IN Spain, half the men seem to be called Antonio and half the families Sanchez. Although there are more inventive names such as Bocanegra and Elano (the anus), there seems to be a greater variety of names in the English-speaking world. Students of my columns will be familiar with my fascination with names such as Catchpole, Crapper and Culpepper.
Some surnames are words which raise questions about their origin. The occupations, characteristics or activities of ancestors may explain names like Miller, Armstrong and Ramsbottom respectively. Was a forebearer of Professor Rebekah (Rebecca?) Pinchback a victim of groping? And did Peter Townsend’s forebearers live in the suburbs of Huddersfield?
Other names, such as Bellweather, Birdwhistle and Standpipe derive from words that appear to have no bearing on people’s past. Some names make no sense to me at all. Are such names as Blenkinsop, Pigsaw and Shillabeer not rather odd? Gillicuddy? Puddephatt?
We may be able to imagine an event involving the ancestors of some of today’s folk bearing these names. An accident at an ancient naked barbecue may explain Frank Cockburn’s name and would explain why he pronounces it Coburn (to rhyme with Holborn). But, as in the sad case of Sidebottom (commonly pronounced Siddy-botoom, with emphasis on the ‘toom’), it fools nobody.
When I came across the name of Culpepper (Martin), I thought this was a real beauty. But that was before I heard from a friend who knows somebody in Australia called Crawdaddy (Alfons).
Britain’s youngest ever Olympic medal winner is the 13-year-old skateboarder, Sky Brown. Her 10-year-old brother is also proficient at this sport; his name is Ocean Brown. Are their parents colour-blind or should they simply change their surname to a more logical colour? How about Blue?
It was recently revealed that in Britain more boys are given the name Lucifer than Nigel. While the Brexit debacle may have played a part in the latter’s demise, why turn to the devil as an alternative? And Jenny Heap is not an attractive name for the television producer, although perhaps preferable to Jenny Dump. Meanwhile, the well-endowed Biggerstaff wants everyone to know his potential.
And dogs’ names. A bookseller in Portsmouth has three dogs and would never name them after humans. He considers such names for a dog as Sally, Jennifer, Simon or Jeremy as ridiculous, and so his Labrador is called Big Dog while the terriers are Black Dog and Silly Dog.
A picturesque town in Cumbria was recently ravaged by floods. Its name is Cockermouth. It may or may not lie at the estuary of the river Cocker, but why not call it Cockerbridge or Cockerville? And was it negligence or a sense of humour that inspired a couple in Somerset to name their impressive house Crown Court?
Of course, it’s not just names. Who decided on yellowhammer, periwinkle and shuttlecock?
David Worboys’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of those of the publishers, advertisers or sponsors.