Photo by Pixabay on


My parents named me wrong, of course,
But ev’ry parent does, no doubt –
They have no way of knowing
How their offspring will turn out.
That balance between the int’resting and sensible
Can be so thin –
There’s something to be said, while growing-up,
For blending-in.
But when we come-of-age, we need our names
To do a diff’rent job –
So Sallys sometimes change to Sarahs,
Bobbys change to Robs.
But some will chafe at their very stems,
Their unloved exonyms won’t do –
They think they need to shed their skins,
And make themselves anew.

So why do we eye these braver ones
Who take control of their brand, as fake ?
Why must they always bear their parents’
Well-meaning mistake ?
Like letting their mums still buy their clothes,
And letting their dads still pick their roles –
They must grow up and find their style
With which to dress their souls.
But I did the same with my own kids,
I made a guess and made a hope –
And got it wrong, of course I did,
But still, they seem to cope.
Because, we have to name the tykes,
And yes, project ourselves a bit –
But let’s not take offense if they
Have found a better fit.

Little Germany

Photo by cottonbro on

Little Germany

Hannelora Helmholtz-Hertzsprung,
Eight syllables of Sturm and Drang
That trip along a Teuton tongue
With a click of the heels from brother Wolfgang.
If only Wolf and Hanni tried
The Eidelweiss and Extrawurst,
But they were born in Merseyside –
Less Sachsen, more Anglo-cursed.

Helmholtz-Hertzsprung – what a surname !
H times three and twice Tee-Zed –
They’re triply stung, as if to claim
A ‘Graf’ and a ‘Von’, and be dubbed ‘the Red’.
Her parents gave them the kind of name
That only folks in stories give.
What chance have they of meek and tame
With monikers so transformative ?

They wonder at their German roots,
Though mum’s their mum and not their Mutti.
And their father’s never worn Prussian boots,
And when asked why, he shrugs why should he ?
Of the language, they speak no word,
And their accents sounds less Saar, more Scouse.
So why share names with a yodelling goatherd
As if they’d been raised in a gingerbread house ?

Wolfie tries to harden his Double-Yoo,
But ev’ryone still calls him a softie –
He’s got the wrong voice, where even he struggles to,
And sounding far more pretentious than lofty.
A pair of Frankensteins lacking a zeitgeist,
A Bildungsroman for these misplaced Franks –
Their only reminder of whence their genes spliced
Is that damn Nachname, upping their angst.

Helmholtz sounds like a planetary ship,
While Hertzsprung, like a clockwork core –
Or else a springbok, skittish to skip –
The poor, poor dears !, emburdened with lore.
Their parents gave them the kind of name
That only elves and heroes get –
But theirs it is, to shun or claim…
Could Deutschland be über Alles yet…?

Hannelora Helmholtz-Hertzsprung –
The name of a nuclear engineer –
With phonemes thoroughly washed and wrung
To perfectly balance the Rheinland ear.
How can she live with so much hype ?,
Precision-polished for wide acclaim.
And yes, she knows that’s a stereotype,
But verdammt !, so is her whole damn name !

Lousy with Names

Male Human Head Louse by Gilles San Martin

Lousy with Names

A louse is a louse is a louse,
Close enough,
In German, Norwegian and Dutch,
While Romancers keeps it in-house,
Close enough,
From the Latin pedis, and such,
While Slavs use a different nous,
Close enough,
With vusi – it doesn’t change much.
So a louse is a louse, from West to East,
And ev’rywhere the same.
But a woodlouse, that’s a diff’rent beast –
The bug with a thousand names…
Roly-poly, cheesey wig,
The sow bug, pill bug, backyard blimp –
And dandy postman, parson’s pig,
Or slater, cafner, carpet shrimp.
And other tongues have a similar feast –
Or so the pundits claim…
But an insect louse ? That’s just a louse –
They’re itchy, but they’re tame.

I have touched on woodlice before, and also eyelash lice. Their diversity of names reminds me somewhat of butterflies. Incidentally, though both ‘wood’ and ‘louse’ are present in Anglo-Saxon, they don’t seem to have been put together until 1611.

A Surge of Surnames Serving as Starters

Register by Tim Reckmann

A Surge of Surnames Serving as Starters

Whenever I hear people blame
How surnames get above their station,
Moving up to the front of the name,
In a silly fads and trendy game,
Calling kids Odell or Mason,
Grabbing at that Moon Unit fame
That should belong to Jane and Jason
I love to contradict their claims
By pointing out it’s nothing new for names –
So Franklin, Brooke, and Harrison,
Meet Stanley, Joyce, and Allison,
Who opened up the door through which you came.
But then, there’s many a fam’ly brand
Whose use ain’t so contrived or underhand –
For they themselves derived from the font-side,
Taking a personal name, and riffing free,
Which now completes its jaunty ride
By cycling back as Price or Tiffany,
With not a shred of shame.
For labels, monikers and nicks,
Are simply anything that sticks –
And who wants kids to all be called the same ?

It’s intersting to consider how the four different types of surname get reappropriated:
Patronymic-names (f’instance Anderson, McKenzie, Fitzpatrick) are obvious candidates, being already based on a forename.
Location-names (like Milton, Beverley, Beckett) would be grabbed if they were thought to sound nice, much like India and Vienna would be later, though now with an added dash of exotic.
Nickname-names (say Wiley, Swift, Armstrong) are slower to be taken up, but not unheard-of.
Occupation-names (such as Parker, Smith, Marshall) are the most surname-sounding, and their recent large-scale take-up could well come to define this century, just as the Victorians are associated with naming their daughters after flowers and gemstones.

