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Opinion: What’s in a name?


“’Tis but thy name… What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Would that still be true if the name in question happened to be Pooh? Or Arse? Or Farting? I am not being deliberately childish or crude; these are all genuine surnames belonging, I am sure, to quite lovely- if rather unfortunate- individuals. My imagination was lead down this path of problematic patronymics (that’s cringe-worthy surnames to you and me) by being recently reminded that supermodel Heidi and SealHeidi Klum legally changed her last name to that of her husband. Fortunately for the model formerly known as Klum, her husband Seal’s little-known surname is none of the above but, instead, the comparatively respectable Samuel. Still, it took 4 years of marriage and 2 and a half children (Heidi is currently pregnant again) to eventually prompt the name change.

My question, therefore, is twofold: Should a wife be expected to take her husband’s surname at marriage? And should a wife be expected to take her husband’s surname if the surname is, frankly, absurd?

My own surname with its spelling and pronunciation issues, not to mention a superscript and a capital letter within the name, is highly inconvenient when both enunciating it over the phone and filling out forms. I have lost a ridiculous number of appointments through someone entering my name incorrectly into their database, however I can’t really blame them- my own signature has so many i’s and l’s grouped together I often lose track of how many I have scribbled and it ends up looking like the spiky readout of a heart monitor. So you can probably understand why I would look forward to the day when I can finally change it to something simple and uncontroversial. But what if I fall in love with someone with an even more cumbersome name than my own? Or, worse, a silly name?! I can just imagine the awkwardness after I introduce myself as Mrs Bonkers, as the laugher painfully peters out and my new acquaintances slowly realise that it is not, in fact, a joke.

So, to protect myself from such hypothetical humiliation, should that be the first thing I do when meeting a potential future partner- assess his surname? Should my checklist now read: tall, sense of humour, broad shoulders, good job, interest in sports, family in a different country, an aversion to skinny jeans… non-embarrassing surname? Or should I instead worry less about trivial matters, focus on all his good qualities, accept every aspect of him- and keep my own name?

Then, of course, there is the question of what to name the kids. Do you give them the father’s name and deal with the confusion of why yours is different at a later date? Or do you go the double-barrelled route? While such a practice in countries such a Spain provides an effective means of tracing your heritage, please bear in mind the initial motivation behind maintaining your own names may have been to minimise embarrassment. Doubling them seems to border on child abuse.

Phoebe: Hey Mon? Was it weird changing your name to Geller-Bing?

Monica: No, no. It felt nice to acknowledge this. (pats Chandler on his leg)

Phoebe: Where did you go to do it?

Monica: Uhm the… the ministry… of names… bureau…


Monica: I’m sorry. It’s just the idea of being an official Bing.

Chandler: Hey! I will have you know that… aah, who am I kidding. Let’s call the kid Geller and let Bing die with me.

Of course I am being horribly practical about what is after all a romantic celebration of two people committing themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. I am sure there is a certain thrill in taking the name of your beloved and proclaiming to the world that you are starting a new life, and a new family, with that person. In a society with an ever increasing number of divorces and single-parent families, perhaps sharing the same name can give your children a sense of stability and security. Not to mention eliminating any confusion at Parent’s Evenings.

If, however, the marriage does sadly fail, should the (ex)wife revert back to her married name? Do we derive a sense of self or history from our names or are we simply ascribing too much significance to what is, after all, “but thy name”? I

If that were true, why do musicians, actors and other performers take ‘stage names’? It may allow them to keep their professional and personal lives separate but is usually determined by how they want to present themselves to the world in order to be the most successful. A stage name allows them to create a character, completely separate from themselves who can fulfil their dreams for them. It is hard to imagine Demi Moore achieving sex symbol status as Demetria Gene Guynes, or Elle Macpherson becoming a world renowned fashion and beauty icon with the dowdy moniker of Eleanor Gow.

Lisa: Max Power?
Homer: Dynamic, isn’t it?
Bart: I love it, Max.
Marge: You changed your name without consulting me?
Homer: That’s the way Max Power is, Marge. Decisive, Uncompromising! And rude!

It seems the right name can open doors and create opportunities. Which is why the current trend for outlandish baby names concerns me so. What doors do the parents of Daisy Boo, Jermajesty and Fifi Trixibelle expect to open for their little girls? The gates of Disneyland if they’re lucky, a strip club if they’re not. And what opportunities will befall Pilot Inspecktor, Moxi Crimefighter, Audio Science  and Rocket? Perhaps they could join forces to form their own band of superheroes/therapy group. Although I have to say, I do like Apple…




Leopoldo Arse
– born in Masxiota, Mexico 15 November, 1890
Edmund Rodney Pollexen Bastard
– died Isle of Wight, 1856
Frank Bonkers
– born in Goshen Hill, Union, South Carolina about 1866
John Bum
– born in Queens, New York about 1842
Mary Clit
– born Allegheny, Pennsylvania about 1869
Betsey Farting
– born in Samford, Suffolk, UK in 1843
Julia Pisser
– born in Missouri about 1878
Joseph Poof
– born in Whitechapel, London about 1836
Ada Pooh
– born in Ireland about 1875
William Shit
– born in Farmington, Wisconsin about 1834
Lizzie Splatter
– born in Wisconsin about 1866
Henry Spunk
– born in Marylebone, Middlesex, London, UK about 1870
Albert Strangler
– born in Illinois about 1875
Emma Turd
– born in Hartley Wintney, Hampshire, UK in 1877

4 Comments leave one →
  1. robin permalink
    16/11/2010 22:58

    But surely you can forge the way for your own name. Bringing whatever qualities and delicate nature you want to it all. Consider that defining moment when selecting a child’s name. The first thing you do is think of all of those people you know, with the same name, then you think about how much you dislike them. Individuals have the power to shape, form and sculpt their own name-ology. And a lot can be achieved with a name. After all, although similar, most would prefer to drive a Lexus and not a Toyota. (Lexus being the most expensive Toyota available).

    So I leave you with this thought…names are not the windows to our souls, they are just the label on the spine by which we will be judged.

    – R

  2. 17/11/2010 11:03

    Take my advise, you defintely want to protect yourself from such hypothetical humiliation. I always went with the checklist until that fatal day when I had to decline his proposal. I really should had assessed his surname, but seriously who would have a problem with his name being Chris Rhea . . . unless your name is Di!

  3. PiterJankovich permalink
    29/11/2010 15:10

    My name is Piter Jankovich. oOnly want to tell, that your blog is really cool
    And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
    P.S. Sorry for my bad english

    • 30/11/2010 10:48

      Hi Piter! Thanks for your comment!
      This blog is a bit of a hobby currently, but I am hoping that maybe the right person will read it, love it, and turn it into something more for me!
      But in the meantime I just hope people enjoy it, so please keep reading!

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