St. Patty vs. St. Paddy’s—Which Is Correct?

Everyone has an opinion, but traditional language protocol may settle the debate.

It’s that time of year again. The season of shamrocks and leprechauns, when the world seems to be drenched in a sea of green. It’s also a time when we once again resurrect that age-old debate that will likely never be resolved. We are of course referring to the “St. Patty vs. St. Paddy’s” battle.

The start of St. Patrick’s Day

This holiday originally started centuries ago as a feast day to celebrate St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Days of religious observation are generally treated with a sense of formality, and saints typically would only be referenced by their full official names. But over the years, this particular holiday was gradually absorbed into the general culture where it is treated more casually, transforming into more of a fun-filled day of celebration and revelry.

And with that shift came the habit of referring to the occasion in a sort of slang version of the name of the man who inspired it all. And thus, the enduring “St. Patty vs. St. Paddy’s” controversy began. Almost from the start, there have been two distinct camps, and everyone seemed to be firmly entrenched in one or the other. Find out 21 things you never knew about St. Patrick’s Day.

Authentic Irish origins may provide an answer

Those familiar with Irish traditions, or traditional Irish names, are puzzled as to why there is even a “St. Patty vs. St. Paddy’s” debate in the first place—to them, this isn’t even something that needs to be questioned. There’s only one clear answer: it’s St. Paddy’s Day, end of discussion.

Why? Well, “Paddy” is the casual form of the traditional Irish-Gaelic name Padraic or Pádraig, and their later, English variation, Patrick. “Patty,” on the other hand, is traditionally used as a nickname for the female name, Patricia.

In the Irish vernacular, “paddy” can be used both as an affectionate nicknamed and a not-so-flattering slang term for an Irish person (as in “paddywagon” and “paddywhack”). Perhaps that may partially explain why some shifted away from using it, opting instead for the “Patty” alternative more commonly found in English cultures.

Passionate arguments on both sides

It seems that everyone has an opinion about the topic—and they aren’t shy about sharing it. Venture into any pub or gathering place at this time of year and query the crowd, and you will likely find yourself in the middle of a heated debate.

To those who ardently defend the legacy of the name’s authentic roots, hearing it called “St. Patty’s Day” is like nails on a chalkboard.

People feel very strongly about this. Someone was so passionate about the topic that they created a “Paddy not Patty” website, designed as a “public service announcement” to help the people of the world avoid making an embarrassing faux pas.

Of course, there is one simple way to avoid getting caught in the fray of the “St. Patty vs. St. Paddy’s” controversy altogether. Just refer to it as St. Pat’s. Then you can move on to deliberating about how to incorporate as many shades of green into your wardrobe as possible and sharing the knowledge of why we wear green on St. Patrick’s Day while you’re at it.

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Bobbi Dempsey
Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer, editor and content specialist whose credits include NY Times, Forbes, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping and many others. She has written both consumer-facing and B2B content for numerous companies in the technology, healthcare, education, and personal finance industries.