Wednesday, 20 April 2011

What's in a Name?

Please note, my name is Jean Davison. Not Davidson. Why do so many people want to put that ‘d’ in it? My name is Davison. Davison. Davison. Does it matter? I used to wonder why my then husband-to-be got annoyed over such a trivial thing. But soon after becoming a Davison myself, I understood.

Yes, it does matter. It mattered when the GP’s receptionist kept telling me the test result I was anxiously waiting for hadn’t yet arrived. She could have put me out of my misery weeks earlier if she hadn’t been looking up ‘Davidson’ on the computer.

It matters with book publicity when my book ‘The Dark Threads’ is advertised as ‘by Jean Davidson’ and, even worse, an ebook version came out in the name of ‘Davidson’.

It mattered when I once went on a customer relations course at work where the course leader stressed the importance of getting people’s names correct. At last, someone understood that it mattered. After the course, I received an impressive looking certificate, and on it in fancy lettering, it said … Jean Davidson.

For heaven’s sake! My name is Davison. Davison. Davison.

Well, now I’ve got that out of my system, let’s take a brief look at the history behind surnames. Did you know that in England alone there are around 45,000 different surnames, each with a historical source? Before the Norman Conquest of Britain, when communities were small, each person just had a single name. Gradually further identification was needed, so a person might be called Joseph the Butcher, Peter the short or John son of David (or maybe he was son of Davy).

By 1400 most English families were using hereditary surnames, often based on occupations, nicknames, places and father’s names. This meant that these surnames stuck in future generations when the original source no longer applied to a person. So now we get vegetarians with the surname of Butcher, bad people called Good, sweet-tempered people called Moody and miserable sods called Jolley. Of course, some people do fit their names. A former colleague of mine with the surname of Drinkall seemed to feel a need to live up to this at office parties.

Does Professor Wiseman fit his name, I wonder? The results of a survey he conducted indicated that we make assumptions about someone’s lifestyle and character based simply on their first name. He gave 7,000 volunteers a list of 20 male and 20 female names and found there was shared agreement on who they imagined would be the most or least attractive. Ann and George were considered the least attractive. Sophie and Ryan were considered the most attractive. Myself I doubt that this research stands up to much scrutiny (sorry, Professor Wiseman). The name ‘Ryan’ in my mind will always be linked with a snotty-nosed kid at primary school. I’ve never liked that name since.

The same name can sound different depending on where we put the emphasis. I became interested in this as a child, listening to mothers standing on their doorsteps calling out the names of their children. This was the fifties when even very young children roamed the streets freely. My friend Andrew’s mum used to call ‘Ann – drew’, which I thought sounded like a sneeze. And it was a silly way to say it anyway because it caused all the Ann’s in the area to come first.

Sometimes people need to change a name that just doesn’t sound right for a particular occupation or image. Imagine Cliff Richard sticking to the somewhat boring sounding name of Harry Webb? Or a young, rebellious Bob Dylan being announced as Robert Zimmerman.

Some people get really narked if you get their name wrong. I know of a Mr O’Nions who turns beetroot when someone calls him Mr Onions. And a Mrs Portray whose feathers get rustled if she’s called Mrs Poultry. I can’t see what the fuss is about. I mean, why can’t they just develop a sense of humour?

Oh, yes. Let me remind you. My name is Davison, not Davidson. It’s Davison. Davison. Davison.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Did You Know???

Did you know that using a treadmill can be educational? To offset boredom during an hour's treadmilling session I've found it necessary to listen to anything that comes on the radio during that time. It's amazing what fascinating snippets of knowledge you can pick up from doing that.

Did you know that around 456BC a Greek dramatist died when an eagle dropped a tortoise on his bald head? Or that in 1718 the Irish Parliament passed the Coffee Adulteration Act by which it was forbidden (among other things) to attempt to pass off sheep dung as coffee beans? To get more up to date, did you know that copper door handles kill germs whereas the little buggers thrive on those made of aluminium or stainless steel? This must mean that when I wash my hands before making sandwiches in the kitchen and then bring the food through into another room to eat, I'm eating... No, let's not go there.

Anyway, what's all this got to do with getting on with writing my novel? Absolutely nothing. Unless I grab the idea of having the villain of the piece become a victim of a falling tortoise.