‘Do you think we’d improve our fortunes if we called ourselves Howell-Edwards?’ A question from my lovely new wife, formerly Margaret Howell, as we travelled from church after our mid-1960’s wedding.
Her concern was possibly prompted because the bridal car was a funeral car. Fair play, it was spring with less call for undertakers. Also, the undertaker owed me for sending him customers in my part-time job as verger in the Battersea parish immortalized by Nell Dunn’s Up the Junction.
‘No, we’ll stick to Edwards – think of the extra ink we’d use writing a double-barrelled name.’ Forty-plus years of failure suggest that she was right. Could Ian Fleming’s 007 have portrayed toughness if instead of rapping ‘Bond, James Bond,’ he’d said, ‘Bottomley, Marmaduke Bottomley?’ Whereas Billy Wycherley could only be a believable 1960’s rock’n’roller by changing his name to Billy Fury. Mick Jagger didn’t need re-naming: his genuine surname conveyed the raw menace of the Rolling Stones. Sometimes all that’s needed for success is a slight change. When Anthony Blair ditched Anthony for Tony, a regular kind of guy emerged.
The ecclesiastical world reinforces the thesis. Think of the care with which a young monk or nun selects their name in religion, seeking to share the virtues of the saint whose name they adopt.
Could Joseph Leycester Lyne have been a dour Prot rather than a flamboyant A-C, relaunching himself as Fr Ignatius? The equally eccentric Fr Brian Brindley added Dominic and Titus to his forenames, complementing his monsignor’s hat. Loose Canon may have been the view of his biographers, but the Reading Romanizer had a firm grip on the image projected by names.
Having written up these thoughts, I called Margaret. ‘Think I’ve cracked it. My thesis on names could be a bestseller. Serialization rights from News of the World or even New Directions.
Her response was immediate. ‘Knox’ – at least that’s what it sounded like. Yes, blast. John and Ronnie. Same name – very different chaps. Scrap thesis.