Weekly Writing Challenge: Names

An old English nursery rhyme whose first written record was 1872,  “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” and “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” by William Shakespeare Act II Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet both intimate that names are of minor consequence, not worthy of retaliation if used against you and irrelevant as it is what things are that matter, not what they are called.

So then why does it matter. Our family name will die with my brother and I. Even though he has two boys they have gone the modern way and have taken their mother’s surname. I personally like the Icelandic way where there are no surnames to hold onto. They may use either the more common patronymic system where the father’s first name is used or a matronymic suffix using the mother’s name. Added to the end is either son or dottir (daughter) to denote sex. This was common throughout Nordic countries but changes in naming laws to ensure that inheritable names were given  occurred earliest in Denmark in 1828 and finally in Norway in 1922. Using the Icelandic method of naming removes that fierce protective urge one has towards ones name although I imagine it must make researching the family history a trifle difficult once migration of the population began.

Researching family history is difficult enough as it is. Often due to insufficient written history and the looseness that many had with the spelling of their name. My brother http://mountainsrivers.com/2014/03/11/maternal-ancestors-bronze-age-iron-age-roman-britain/  has managed to trace us back to Urwen my great 292nd grandmother but it is my mother’s grandfather that is proving elusive and simply due to a name change. Stanley-Clarke was her granddad’s surname which he changed to Stanleigh-Clarke which allowed him to marry another woman whilst still married to my Grandmother. Like my Uncle many of my new cousins (that we have not been able to trace) most likely dropped the Stanley/Stanleigh from their name making them anonymous in the huge pool of Clarkes.

My ex husband also had a double barrelled name. His father, in appreciation for services rendered added the person’s name to his own. Already two of my brothers-in-law had dropped the addition.

Surnames came up at the recent nursing reunion that I attended. It was often the only way we could bring the person to mind. Many of my compatriots were given nursing surnames. The hospital policy was that they would not have two of any surname so that there could never be any confusion about whose signature it was in legal records and for ease of the pay department. I was always a trifle jealous not to have been given one of these names and I know I would have had difficulty dropping it if I had been given one. One woman was telling us that a patient said to her one day “I don’t understand how this hospital gets so many upper crust girls to nurse here. Do they only take you on if you’re someone?” She had no idea what he was talking about but on further questioning discovered the double barrelled names that the hospital had given many of the girls had given the fellow this impression.

So do names matter? W.C Fields said “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to” or as I often say to my husband ” I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.”



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About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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24 Responses to Weekly Writing Challenge: Names

  1. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge: Power Of Names | imagination

  2. Pingback: Weekly Writing Challenge: Power Of Names | imagination

  3. Interesting take on the name topic. I like what W.C. Fields said about it, too!


  4. M. R. says:

    Irene ! – such a well-researched and interesting post ! – and how revealing of some of your antecedents. Chic had a grandmother he firmly believed to be a whore – literally, I mean – and had done some research to reach this position. Needless to say, he couldn’t get a thing out of his parents’ families … One of my favourite crime writers is Arnaldur Indridason, and that’s where I found out all about the Icelandic naming fashion, many years back. Quite like it, really … 🙂


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  6. Jenni says:

    Family can really be fascinating can’t it.


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  10. Glynis Jolly says:

    If I had my choice of what my maiden name was, it certainly wouldn’t have been my father’s in spite of the love I felt for his father. My first name and last name would have fit better together.


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  14. litadoolan says:

    Enjoyed this post so much. I think the Icelandic tradition is a great idea – no surnames at all. I didn’t realise ‘sticks and stones’ as a rhyme went back so far in time. Feels strange to think of so many generations of children singing the same words. The ending to the post is so empowering. I love your work. I could read all day!


  15. sue marquis bishop says:

    Irene, I had never heard of hospital policy to give nurses a new surname. And in modern times. Amazing. I enjoyed your post. I must say you are a really good photographer and glad you share them. Sue



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