Changing names

Jul 30th, 2010 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Dinner table conversations in our family are increasingly odd.  The dogs lurked beneath the table in the hope of scraps.  (Pavlovian theory suggest that by now the dogs should have realized that their efforts are pointless; that squeezing between the chairs does not bring any reward other than causing them discomfort.  Either Pavlov was wrong, or someone feeds them under the table).

“Your  coat is lovely and silken, Bella.”

“Wasn’t there someone called Silken Thomas?”

“Wasn’t he around in Cromwell’s time?”

“Or was it during the English Civil War?”

(Wrong century; wrong country; wrong war!)

“Politicians used to have proper names”.

“Not like Dave Cameron or Tony Blair?”

“Or Nick Clegg?”

“Why is he not Nicholas?”

“Don’t know.  Maybe that’s why his opinion poll ratings are so bad.  Could you have a prime minister called Nick?”

“Niccolo, maybe”.

Is having the right name important?

There’s a moment at the end of Garrison Keillor’s ‘Radio Romance’ where the lead character Francis Withe renames himself Frank White because he believes the change is necessary if he is to break into the world of television.  There’s moments when I have felt like him.

The surname ‘Cooper’ gave rise to a church gate conversation on Wednesday.

‘Where does Poulton come from?’

‘It’s a toponymic’.

‘A what?’

‘A name from a place’.

‘Where’s Poulton?’

‘The main Poulton is outside of Blackpool in Lancashire.  Whichever Poulton it was, people were simply so-and-so of Poulton; so you would have had names like John de Poulton’.


Starting to use the ‘de’ would seem a daft affectation; like putting on a parsonical voice to speak in church.  Historical, it may be, but so is kissing a bishop’s ring, and there’s no way that’s coming back.

Ruling out the ‘de’ and having been addressed as Bolton, Patton and Poulter in the past week, there are moments when ‘Smith’ seems an attractive option.

Smith- it has a firm and strong air about it, no-one could ever get it wrong.  Short, simple and straightforward.

Of course, Ian still causes problems sometimes.  I have been called ‘Owen’ and ‘Jan’ and sometimes have had a second ‘I’ inserted on envelopes and letters to become a very Scottish ‘Iain’.

Using the English version ‘John’ would be simpler than the Scots ‘Ian’, then it would be a simple matter of being ‘John Smith’ – though that might create problems in hotels.

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  1. Saw an Oulton grave yesterday.

    If you were Welsh you would have belonged there.

    Ap Howell = Powell, Ap Rhys = Price, Ap Oulton = Poulton?. Ap=mab=son.

    Oh that life were so simple 🙂

  2. I met a man one time who asked where the name was from, ‘Maybe Lancashire’, I said.

    “We’re neighbours’, he said, ‘my name is Fleetwood’.

    We then reflected on how many people we knew who had Lancastrian names – going through the Boltons and the Blackburns and all the other towns that appear as surnames

  3. You should have a name like mine..!!!!!

  4. Ah Bainbridge is a place in Yorkshire but that’s my married name. Dunn is my maiden name and who knows where that comes from . . . Ireland I suspect! An I didn’t realise my name was a toponymic. Thanks. I feel so much more important now! hehe

  5. You should try living with the name ‘Blandford’, my married name. It originated in Blandford Forum, Dorset.

    Living in Ireland with an English name, as you well know, has it’s problems.

    I’ve been called Bradford, Langford, Blanchford, Blatchford, Blanchfield, and Blanchard but the most common one in Ireland, is Blanford without a ‘D.’ It doesn’t seem to register when you say that your name has a ‘D’ in the middle as it’s still left out 🙄 When I visit England, it’s always spelt correctly.

    Mind you, my single name ‘Nairn’ wasn’t any easier to live with as it was Scottish in origin (I suspect my ancestors may have been part of the Ulster Plantation) although I’m Irish through and through!

  6. I get called ‘Reverend Ian’ by most people in the parish – which is nice, and helps avoid the odd pronunciations!

  7. Smith is straightforward. As long as you’re not a Smyth, or a Smythe.

    But to be called the Reverend Ian? Do they put on a special gruff voice when they say it?
    I know it’s your name, and your title. Either separately is innocuous. Ian is particularly fine. And with a Poulton on the end even better.
    But the Rev and the Ian combined… well… I can’t help think of that other bloke. (I’m clearly failing to transcend my roots.)

  8. BW,

    I had never even thought about it! The North is another world here and there’s not much interest in its affairs.

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