Do our names say anything about us? Or do they reveal more about our parents? Do parents consider the consequences of the names they bestow on their progeny?
The easy answer to the former question is I don’t know. The answer to the latter is probably not. Consider the names that celebrities choose, such as those given by David and Victoria Beckham for their brood – Brooklyn Joseph, Romeo James, Cruz David, and Harper Seven. Ah, how people laughed at the parents, and felt a little bit sorry for the children.
Then, in 2008, we heard about the couple from New Zealand, whose nine-year-old daughter was taken into court guardianship as a result of them naming her Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii. “What”, we all wanted to know, “were these people thinking?” It was not only an unforgivably stupid name to inflict on a child, but a deeply distressing one. As a result of the level of mockery she had to endure, she started introducing herself to any child who didn’t know her as Kate.
The judge expressed his displeasure at the “growing trend” of parents choosing out-of-the-ordinary names for their offspring. In his ruling, he revealed that names such as Stallion, Yeah Detroit, Fish and Chips, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucy, and Sex Fruit had been prohibited by registration officials. Thank goodness for that. However, officials had allowed a pair of twins – presumably bred by chain smokers – to be named Benson and Hedges, and a collection of other children to be named Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter, and, appallingly, Violence.
But was the good Judge right to say that it was a “new trend”? The short answer is no.
In his delightful book, Morecock, Fartwell, and Hoare, Russell Ash reveals the silly, unfortunate, ironic, filthy, and yes, funny names he discovered in genealogical lists while researching his ancestry. They range from the brutally tragic Not Wanted James Colvill, to the frankly ridiculous New Year Beadle, the optimistically boastful Mary Goodlay, and the magnificently grandiloquent Dancell Dallphebo Marc Antony Dallery Gallery Caesar Williams. The aforementioned Mr Williams for one, was not the son of a pretentious, millennial hipster, but was baptised in the 17th century.
I could, with the greatest of pleasure, give you pages of these names. However, If I were to do so, Mr Ash might take me to court, which would be something of a nuisance. So I shall present a few of them for your delectation and delight.
The book is divided into various themed sections. The one concerning animals contains such delights as: Baboon Dalbert Anson, Liz Ard, Otter Bloodworth, Tom Cat, Dorothy Spider De La H Maddocks, Trout Holdsworth, Albatross Louisa Kingston, Kitty Litter, Emu Luckwill, Rubin Toad Pinkney, Ostrich Pockinghorn, Sarah Jane Shrew, and Clement Sparrow Wham.
If food and drink are your thing, you can read about the likes of: Ann Apple, Tom Ato, Mary Caramel Boot, Virtue Bible Curry, Louisa F De la Sausage, Al Dente, Sue Flay, Colly Flower, Margarine Fryer, Edith Mary Hudson Whis Key, Basil Leaf, Margret Coffee Maxwell, Trifle Muddock, Hazel Nutt, Agnes Etta Pepper, Bovril Simpson, and Agnes Semolina Thrower.
Ash also devotes a section to rhyme. There one comes across: Harry Carry, Agnise Chemise, Richard Stoat Float, Norman Gorman, Willy Nilly, Hugh Pugh, and Herbert Sherbert.
If you are linguistically squeamish, this paragraph may not be for you, as it concerns those names with have anatomical or sexual connotations, and therefore contains some very naughty words which some fools thought should be adopted as surnames, or be used as christian names for their children. Taken from various sections, we have: Betsy Cockin Beevers, Rebecca Bonks, Erasmus Bugger, William Deviant Christie, Everard Cock, Rhoda Cock, Willy Droop, Fanny Filling, John Knobs Henry, Mary Ann Cunt Hunt,, Francis Pervert Leconte, Thomas Fondle Manning, Pudendiana Ryan, Silly Trollope, Henry Twiceaday, Jane F Ucker, and Elizabeth Experience Withall. And for singletons and frustrated halves of couples who might need a helping hand, there are: Dick Handler, Jack Off, and Bertram H Wankwell.
Why? Why would people do that, to themselves or their children? Granted, a number of the above are surnames, so there are whole tribes of people with them, but that can, and in some cases should be changed. Some of the forenames though, seem cruel.
Yes, these names are funny. But most of us don’t have to live with them. The humour isn’t there for those who do. Heaven only knows what they had to endure, and what the unfortunately named children of our own time have to put up with. Having had to hear, when people discover my name, endless failed imitations of Prunella Scales, not to mention numerous attempts at vulpine-related humour from people who genuinely believe that they are the first person to have thought of one or other, I have an awareness of how things must have been, or must still be. But my name is not especially unusual, nor, I believe, is it ridiculous. I have, therefore, got off very lightly.
So, if you’re in the process of breeding, or are planning to do so, please think very carefully. When ploughing through books of names, laugh long, hard, joyfully and guiltlessly at all of the funny and strange names. Then move on. Pick something sensible. Otherwise, you will, as Rob Murfitt, the Judge in the “Talula” case might put it, expose your children to ridicule from their peers. It gives them what, in his ruling, he called, “a social disability and handicap”. That really isn’t a kind thing to do. Naming a child is not a game. A moment of humour can create a lifetime of misery.
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