To quote William Shakespeare, from Romeo and Juliette, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.’ Very true, though I don’t feel that it applies as well to our time as it did to his. I presume that then all roses did smell sweet, wafting their heavenly scent around Elizabethan Britain. Now, if I buy a rose, I have to do a sniff test. So many varieties are seemingly bred for their blooms, their flowering season, their resistance to disease .... with their scent sadly seeming to drop off the list of priorities in far too many varieties.
On the subject of plants – what about the name ‘weed’? A name thrown at anything that we haven’t planted in our neatly trimmed gardens. Maybe the beautifully vibrant dandelions that tempt the bees and provide nectar early in the season. What if there was a beautiful orchid growing in the middle of a stony arid plot? A plot painstakingly being hoed and nurtured to provide a food crop for an under-nourished family in a country where many such families struggle to survive? In other parts of the world, where money is not a problem, said orchid would be prized for its beauty and people would readily buy it to adorn their homes, their bouquets. In that field however, it would be hacked out as a weed that was taking the precious water and nourishment from the soil. No flower market to sell it, in order to buy food; no understanding of its worth in other areas of the world where food is more easily come by. So a prized orchid would be considered a weed, a nuisance. I guess it’s all down to time and place.
WHAT DO OUR NAMES SAY ABOUT US?
For some families, a given name reflects many generations of a family tree having been given the same forename, to add to a continued family or surname, especially it seems when it comes to first born sons. In America, such a name can be followed by the appropriate Roman numeral to represent how far along the name chain the person is. That rarely happens in the UK. I had a friend whose father was called Sam. Her brother was also Sam. Dad was referred to as big Sam, son as little Sam. This was fine until little Sam outgrew his dad and the situation certainly gave rise to some chuckles. Maybe they should also have had Sam the first and Sam the second instead. I moved away from the area, and don’t know if there were any further Sams following along with this family name trait. Come to think of it, it wouldn’t have to be a son, Sam could just as easily be a girl’s name.
I have to say that, especially in my years of teaching, it is more a question of what a child’s names says about the parents.
often wonder if the child, a girl, who was named after the whole of the Liverpool Football team ever felt that her parents had made a good decision with their choice of her names. The name Paula was followed by the 1964-65 first team players’ surnames, plus those of the manager, coach and trainer. I often wonder if, in later years, she officially changed her name to get rid of most – if not all – of these, especially if she wasn’t a football fan, or even worse if she supported Everton. (for none football people – the team supported by the other half, the blue half of Liverpool.)
I have wondered about the reasons behind the choice of names for some of the children with whom I worked. There are some whose names include the name of an elder relative, as happened with my elder son, named after an uncle and grandfather. There were others who seemed to be named after pop stars, film stars with these including a Beyonce and several Kylies. There were those whose names defied gender. Then throw into the mix those that led to confusion on my part - the ‘different’ ones. There was one little girl called Syxe. I asked around and no, she wasn’t the sixth child, or grandchild even. It was just a name that the parents liked. Fine, but unfortunately said child had a problem with spelling, especially with sequencing of letters and the ‘y’ and ‘e’ were more often than not swapped round, resulting in her designating herself as Sexy. I really hope that she was able to correct her spelling before she was much older – especially as her surname added to the picture, though I am going to leave that one to your imagination.
I guess at this point, I should hold my hand up to a spelling error that often happens with my name, Denise, rather than the shortened version of Dee. If I am required to provide a signature, I have a tendency to omit one of the letters – the ‘i’ – which leaves me confessing to being .... Dense! Whoops. I have to say that when correctly spelt, I am more than happy with my parents’ choice of name for their daughter. It was quite unusual for the late 1940’s, yet there was another girl, of similar age, with the same Christian and surname living on the small estate on which I grew up. It did lead to some confusion at one point with me getting a phone call from an irate young man that the other Denise had apparently stood up. He certainly took a lot of convincing that there were two of is with the same name living so close to each other.
WHAT OF TITLES?
I rather envy men who remain as ‘Mr’ no what their marital status. I have to say that I didn’t even consider not changing my name to that of my husband when I became a ‘Mrs’. I don’t think that many women did back then. For me, my problem began when we were divorced. As he obviously felt that I was no longer good enough for him, I felt very strongly that I really didn’t want to continue to use, to be known by his name. I felt that it was no longer good enough for me. In discussion with my sons, I officially reverted to my maiden name. It felt that this was something over which I had control. However, I was left with the problem of my title. I was no longer a Mrs, neither was I a Miss, but I really don’t like Ms. It just doesn’t sound right – something akin to a short –tempered bee giving out a short buzz. I endeavoured to not use a title, but it surprised me that I had forms returned if I didn’t fill in one of the options. So – I launched myself into finding out about doing a PHd. However, as I had two sons who were still at home; a job that was very demanding of my time within and out of ‘office hours’ and was also really struggling to keep depression at arms’ length, I quickly realised it was a poor decision. Embarking on such a major, time consuming project would be many steps too far for me. So, as I cannot call myself Dr, and people still insist on a title, I go with the dreaded Ms, with an occasional Miss thrown in for good measure!
CHANGING OF PLACE NAMES...
This has been taking place in the UK in recent months – or at least, the call for place, road, building names are being very vociferously suggested. In some cases the suggesting has been, to put it politely, pretty forthright, involving lots of graffiti or toppling a statue off a quayside into the murky water below. The reason is usually due to objections around the person’s attitude and participation in the slave trade. I realise that I am leaning on a very easily opened door here. Suffice it to say that I personally feel that simply changing a road or college name is rather papering over the cracks. It is a change in the understanding of our history and attitudes in general that is required. A problem this I feel is far from restricted to the UK.
WHAT OF OUR NAMES?
Most of us simply take our name for granted. However, does it say anything about us? Do you feel that your name reflects the person that you are – or is there a name that you feel would do this more accurately? Is this why ‘stars’ change their names. Do you feel that your name really is a part of who and what you are? Or maybe a nickname or a pet name that you have does this more accurately.
When it comes to ‘stars’, actors, performers, many have adapted stage names which presumably they feel reflects them better than their actual name. For example, Kirk Douglas, was born Issur Danielovitch and Elton John was Reginald Dwight. Presumably their chosen names were considered more apt for the old billboards, being flashed across a cinema screen, or appearing on promotional materials. Certainly in these two cases, they are famous. I wonder if they would have been equally so as Issur and Reginald?
When it comes to some who have come into public view more recently, Jay-z born Shawn Corey Carter, Snoop Dogg born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr (another alternative to roman numerals or size comparison!). I can only presume that their chosen name was felt to be more suitable for their stage persona. I am led to wonder if it also fits their day to day persona too or do they resort to their given name when with family and friends? At his point I hold up my hand as I have no idea of the type of music that these two guys produce, though their names have stuck even for this old fogie. Maybe that says something – not about me and my age, rather about their chosen name!
I finish with a name that I accidentally changed due to a typo. I had a folder of pandemic material that I temporarily put onto my desktop. The typo – pandemic was transformed into pandamit. A very Freudian slip I feel, though I am sure that many of us have used much more colourful language with reference to COVID-19!!
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