Monday, 27 April 2009

The Vexed Kvestion of Names

I have a fault – just the one - & that is a singular lack of tolerance for people getting my name wrong.  I don’t mind if they go completely off piste and call me Brunhilda or Salome, but if they call me ‘Lisa’, as in Leessa, they are straight onto a 3 strikes count ie., if they do it twice more any chance of friendship, possibly even civility, vanishes.   
I know it’s not rational & Liza & Lisa are close in look if not sound, but it’s the very ease of error that makes the blood pressure go haywire. Do I look like a Leessa? No, I do not. Do I think Leessa is a nice name? No, I do not.  Do I understand that other people might not be exercised by similar thoughts? No, I do not.
I have irrational dislikes to other ostensibly normal names too.  I can’t tell you what they are because I have friends who are burdened with them.
Oh, alright then: Rupert, Hugo & Simon too - but Hugo & Rupert for different reasons to Simon.  Obviously. Also Paul.  Struggle a bit with David.  Also Sophie.  Ann is a burned out house at Christmas.  Anna is a single bauble hanging in the wreck, Anne: the bauble got damaged & HannaH is just Anna with a stile at each end.  
I have to remind myself often and sternly that they didn’t chose their names; these things were foisted upon them.

I am struck by the strange names that people do chose – watching those Channel 5 ‘caring insight into a transgender’s journey’ shockumentaries - the guys go from being Karls and Richards to super-cautious Elspeths and Patricias, when they could go for something to match the exoticism of chopping off their own genitalia to achieve fulfillment.

Quietly, the name thing is a bit of an obsession, especially when writing fiction.  Naming characters is a strange, superstition-plagued process: odd names imply comedy, alliterative names are not convincing, a minor character must have a dullish name, unless what they do is pivotal - & then it’s got to be a bit strange in order to be memorable blah de blah. It’s all different degrees of nonsense. To avoid endless time-wasting of this nature, I now just go to Junk Mail and heave a name out of the Porn Spam and offer them liberation. Taking a glance at my Junk Mail I currently have Mabel Edwards, Terry Gillespie and Roma Chattaway [see holiday snap] all waiting to be released from bad scripts, heavy viagra usage and short-lived, self-esteem mangling careers.

A friend of mine - a Hugo actually – went with his friend Justin to do one of those Iron John courses where they were taken into a wood for a weekend of enlightenment and clean-love mandating. After Hugo had the raisins he’d hidden in his socks confiscated, they were taken to a large room where they were each given a number.  Until they had completed a series of insight inducing tasks, they were no longer Hugo & Justin, but mere numerals. After a while, they graduated off the numerals, but not back to Hugo & Justin – they had to chose an animal identity, so Hugo became known as Horse & Justin as Leopard. The other men chose similar names. They were all noble beasts: eagles, tigers and wolves and one man - by general consensus, a smug and arrogant git - was a panther. No one was Goldfish or Termite.  On the last night, they sat naked round a campfire in the woods, their oiled bodies draped in rough blankets, their war-painted cheeks streaked with manly tears; their hearts full of greatness.
Here, the leaders amongst them performed the final of ceremony, awarding them their full titles by adding an adjective to their self-selected noun. They went round the group until they reached Hugo, who became Powerful Horse, then Justin, who became Ballsy Leopard and finally to the git, who became Ordinary Panther.
My brother is called Colin, a strange name & not in a good way, but not his choice, not his choice we shout and one we are so used to in the family as to be almost oblivious. However, my poor brother’s life is about to be plunged into confusion, a confusion of an unexpectedly piscatorial nature.

Two weeks ago, Sainsbury’s announced that they are renaming the cod-like Pollack for a 'relaunch'.  Their more sensitive shoppers, they suspect, have hesitated to buy this tasty and reasonably-priced food due to its problematic name.   You know the types - search as you might, these folks ' baskets, will never contain Coquilles Saint Jacques, bazooka bubblegum, fresh breast, meatballs, ripe melons, butt plugs. We've all seen them, going bright red when the checkout girl picks out the vibrator they have been attempting to conceal beneath their asparagus spears and then waves it in the air shouting to a colleague, 'Wayne? Wayne! Are the 12 inchers still half price?'
After 'a significant amount’ of market research Sainsburys - in what may only be the start of an avalanche of genteel change they went with…colin. Yes, Colin.
But wait up, not Colin as we know it, we must pronounce it ‘colan’.

How is all this going to affect the wider world? Its impact can only begin to be guessed at. Have Colins Montgomerie, Cowdrey, Firth and Powell been asked if they are happy having their names hijacked as cheap cover for a fish? Are Pollack immigrants now Colanders?
Will Jackson Pollock become known as Jackson Colin? Was the runner Colin Jackson secretly once Pollack Jackson? And what about the poor singer-songwriter Colin Pollack – where the colining hell does that leave him? And when exactly did supermarkets get to rewrite the dictionary? Did I miss the small print on a packet of Bran Flakes? Pollack is a marvelous name. If I had another son, I'd probably call him Pollack. That, or Denis. 
[illustration - a typical splatter by Jackson Pollock, or possibly a counterfeit executed by a tame chimp]