St. Paddy or St. Patty—Which Is Correct?

Everyone has an opinion about St. Patrick's Day's nickname, but traditional language protocol may settle the St. Paddy or St. Patty debate.

St. Patrick’s Day is a day to celebrate the luck of the Irish with fun traditions like wearing green and dunking a shamrock. It’s also a time when many resurrect an age-old debate: the battle of St. Paddy or St. Patty. Some are firm about St. Paddy being the proper phrase to use when talking about St. Patrick’s Day, but others swear up and down it’s St. Patty. So, which one is correct? Let’s look at both sides of the argument—and back through history—to get the answer.

The heart of the St. Paddy or St. Patty debate: St. Patrick’s Day

This holiday 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 names. But over the years, St. Patrick’s Day was gradually absorbed into the general culture where it is treated more casually, transforming into more of a fun-filled day where people gather to dance, sing, or even watch Irish movies.

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. Paddy vs. St. Patty controversy began. Almost from the start, there have been two distinct camps, and everyone seems to be firmly entrenched in one or the other.

St. Paddy or St. Patty—which is correct?

This is less of a grammar debate and more of a vernacular one. Those familiar with Irish traditions, or traditional Irish names, are puzzled as to why there is even a St. Paddy or St. Patty 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, end of discussion.

Why? Well, “Paddy” is the casual form of the traditional Irish-Gaelic name Padraic or Pádraig, and its 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” has been used as an affectionate nickname. But it has also been used in other countries as 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, which is more commonly found in English cultures.

Passionate arguments for St. Paddy and St. Patty

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 around St. Patrick’s Day 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 “St. Patty’s Day” is like nails on a chalkboard. 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.

Long story short: If you want to use the phrase that’s truer to Irish roots, use St. Paddy. Of course, there is one simple way to avoid getting caught in the fray of the “St. Paddy or. St. Patty” controversy altogether: just refer to the holiday as St. Pat’s. Make sure you also read up on these St. Patrick’s Day memes that are just too relatable.

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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.