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Name Calling 2006/12/30

Posted by Daddy Dave in Baby, Family.

It is only in relatively recent times here and in North America that people have decided that their name is also what they are called — and that it is unchanging and fixed forever — with particular spellings, no changing while abroad, and no shortening, lengthening, traditional versions or pet names allowed!

How inflexible and Orwellian! Yuk!

Birth Certificate is Traditionally a Starting Point:

This is not a rejection of the birth certificate name; we consider the birth certificate as a starting point in a long established tradition. And like many traditions, it is under threat from “modern” ideas.

As I have stated before, Ruth and I like the fact that the official name is not necessarily what the person is called, and we like the ability to shorten and lengthen a name or use traditional alternatives — like ‘Betty’ for ‘Elizabeth’.

There is a tradition in my family for the first son to be called ‘Guillaume’ and the second to be called ‘Jean’, which seems restricting, but has managed to produce a lot of variety using well-known traditional forms: ‘William’, ‘Will’, ‘Bill’, ‘Billy’, and ‘Liam’ as well as ‘John’, ‘Johnny’, ‘Jack’ and ‘Jackie’.

“Modern” Restrictions:

These traditional forms are under threat as ‘Jack’ and ‘Betty’ are becoming distinct names and actually being used on birth certificates!

So we think it wrong and pretentious to put ‘Bill’ or ‘Guillaume’ on an English birth certificate, but it would be OK to put ‘William’ but call him ‘Guillaume’ while ‘en France’ and ‘Bill’ in everyday use here.

What you are Called:

While we could explain to ‘Peter’ that in France his name would be ‘Pierre’, what would we say to someone called ‘Pierre’ visiting here from France? Would we insist that he be known as ‘Peter’ during his stay here?

  • We have noticed that abroad people ask you what you are called rather than what your name is.

I think that this is the solution — to the rest of the world it matters less what your actual name is (or what the foreign version of it is); and matters more what you want to be called.

So we have until May to find a name for our new baby — as well as deciding what he or she will be called. It has to be said that last time, ‘Olivia‘ just came to Ruth at the hospital (See ‘Out of the Woods’) — but we discovered once we got home that this name had been included — but crossed out — on the girl’s short-list!

My family are “modern” and so are horrified to hear us refer to ‘Olivia’ as ‘Ollie’ or ‘Livvy’ — but that’s what we like about the name and as she has ‘Olivia Sarah Ruth’ on her official birth certificate, so she has plenty of choice.

Adding Complexity:

OK, so there seems to be a difference between what someone is called and their ‘official’ name, but there are other things to take into consideration — such as how a name is pronounced and spelled.

The English language is always evolving, and so it is illogical. Some of it is phonetic, but not all of it. This essential part of the character of the language distinguishes it uniquely from all other modern languages.

Names such as Rhuairdh Cockburn (Roo’ ray Co’ brn), Mhari Dalziel (Varry Dee’ ell), and St. John Berkeley Perkins (Sin’ jun Bar’ klay Par’ kin) or towns such as Milngavie (Muhl’ guy), and Culross (Coo’ russ) or Culzean Castle (Kull’ ane Cassell) are examples.

  • William Shakespeare signed his name using a variety of spellings.

I recognise this through my interest in history, and so I have always refused to get upset about spellings and names. I do not correct people who pronounce my name as “Dee’ Veen”, who spell my name “Divine” with an “i”, or use a capital. Why should I?

Similarly, I do not see it as a “great sin” to write ‘Rury’ instead of ‘Rhuairdh’ or ‘Susie’ instead of ‘Suzi’; how would you guess the spelling from just hearing it?

I think that people ought to be more like me and less touchy about “correctness” — why has the birth certificate form become the only “correct” form?

While we recognise and even accept the unique Englishness of non-phonetic names, we basically consider them to be anomalies, and would never dream of naming our child in such a way as to give them a lifetime of spelling and correcting other people’s guesses.

We take the official birth certificate as a starting point, and work within long-established traditions to arrive at what the baby might be called.

So we have ‘Olivia’, and it seems pretty easy to ‘get right’ as it spells the way it sounds. We call her ‘Ollie’ and ‘Livvy’ but the spelling is not fixed, and could easily and equally be ‘Olly’, ‘Oli’ or ‘Livi’ etc. I myself call her ‘le peu’, ‘snowflake’, and loads of other daft names. It will be fun to see which choices she makes for herself.

Maiden Heaven:

We guess that it might still be possible that in the future women may still change their surname on getting married, so what Olivia does with her name and what she is called may be affected by that.

It may be argued that it is different naming a boy because the surname remains attached throughout his life.

If the new baby is a boy, we were thinking of the names: ‘David’ and ‘Paul’.However, there is not a lot can be done with ‘Paul’, and ‘David’ offers just ‘Dave’ or ‘Davy’, and the consonant ending is not as good as a vowel. I noticed early on in my life that my first name ended in ‘D’ — which is what starts my last name, so they get merged together.

Wish us luck in coming up with good names!


1. Phyllis Murphy - 2007/03/29

Maybe you could call Olivia – Limhi (mh in Irish sounds like a v),
Very entertaining read!

2. text book case - 2008/03/31

TXT names for babies!

“Abbreviated versions of traditional Christian names are appearing on birth certificates along with “original” ways of spelling which even include punctuation marks.

Anne has been changed to An, Connor to Conna and Laura to Lora.”

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