Thursday, 31 March 2011

What's in a name?

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I do not often listen to the Jeremy Vine show, because I am usually working at noon, but today, for some reason, I was making tomato soup. I had a sudden imperative for old-fashioned cream of tomato soup, like you had when you were a child. And since I cannot cook without sound, and since it was the dead hour on Radio Four (I am sure the people on You and Yours are very nice and perform a valuable public service, but that programme makes me feel as if the cells in my body are dying, one by one), on went Mr Vine. It was something about salt. I don't know; the government is cross with salt, or some local council is trying to ban it,  or some such.

'And we've got David Davis to talk about it,' said Jeremy Vine.

That's curious, I thought. Since David Davis returned to the freedom of the back benches after his failed leadership bid, he has become a much more interesting politician. He is a prone to a bit of bombast, and is marvellously convinced of his own rightness, but he usually avoids pablum and dullness. My ears pricked up. I did not know he had a thing for salt. He is more famous for his stand on civil liberties, and his new and unlikely friendship with Shami Chakrabarti.

It took a moment to realise that the mildly dull fellow down the line was the wrong David Davis. It was in fact David Davies, the MP for Monmouthshire. He said: 'It's nanny state political correctness gone mad,' without irony, and was gone.

How awful for him, I thought. Even with that extra e, the pronunciation of his name is still the same as the more famous David. He will always be the Other David Davies. It made me think how maddening it must be to have the same name as a famous person. It's not just that every time you meet someone you will get a variation on the same gag. It's that, with the dominance of the internet, you must feel as if sometimes you do not exist.

I imagine that almost everyone has guiltily Googled themselves, at one time or another. (Sometimes one is punished for such narcissism; I once did it late at night and found a whole messageboard set up to trash Backwards.) But at least when I search for my own name, the results are about me. Imagine you are called Robert Smith. You will find millions of results for the lead singer of The Cure. Actually, my local member of parliament is called Robert Smith, and to be fair to the Google, he does get one hit. As far as the internet goes though, he is the other, lesser Robert Smith.

Years ago, I met a lovely, funny man at a wedding called Jeremy Thomas. He told me he had a terrible time because he shared his name with the producer of Bernardo Bertolucci's films. He was always known, even by his friends, as 'the wrong Jeremy Thomas'. Once, in his wilder days, he had decided to take advantage of this, and managed to blag a lunch with Warren Beatty. It took Beatty about fifteen minutes to work out that this was, in fact, the entirely incorrect Jeremy Thomas, who had clearly never met Bertolucci in his life. The actor rose, said he was going to the lav, and never returned to the table.

Names matter in the oddest ways. There is a story going round at the moment that Ed Miliband is trying to get people to refer to him as Edward. It is a gravitas thing, apparently. My guess: it won't take. The bloggers are already having fun by starting to call Ed Balls 'Edgar', even though his real name is also the much less amusing Edward.

I used to hate my own name. I wanted to be called something interesting like Etta or Ruby or Daisy or Nancy. 'I see,' said one of my snob friends, when I told him this; 'housemaids' names'. (I think he was joking.) One of the things I loved was making up exotic names for the characters in my novels. In my early, awful, idiot days, I used to give them names like Venice and Alabama. Once I created a character called Nancy Spain. I thought it the most perfect name ever invented. My agent gave me a quizzical look, when she got the manuscript. 'Is this on purpose?' she said. It turned out that Nancy Spain was in fact a very famous journalist in the 1950s, of whom I, in my callow twenties, had never heard.

(Interesting bonus fact: she died in an aeroplane crash on her way to the Grand National, and Noel Coward said of her: 'It is cruel that all that gaiety, intelligence and vitality should be snuffed out when so many bores and horrors are left living.')

I was thinking of all this as I walked the dogs up the beech avenue this morning. I wondered how much names are destiny. I thought: perhaps it is a good thing I am not called Daisy, after all. In my more absurd moments, I have dreams of being une femme sérieuse. Daisy, although a lovely name in itself, sounds too frivolous and ephemeral, with its echoes of F Scott Fitzgerald. Could you imagine a high court judge called Daisy? I remember having a shiver of disappointment when I discovered that James Joyce's wife called him Jim. TS Eliot somehow sounds much more sonorous and weighty than Tom Eliot. Imagine if Prince William of Wales was known as Bill. It would not do at all. Prince Bill just sounds silly. King Bill is even worse, making one think of some bogus country and western singer, a little down on his luck.

Well, that's my musing for the day. Rather long and unfocussed, I'm afraid. Tomorrow I shall be all pith.

Now for the pictures. More dull weather, yet the colours were extraordinarily vivid.

The beech avenue, looking more like October than March:

31st March 3

My current favourite tree:

31st March 6

The view south:

31st March 7

31st March 9

A black-faced gull, wheeling about over the meadow:

31st March 11

31st March 12

This hellebore is growing wild, on the wall outside my house:

31st March 1

That tiny little black speck you see is the Duchess, moseying her way up the avenue:


And regal, in her close-up:

31st March 2

The utter sweetness that is her sister:

31st March 5

I can't stop taking pictures of the philadelphus, as it burgeons into spring:

31st March 14

Two shots of the hill today, from a slightly different angle than usual, against a flat, white sky:

31st March 8

31st March 10


  1. Nancy Spain is also a character in a Christy Moore song. Wouldn't it be funny if he hadn't heard of the journalist either?

  2. I googled my given name and an actress with the same name is semi-famous for playing an alien on a tv series. When I was 6 I asked my parents to call me Cindy. They refused, thank goodness. I've enjoyed your musings today : )

  3. And speaking of names....I'm sorry, but - Moussa Kousa - Forgive me if I'm lowering the tone but I giggle like a child every time someone reads it out. It sounds like one of Beatrix Potter's two bad mice. Hunka Munka and Moussa Kousa.


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