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.

7 comments:

Miriam Drori said...

Nice post, Jane ... Joan ... whatever.

Jean said...

Hi Miriam, Yes, well... Grrrr!!!

Jean Davison said...

Haha, my name is Jean Davison as well. As a kid I was always so frustrated because most of my certificates, medals and trophies had the wrong name on it. It made me feel invisible and unimportant. Then in year 10 I made a stand and asked them to change it...and it came back, in different writing: 'Jean Davidson'.

Jean said...

Hello the other Jean Davison. Nice to hear from you. What you say reminds me of when I was worried that my degree would be in the wrong name. I wrote to the uni explaining there was often this problem. They wrote a letter back addressed to Jean Davidson saying that the correct name would be on the certificate! That didn't give me much faith that it would be, but, fortunately, it was.

Karen said...

It's funny we were talking about names today - we used to know a woman called Joy, who was the most miserable woman we'd ever met!

I think sometimes our eyes play tricks and we see what we expect to see and somehow Davidson seems to work perhaps because we're used to seeing David as a name in its own right? I agree it must be very annoying when people get it wrong though.

Fascinating history of names. My maiden name was Baldwin, and I never liked it for some reason!

Jean said...

Karen - Yes I'm sure you're right about why our eyes tend to automatically change Davi into David.

The main character in my novel-in-progress is called Joy and when she's fed up she gets teased about her name. I liked the idea of opening the novel with 'Joy felt sad' but then I decided it didn't quite work.

Clare Dudman said...

Hi Joy, thanks for commenting on my blog - thought I'd return the compliment! Very interesting post. About 'Joy' - did you ever see 'Drop the Dead Donkey'? I used to love the belligerently miserable Joy in that.

Generally though - you have my full sympathy - I know just what you mean...I think people can't quite believe a name like Dudman exists, and prefer to get it wrong just in case.