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?”
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 name from a place’.
‘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.