Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Names. Attitudes.

They were talking about names on the radio yesterday. I think it was Jane Garvey on Women’s Hour, but I missed the beginning of it so I’m not sure. Anyway, presenter Jane and studio guest Jane were talking to various Janes on the phone or otherwise electronically, about how it felt to be called Jane. This included Jane Asher, who at 74 is one of the Janes so-named when the name was just coming into popularity. Nobody mentioned her cakes! The youngest Jane, whose surname escapes me, was in her twenties. Jane has slipped out of fashion now so both Jane Asher and this youngest Jane had met almost no Janes in their lives while the presenter had known loads and loads of them. 

Fashions in names are odd. I can remember back in the early 1970s having four Julies in one class of thirteen-year-olds. Highly confusing! One of the Janes told how she was once asked if it was short for Janet. Which is odd, as Janet must surely derive from Jeannette, the regular French diminutive for Jeanne, French for Jane or Jean. All the Janes objected to people spelling their name with a Y - Jayne. There is something very upsetting about people spelling your name wrongly. 

Even more upsetting is when they simply get it wrong. Our daughter, Ellen, gets cross at her name being overcorrected to Helen. I have grown weary of being called Angela and, more commonly, Andrea, or occasionally Althea. There was an Enid, a work colleague, who would regularly begin emails to me with “Andrea ....”, which was odd as the email address included my actual name. In rather petty and juvenile fashion, I would reply, beginning my email with “Edna ...”. Little bits of revenge!

I have met few Anthea’s in my life, one of them married to my husband’s cousin, oddly enough.

The discussion moved on to class associations and famous names in literature. They interviewed a couple of Traceys, all of them more than a little cross at being permanently associated with rather rough and ready Sharon and Tracey from Birds of a Feather. As they thought of loud, brash  Traceys from various books, I wanted to shout at the radio, “but what about Tracey Beaker?” Tracey Beaker was the heroine of Jacquline Wilson’s books for young girls, a young resident of a children’s home (this is probably a politically incorrect term nowadays - I expect it should be residential care centre or something similar)  who gets into various scrapes, a bit if a role model for young girls. No doubt there are some Traceys around who were named after Ms Beaker.

People often give their children the names of characters from books they have read. That is how I ended up with Anthea. Had my father not spotted and liked the name, I might have been just Margaret, one of the many in my cohort at school. However, nobody seems to have chosen to call their daughter after Titty from Swallows and Amazons, despite Titty being an excellent role model. And one of the presenters confessed to having trouble with Fanny, even though she is a character from Mansfield Park, by Jane Austin. 

Which brings us neatly back to Jane! 

Moving on to other things. 2020 has been an odd year. Yet some people think we will be better for it. Here’s something by the writer David Hart:-

“Notwithstanding this argument, I am an optimist about the crisis. I think it has also revealed attractive features of modern Britain, the high level of volunteering and the inventiveness of our medical-scientific infrastructure for example.

I have just written a book called Head, Hand, Heart about how we have allocated too much reward and prestige to the cluster of human aptitudes concerned with cognitive ability. So it was refreshing to see not only the “heart” work done in the public care economy, but also the key workers, mainly non-graduate “hand” workers, getting some of the recognition they deserve.

I think we will emerge from the pandemic a more decent society, more aware of our inter-dependence. But we also need to learn some lessons about emotionalism in the public conversation and accepting that with democratic authority, as with everything else, it is horses for courses. What works in normal times may not be right for a crisis.”

Let’s hope he is right and we emerge from our isolation into a more welcoming society. Others, however, are still expressing their fears that the whole Brexit business has made us more intolerant of differences, or at any rate less reluctant to express that intolerance out loud in public. 

Strange times. 

Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone! 

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