B&HPerhaps it’s just as well that I am without issue because had I ever had children, I’d have had two: a boy called Tadhg and a girl called Maud. And I wonder how happy they’d be with their solid, old-fashioned names in a world where calling your twins Benson and Hedges is perfectly acceptable and calling your kid ‘Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii’ gets her made a ward of the court so that she can, at nine, legally change her own name.

Sweden has blocked attempts by parents to name their children Superman, Metallica, and Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 – mad. But a not-so-fortunate kid in New Zealand is walking around with the name ‘Number 16 Bus Shelter’. I can’t help wondering at the logic of needing a licence to have a TV or get married but being able to have kids and name them at will.

I know of just two parents in the last 20 years who have called their daughters Mary. But it’s starting to come back in vogue, seen as it is as a solid, traditional name. I was christened Mary Martha. And for years and years and years I hated that name. Whenever it was trotted out, I knew I was in trouble. For my cousins, it was the weapon of choice when it came to needling me. But then I realised that Martha is quite a cool name and now I quite like it. But it’s too late to go back to the double barrel…

I was copied on an email not long ago, one with quite an extensive To list. I’d have used BCC myself, but hey, I wasn’t sending it. I always look at who else has been addressed and this time I laughed out loud. The descriptives used to describe the journalists included were amusing: bald guy with glasses, quiet chap from ME, woman with donkey laugh. This is what happens when your email address doesn’t state your name. You get qualified. I got off lightly with Merry M.

I do some work for a UK publisher who uses typesetters in India and the Philippines. I have trouble with some of the names and rarely, if ever, can identify the gender behind the name with complete certainty. Today I got an email from a new contact whose name is … Lovely. The email address itself doesn’t help in clarifying who is behind this moniker so I don’t know if Lovely is a lovely man or a lovely woman. But it’s a lovely name, Lovely. Made my day.



What’s in a name?

I was in India a few years ago at a workshop … me and 49 locals and one French girl who may as well have been Indian she’d lived there that long. As an ice-breaker, we all formed a circle and the first person introduced himself. Hello, my name is Lakshminarayana. Then the next introduced herself: Hello, my name is Kajal and this is Lakshminarayana. And then the next: Hello, my name is Anand and this is Kajal and Lakshminarayana. And so it went around. I was number 35 or so in the circle and I was stumped. Had it been in Ireland, I’d have had a reasonable chance. We have simple names like Peter, Paul, and Mary. But aside from having a terribly bad name/face recollection, I couldn’t get my tongue around the names. Embarrassing. And particularly embarrassing when the last person, No. 51, introduced herself and remembered every single name in order. And she was 80 something.

Earlier still, when in Oxford studying, a number of my classmates came from China. They anglicized their names to make it easier for English-speakers to pronounce. Hi, my name is Vivien. I’m from Guangzhou still sounds odd.

And further back again, when I was at my swearing in ceremony in the USA, every Asian being conferred with US citizenship had chosen a new, American name. Xinran became Amanda. Mengyao became Matt. Qiuyeu became Connie. And it didn’t sit well with me.

Mark Twain supposedly said: Names are not always what they seem. The common Welsh name BZJXXLLWCP is pronounced Jackson. The man had a sense of humour; you get the picture.

Anyway, I’d forgotten how mispronouncing people’s names irritates me until I saw a clip of a UK politician being interviewed about Vona Gábor’s recent foray to the UK. Now, of all the Hungarian names out there (and yes, I have problems with György and Gergely and as for Fruzsina…well…and that’s not even touching the family names) but even I can manage not to mangle Gábor. Don’t get me wrong – he’s not on my Christmas card list – but I was a tad upset that those on the public airwaves whose pronunciation will be copied with a religious fervour, didn’t bother to check the pronunciation of his name, or that of his party, Jobbik.

Confucius reckoned that if names are not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things. And he had a point. But on a more basic level, I reckon that we’re just getting lazy. We can’t be bothered making the effort, and in readily taking the easy way out, we quickly come to accept a new norm where others must change to accommodate us. That is wrong on so many levels.

Yes, it’s difficult. And yes, I regularly make a hames of people’s names here in Hungary because I simply cannot hear the different sounds, let alone repeat them. I’m tone deaf. But I refuse to anglicize them. I like to think that my efforts, no matter how pathetic, are seen as well-intentioned. But perhaps I’m wrong… perhaps my Hungarian friends secretly wish that I wouldn’t try too hard. I wonder.

First published in the Budapest Times  31 January 2014