Hooligan‘s a great word, isn’t it? The sound of it really matches what it represents. Now the word is mainly associated with troublemakers at football games, but it’s been around for quite a long time. It first appeared in British police reports in 1898, and seems to have been based on the surname Houlihan. Coming from the original Gaelic surname Ó hUallacháin, it came to be used to represent a stereotypical comic Irish figure in music-hall shows in the late 19th century.
Given the stereotypes of Irish people in cities like New York and London at the time, it’s not such a surprise that the name became a synonym for an angry, violent, and probably drunk, individual. The word was also quickly absorbed into Russian as khuligan, to refer to violent young men harassing people on the streets, and political dissenters.
What a journey, for a common, unassuming surname. At least nowadays, most people with the surname use the anglicised version, which isn’t so obviously related to the word hooligan. While it must have been terrible to have had surname back when it was used as comic relief, at least the associations with hooliganism weren’t strong enough that the surname died out. Unsurprisingly, the name Hitler isn’t to be found anymore, though that may be due to the fact that it wasn’t a common German name anyone, being a corruption of the names Heidler or Hüttler. World War II also saw another name become forever associated with negative associations: Quisling. Vidkun Quisling was the military officer who headed the puppet government in Norway under Nazi rule, with quisling now synonymous with collaborator.
While it’s fascinating how a name can so quickly take on a new meaning and become a common noun, it’s also slightly frightening that our name might suddenly become associated with something terrible, and we can do nothing about it. But then things change, and most people would now be unaware of the Irish connection to the word hooligan. In fact, it’s ironic that the word is now more associated with English football fans at away international games, though Russian fans have been making strong claims to the word too. Well, they’d be khuligans I suppose!