Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Implication & Significance of Names

It was quite recently that I learned from a television news item of a young girl called Burgundy Rose who had met with a tragic accident. A sad end to a young life but I couldn’t help noting that sixteen years previously someone had decided to give her a name that was never going to be easily overlooked. Burgundy Rose will live on not only in the hearts and minds of those who loved her but she also has a vague reality for others like me who never met her, those with a fondness for unusual names. Hours later I met the young man proudly in charge of the current painting project in this city fringe complex, who with excellent English gave me a great deal of information about undercoats and sealants together with his business card from which I learned that his name was Raphael. Had I but been sixteen years old again I would undoubtedly have become immediately enchanted because with such a name how could I possibly resist him? On the other hand it did not seem appropriate to debate the matter with him so I did not do so.

It would be true to say that in general Antipodean parents are more inclined to take chances as far as names are concerned than their Northern Hemisphere counterparts. Where in London would you find a Delwyn or Selwyn other than in that little enclave around Earls Court underground station where elderly waitresses called Ngaire and Hinemoa are still said to linger in the shadows? And only in South Auckland did I ever come across two Miracles, a Blessing and a Destiny. It is uncommon for British parents to follow the example of Paula Yates and Bob Geldoff and succumb completely to such flights of fancy. When my daughter was nine or ten she hankered after being called Fifi-Trixibelle with a longing that kept her awake at night before hitting on the idea of renaming one of her collection of stuffed animals. A few months later she was also the proud owner of a monkey called Peaches and a lamb called Little Pixie. When Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily came along she had long outgrown this particular naming lust and the once greatly loved collection of animals languished under beds, squashed into plastic bags.
In the late 1940s most of us growing up in the Thameside towns of North Kent were given names that were solid and sensible and presumably to some extent in vogue at the time. Our class at St Botolph’s was a hotbed of Margarets and Maureens, Pamelas and Paulines with just a few emerging Shirleys and one Suzanne whose mother was half French. The only girl I envied name-wise was Wendy Selves and that was because I had been taken to see Peter Pan at The Chatham Empire. The boys were largely Colins, Brians and Georges and just one or two Barrys and Franks.

By the mid 1950s local girls giving birth to infants in their teens, like Ann Davis of Tooley Street and my cousin Pat from Crayford, struck out for independence, proudly naming their daughters Cheryl-Ann and Sharon-Marie and embroidering their choice on the frilled pillows the infants lay on for all to see and admire. I clearly recall the clutch of Pams and Pats and Paulines who had shared my class at Colyer Road Secondary Modern School and transferred as I did to the lofty heights of Wombwell Hall, chattering excitedly when our erstwhile friend Marjorie Bullen stunned us by dropping out of education at just sixteen in order to be married and produce a daughter strikingly christened Natalia-Kym. How we longed to throw aside typing classes and join Marjorie in the ranks of the newly-wed mothers of 1956, pushing prams along Hall Road and having passers-by admire our pink bonneted offspring and its exotic name.

When, in my teenage years, I constructed newly invented families one after another to replace the one that life had bestowed upon me, I gave myself a new name every time and for a year or two greatly favoured Toni, short for Antoinette and carefully considered what my several brothers might be called. At one stage the Toni of the Moment had a trio of brothers called Quentin, Tarquin and Errol, in an act which I felt successfully liberated the uninspiringly named boys of St Botolph’s. I found this enormously satisfying and felt that each Colin, Brian and George of Northfleet might feel likewise had I but been able to tell them. Many years later I was to realise that I was not entirely alone in the echelons of those who desired what they felt should have been awarded them in the first place – a more agreeable and pleasing name.
My classmates at Wombwell Hall of course largely sported the same names as the girls of St Botolph’s. Those I remember are a Mary, a Kathleen, two Florences, a Julia, a Shirley, a Pauline, a Pamela, a Patricia, a Norma, an Anne with an E, a Marilyn, a Priscilla, two Margarets, a Valerie, an Yvonne and a Joyce who I later persuaded to become a Lynn. There were others because we were a class of twenty four but memory of them is lost.

At least one Ann without an E had also been a student at Wombwell Hall, though in the year ahead of me and at one stage a Form Captain to boot. Ann Gollop, slender and golden-haired with cornflower blue eyes leading her form class from each morning assembly passing directly in front of me and daily making me fervently wish I looked more like her. Even her name was, in my view more acceptable than my own, though had I been in her shoes I would definitely have added an E to the spelling. Somewhat surprisingly I was to meet her again a decade later when we both found ourselves working at The Latin Quarter nightclub in Gerrard Street, Soho. That very same Ann, still enviably willowy, her golden hair now a beehive halo about her head, her cornflower eyes enhanced with expertly applied make-up, dressed in a gold lame cocktail dress. And when I acquainted her with the fact that we two had been at school together she looked at me uncomprehendingly because of course back in those days she had been dazzling and I had been completely insignificant and therefore there was no reason at all why she should recall me. The very first thing she said was that her name was no longer Ann and she would be appreciative if I didn’t call her that, with or without an E. She had long left Ann behind and she was now Kimberley. I could simply call her Kim if I wanted to. The second thing she said was that in her opinion Wombwell Hall must have been a school with a bad influence because neither of us had lasted long in the typing pool had we?

And just as in our schooldays she demonstrated definite leadership ability when Mitzi, the girl I was detailed to sit beside, advised me in a low voice to mind my Ps and Qs with Kim because she was the Head Hostess! So I minded them.

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