But the extra 'a' in there, so you have 'ea', implies an 'ee' sound... I have no idea really, in fact I'm curious and interested to know how you pronounce Meaghan! I guess it's almost a whole new name made in America (which I'm not saying is bad!)! How do you and your family pronounce it?

By Meaghan (not verified)
February 24, 2007 3:03 PM

To the comment above my aunt says you are suposed to say my name like "Mee-gun" but my friends and the rest of my family say "Megan" which i like better. than some people who actually look at the spelling of my name say "May-gun".i am just trying to figure out how to say my name it has been an argument in my family for years.

By "Orange Mike" Lowrey (not verified)
March 12, 2007 7:33 PM

I've got quite a few friends with the name, and they all pronounce it MAY-g'n, rhymes with Ronnie "Reagan"!

By d (not verified)
April 27, 2007 6:06 PM

Oh my gosh, yes, I rember perche no! and Frusen Gladje. I thought I was the only one, ha ha ha!!! Awesome!!!


By d (not verified)
April 27, 2007 6:07 PM

Also, the "made in heaven" backwards or whatever name, is SUPER, SUPER, SUPER STUPID!!!!!!!! PUH-LEEZE don't saddle your poor child with an idiotic ridiculous so-called "name" like that!!! Geeez, what will people think of next?!?!?!

By Meaghan Kennedy (not verified)
May 22, 2007 10:49 PM

my name is Meaghan and we pronounce it more like "May-gun." No one has ever called me "Mee-gun" but I always get called Megan(Meg-un) and it really bothers me. I thought the 'ea' implied the 'may' sound? Megan and Meaghan are different names in my opinion.

By Meaghan (not verified)
May 30, 2007 1:23 PM

Interesting article! My name is also Meaghan and I get "Mee-gun" all the time. My family pronounces it somewhere between "May-gan" and "Meg-an."

By Julie (not verified)
May 31, 2007 7:54 AM

I am 7 months pregnant, and my husband loves the "Irish" name Meghan. I'm more Swedish and Finnish than Irish, but looking at the Megan debates makes me wonder if I should go for the other option we had of Abigail. Does any one out there not like their name of Megan? Does anyone absolutely love it? Is the nickname "nutmeg" ok?

By Megan (not verified)
June 27, 2007 1:00 AM

I'm from the midwest in the US and the way people pronounce my name depends on where they are from in the US. My friends vary calling me "May-gun" and "Meg-un".. no one seriously calls me "meegan". i prefer "May-gun"

By Megan (not verified)
July 25, 2007 3:59 AM

My name is MEGAN
My parents call it as "May-gun"
And my friends, sisters, and Myself say it as "Meg-un"
Haha And I have gotten MEEGAN too

By Megan (not verified)
July 25, 2007 4:00 AM

My name is MEGAN
My parents call it as "May-gun"
And my friends, sisters, and Myself say it as "Meg-un"
Haha And I have gotten MEEGAN too

By Meagan McKeeman (not verified)
October 15, 2007 12:21 AM

My name is Meagan (MAY-g'n), I'm 26. I really like my name, as it definitely signifies to most people my Irishness. The only issue I've ever had is with my name getting mis-spelled quite often as a kid - and even now. But this makes you assert your individulality and correct people (teachers, even!) on the spelling.

By Megan (not verified)
November 19, 2007 3:22 AM

My name is Megan and I'm from Australia. My name has always been pronounced mee-gun. Every other Megan that I know also have their names pronounced the same way. Most Australians pronounce Megan this way

By Caja (not verified)
January 17, 2008 2:45 PM

This is Scandinavian for Katherine is there anyone out there who can tell me how it should be pronounced

By Guest (not verified)
March 13, 2009 12:03 PM

Caja - we love your name and are thinking of naming our daughter the same. In Cornish we are told it is pronounced "caxa" and means "daisy", in Spanish it is "ca-ha" and is box or bank.
How do you pronounce it?

By Ariana (not verified)
July 28, 2010 10:40 PM

Minor quibble: The language of Ireland is Gaeilge, not Gaelic (which is Scottish)

But good job with the pronunciation!

By <3 (not verified)
November 6, 2010 12:54 PM

Actually it spells "heaven all in" unless you are flipping the names separately.

By Celtic Caja (not verified)
April 11, 2012 9:25 AM

Caja is actually pronounced KAY-JAH in Cornish/Celtic and KAI-AH in spanish.

August 14, 2012 1:49 PM

Fascinating topic!

Just to clarify a few things: pronunciations vary widely by region and dialect. So be careful criticizing each other!

As a fluent Spanish speaker (castellano), I would always pronounce "caja" as "kah-hah", never KAI-AH... but there are certainly a wide variety of spoken Spanish dialects. 

The Irish language (called gaeilge in Irish, much as français is the French word for, well, French) is also known as Irish Gaelic and is closely related to Scottish Gaelic (gaidhlig in Scottish Gaelic). Wikipedia has a detailed entry on the subject for those who are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Scottish_Gaelic_and_Irish

Finally, while "Meaghan" is the creation of families with more distant Irish roots, "Kathleen" does indeed derive directly from "Caitlin." It was the effort of many a new Irish immigrant to the U.S. (perhaps with a bit of help from immigration officers) to anglicize the spelling (and eventually the pronunciation) of a traditional Irish name. 

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