By the way…if Tinker Dill was a character in Lovejoy, Taylor Dayne was an 80s pop star, Soulja Boy is a rapper…then I guess it’s only a matter of time before we can say Hello Sailor…

(And to all you subjunctive-lovers out there, I stand by the two ‘was’-es above, as what it is saying is “IF…given that Character A was in Show B, THEN…”, meaning that the ‘was’ is not part of the conditional clause.)

Book-Nosed Lukas

Duria Antiquior (Ancient Dorset) by Henry De la Beche, coloured and updated by Richard Bizley

Book-Nosed Lukas

Pterosaurs weren’t dinosaurs –
And so says Lukas, keen to crow.
You know what, Lukas ?  We already know.
And neither were the mosasaurs,
And ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs,
Dimetridon or sarchosuchus –
Come on, Lukas, don’t harp on so.

Sometimes, Lukas, we’ll play ball,
Cos evolution’s cool and all –
But we also need a name instead
To call all things that’re scaly, big, and dead.
We need a widely-recognised file,
A catch-all term, a handy pile –
But one that leaves out bird and crocodile.

With chapter, verse, and nomenclature ?
Oh, don’t be such a whiny bore,
By giving us a minus score
In your self-waging, name-defining war –
Lumbering and out-of-date,
We’ve got your number, Lukas, mate –
You’re such a dinosaur !

All Chalk, No Cheese

All Chalk, No Cheese

Cowes, atop the Isle of Wight –
East and West, though much the same –
Victorian and seaside-y,
With boats and seagulls running free.
And not a single cow in sight –
No running of the bulls – for shame !
No fording droves between the piers,
No cowboys showing off their steers.
And don’t come here in Cowes Week, right !
It doesn’t live up to its fame !
It’s not the time when bullocks battle,
Not a trace of rutting cattle.
Why then whet our appetite,
To wastes its strange and lively name ?
There are no bovine sacrifices,
Just cream teas at tourist prices.

I know, I know, despite a spine of rolling chalk downs through the Island, Cowes itself sits atop clay…


Jenny von Westphalen & Jenny Lind (both born Johanna). Presumably their J’s were soft.


Women have answered to ‘Jenny’ far longer than ‘Jennifer’,
Whether they’re maidens or maids –
A pet form of Janet, Joanna, or even Siobhan,
She’s really a jack-of-all-trades.
Old English had a few Jinifers, sure,
But those weren’t Guiniveres, those were Junipers –
Then, from nowhere, Jennifer came –
From Cornwall, and from a parallel universe.

As the Twentieth Century progressed,
The Jennies were pressed into service
And switched their allegiance to Jennifer only,
And rode her success to over-abundance –
Then into the downward curve of redundancy,
No longer heroines, neighbours, or queens –
But surely we’ll always remember the Jennies,
As wrens, or as donkeys, or spinning machines.

Monte Rosa

Monte Rosa

Hamburg built, to take the Germans
Down to Argentina.
A prize of war, she soon was serving
Those who thought the grass was greener.

In her life, she’d carried Jews to Auschwitz,
But that’s over now.
Now she carried demobbed troops about,
A thousand berths from stern to prow.

Renamed for a Cotswolds river,
Some say that’s bad luck –
Fortune, though, would soon deliver
When her new name really stuck.

Under-occupied in Kingston,
Looking for some cash,
A bill in Parliament that worried some
Enough to make a dash.

She didn’t carry most who followed those,
Yet hers the fame –
The right ship at the right time, I suppose,
And with a poet’s name.


Pink Sugar by Olivier Ponsonnet


Aisha Asher always thinks her name
Has too few letters in it –
It takes a whole three syllables to say,
But not to write.
She likes the sound, but oh, that spelling !
How she longs to discipline it –
Make those letters toe the line,
And keep their phonemes tight.
Whenever a teacher or a stranger
Tries, and fails, to call her,
They’re guaranteed to get it wrong
If reading it as penned.
Ay-sha, they would call her, like the Geisha from Croatia,
It appals her,
But…she cannot really blame them in the end.
Her A is really said like I,
Her I is really said like E,
But who would know to see it written down ?
She toys with splitting them apart with Y,
To keep her diphthongs free,
Or adding dots above the E,
Despite her mother’s frown.
But nobody respects her favoured spellings, anyway –
(It doesn’t help that they are apt to change).
It looks like she is stuck
With a name no-one can say,
Eternally surprising in her strange.

Sons of Milka

The First Discord by De Scott Evans – I’m showing Cain & Abel here because Uz & Buz are inexplicably much overlooked by painters

Sons of Milka

Uz and Buz were brothers,
Way back in the Bible-time,
Who rightly cursed their mother
For her blatant naming-crime.

Uz was older, but Buz was bigger –
“The whole of you is held in me,
Yet I am more than your slight figure,
For you shall never be my B.”

“Not so !” said Uz, “For in the lore
Of old King James, I’ve letters three –
I have an H that stands before,
So they dub me Huz in the KJV !”

So, Uzz and Buzz, or Ooze and Booze ?
Or maybe one of each, who knows ?
And in the end, they got to choose,
But never told us what they chose.