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What’s in a Name?

Why do some of us get teased for our names? We didn’t choose them, they were chosen, I’m sure with good intentions, and given to us, to define us. To call, coax, cajole us with.

But do we become our name? Is there an inherent association with a certain name? Plain Jane, for example? And in my many years as a teacher, there are far too many Dylans and Darryls and Darrens who are disruptive influences in the class (I’m sorry but it is true), and then there’s the trend for fruit and flowers from the celebrity circuit – Apple, Peaches and Bluebell. I hated my name growing up – and I struggle now to write it in full but here goes. At its worst and before I had denounced the Catholic confirmation name, Elizabeth, my full name was: Charlotte Prudence Elizabeth Herman – Smith. Laugh all you like, the only input I had was Elizabeth and I no longer use that. Signing a cheque years ago after having a haircut the hairdresser said ‘Do you want to use the back of the cheque for that? It’s a bloody sentence not a signature’. I ‘laughed’ and stumbled out red faced – again.

I used to think I would never marry because I couldn’t stand the thought of my whole name being called out just before taking my vows. As it transpired, there was no need for that. I adopted the name Charli when I was about 10. Having read many of Enid Blyton’s stories with George (Georgina) as a central character, I desperately wanted a boy’s name. I hadn’t made the association that Charlotte could be Charlie. My grandmother, whom we called Lulu (instead of Julie) gave me a yellow tee shirt with purple velveteen letters which spelled out Charlie. However in a vain attempt to be even more different I scratched out the ‘e’.

I practised using Charli on and off but it wasn’t until I went to senior school that I actually became my name. And a right Charli I’ve been ever since. The only time I get called Charlotte is by a dear friend who knew me as such when we were children, or at the doctor’s or dentist. I like the name Charlotte and so choose carefully when to use it. Prudence is a whole other story. It does mean wisdom but sounds so posh. I’m not in the least bit posh and was teased mercilessly at school for the Herman part of my name: Herman the German ( yes, actually); Sherman Tank, you name it I’ve heard it.

It took us a long time to name L and T because of the association of all the girls I had taught over the years and even my favourite names had snotty resonances or whingey personalities. L is named after my dear friend who calls me Charlotte. T originally came from a TV drama programme, and was quite uncommon at the time. I thought about the meaning of their names very carefully and in many ways they have grown into their names, or do I just look for that association?

Since Dad died in 1997 I have become more proud of Prudence as that is the name he would like to have given me as my Christian name. I’m glad Mum won that argument but I sometimes wonder who Pru would have been.

What’s in a Name? – a poem

MUM….. a thousand voices scream,

and many heads turn.

One ‘name’ and one meaning and yet –

Joan, Trudy, Angela and Pat,

Stephanie, Lynn, Pamela, Cat,

Mums you may be and daughters too;

wives and lovers, at home and at work,

your identity shifts in the park, in the dark,

until you’re not so sure who you are anymore.

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