“What’s your name, please?” I hesitated, then hesitated further. I was wondering how many people when asked their name in Starbucks give one that isn’t theirs. Petronella, I think to myself “Mary” I end up saying, giving him my middle name. I wasn’t being ‘Mary, Mary quite contrary’, just the opposite; I was saving the person behind me from waiting any longer in the queue than they needed to. I know from experience that had I not answered ‘Mary’ I would have ended up spelling my name three times. But isn’t it a lovely thing when people remember your name and say it correctly, especially if it is a little unusual? It shows they have made some effort to learn it. Over use of one’s name, though, can grate. Have you ever been irrationally irritated when someone overuses your name in conversation? Almost using it as punctuation, Mary? Do you know what I mean, Mary? It’s a way of me showing you that I am really focussed on you, Mary? Would you ever stop!
I feel for those people whose names appear in those common sayings. How many Simon’s have been asked if they are simple? Do all the traditionally named boys get fed up with being branded ‘Smart Alec’, ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Doubting Thomas’, or ‘Jack the Lad’? Why is it that when something falls into place we say, ‘Bob’s your uncle’? And who was happy Larry anyway? How many Teresa’s are asked if their surname is Green? Those are some of the common ones, but I love those sayings based on names that are lesser known. Like my nana, when she thought you weren’t properly clad for the season, would say: “Look at you, all dressed up like Cissie in the summertime!” And whenever I was prone to abandon ship and give up on a certain pursuit if things weren’t coming together as quickly as I wanted, my dad would say to me, “Just keep going for a while longer and before you know it you’ll be away like Flynn.”
The other day I was driving with A. beside me when her phone beeped. “Oh no, it’s all gone a bit Trev!” she said, reading the text. I was bewildered. She explained to me her own version of cockney rhyming slang, taken to a different level. The fairly well known: ‘it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong’ (for wrong) had been taken that one step further by replacing DJ Tong with Trevor Nelson. I know – it’s a rather circuitous way of saying things have gone belly up. For those of you who are too old for Tong and Nelson how about my brother going to the gym so he can work on his ‘Gregorys’? (Pecks.) And for those of you who are a bit younger, you might better understand the reference to going down the pub for a few ‘Britneys’.
Keeping with the rhyming slang, apparently young graduands have developed their own parlance for the type of university degree they might receive. Again, bear with me here as some of the references are quite old, to say the least. ‘A Geoff’, a 1st class degree, is a reference to Geoff Hurst, from the England 1966 world cup team (will they never forget it?); ‘Atillia’, from Atilla the Hun is a 2:1; ‘A Desmond’, as in Archbishop Tutu, a 2:2; and ‘A Douglas’ is a 3rd, as in Douglas Hurd, Tory politician from the Thatcher years.
Whether or not your name is commonplace, unusual, or it’s one that crops up in various turns of phrase, your name is something to be proud of. James Joyce wrote: “I shall write a book some day about the appropriateness of names. Geoffrey Chaucer has a ribald ring, as is proper and correct.” And Maya Angelou had something to say on names too, using them properly, and not name calling: “Words are things. You must be careful, careful about calling people out of their names, using racial pejoratives and sexual pejoratives and all that ignorance. Don’t do that. Some day we’ll be able to measure the power of words.” Maybe I should just allow the queue at Starbucks to stall and delay a little over the spelling of my name, it is my own, after all.