Wot’s in a Name?

October 9, 2012 — Leave a comment

“Oh just like Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter,” the woman whose hand I’d just shaken said as I introduced myself. In the old days, before Gwyneth, people would invariably utter witticisms around my name along the lines of “ooh, you must’ve been the apple of your father’s eye” or “is your sister’s name orange?”

Having an unusual name has never concerned me – I learnt early to smile and had stock phrases of my own. In answer to “Are you a Cox’s Pippin?” I would respond, “No, I’m Golden Delicious!” I was never teased at school for having, in those days, a strange name. Doubtless because I was a little strange anyway, never quite fitting in to any of the standard boxes apart from sex and age. I spoke with an accent neither quite English nor quite Australian. My conversation was peppered with Malay words like cukup or saya tidak that were part of my upbringing, meaning ‘enough’ or ‘I don’t know’ and were as natural as ‘okay’ to many children.  In fact that particular word was frowned on by my father as being lax, and not worth the air needed to speak it. He could be a little pompous at times.

The other day a friend sent me a link to a Huffington Post piece entitled Celebrity Babies Named After Edible Objects. Listed along with Apple Martin, were a couple of Clementines, a Sage and a Saffron, an Olive, a Poppy and a Coco – all I think rather pretty names and a couple of them names that come and go with skirt lengths. Peaches Geldorf was also obviously included. There were however two names that did make me wonder what concoction their parents were imbibing when they made the life-long decision to call their offspring Peanut, which is just about okay or the other couple, Frank and Gail Zappa, to call their daughter Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen.

Now you can ask any parent why they called their child the name they did and most will have a delightful story behind the choice. Think of Brooklyn Beckham. But I do wonder at Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen.

If it’s true we grow into our names, I do hope Miss Zappa is not becoming schizophrenic through the seesaw effect of being either too thin or too plump as muffin connotes. But then I don’t suppose we do personify our names as I have not become red or green in colour, though am becoming decidedly more green by nature than I was twenty years ago.

The story behind my name falls I think into the entertaining category and attests to the occasional pomposity of my father. My name came about when he, safely out-of-the-way in Nigeria, awaited my birth in London, England, and was being hounded by the resident expatriate busybody.

“What,” she kept asking him “are you going to call the baby if it’s a girl?”

In desperation and because letters to and from Britain and Africa discussing the life-long decision of their baby’s name took rather a long time fifty or so years ago, he finally blurted, “I shall call her Celestial Apple.” It was the name of the main character, a beautiful and sympathetic soul by all accounts, in a book set in 19th Century China.

Not satisfied with his flippant response, the woman wandered the cocktail circuit of Kano, pink gin in one hand and cigarette in the other, asking all and sundry, “I say, have you heard the extraordinary name John Girling, you know the new manager of L&K, is giving his daughter?”

“Oh I didn’t know the baby had arrived.”

“No, no, it hasn’t. But if it’s a girl he’s going to call her Celestial Apple! What do you think of that?”

“Good Lord, rather a strange name for an English child. Is his wife foreign?”

Fortunately my mother, the down-to-earth Australian part of my lineage, told Dad, “Not bloody likely!” In the interests of marital harmony my parents agreed to call the daughter of their union, me, Apple, although for bookkeeping purposes I was to be known as Frances Alison Havelock.

So, what’s in a name? I’m not sure but I am eternally grateful I was not called muffin and that ‘Celestial’ was relegated to the bad idea pile. And just for the record, my sister’s name is Valerie.

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