Pick a name, any name

What’s in a name? It identifies you. It indicates your history. Your culture. And sometimes your fame. You know you’ve hit the height of celebrity when you are recognised by your first name only. Think Madonna. Kylie. Our Nic.

What happens when you have the same name as someone famous? Does it open doors, get you past the queue at the nightclub or are people let down when you are not the ‘real’ Tom Cruise?

I had to interview Neil Young. I told as many people as I could. They laughed, knowing I meant the man from Uncle but I still enjoyed saying it out loud. When people meet Neil for the first time they feel obliged to make some comment about his famous namesake. Play Harvest for me. Got your guitar with you? There is usually some interchange about the famous Canadian singer, said Neil. But he doesn’t mind. It is an ice breaker. When (our) Neil was nine years old his name was famous for a different reason.

In 1969 he was watching the FA Cup final at his grandfather’s house in the East End of London. The winning goal was scored by Neil Young from Manchester United. So excited was nine-year-old Neil that his mother helped him write a letter to Neil Young (the goal scorer). It was only years later that Neil learnt about the other Neil Young (the musician).

It has had distinct advantages for (our) Neil. When making reservations at restaurants he gets the best table but has to deal with the disappointment when he arrives and he is revealed as the lesser known Neil.

Once in Melbourne, he booked into a hotel under the name Neil Young (of course). His name was spotted on the booking form and because the other Neil Young was actually playing a gig in town the hotel upgraded him to the penthouse suite.

What if your namesake is not such a popular figure? Like John Howard or Michael Jackson? Do you get saddled with a copycat nickname like Whacko Jacko? Or Fred West, the serial killer; wouldn’t people be apprehensive about meeting you?

I knew a boy at school called Jesus. In regional South Australia it was a very unusual name. Jesus was constantly teased. What is he doing now? What is his job? A security guard? A banker? A park ranger? Whatever he’s doing he’ll have to put up with the Aussie piss-take.It hardly seems fair.

Byron Shire has its share of extraordinary names. Sandy Ghandi, the comedian, has confessed; what with all the Indian sounding names in the Shire she’s thinking of changing her name and becoming the only Indian called Doreen.

For Tim Winton, a sustainable educator it isn’t a big deal — in fact it’s an advantage. He admires the ‘real’ Tim Winton. When people meet him for the first time they make some comment about the Australian writer but it is usually a positive thing,  said [our] Tim.

Dave Hughes from Rosebank could join the Dave Hughes Club if he wants. Dave Hughes likes Dave Hughes (the funny one). ‘He’s a top bloke,’ he said, ‘and reminds me of me a lot. He does have a big nose though, which bothers me a bit.’Dave said he has considered changing his name to Englebert Humperdink but thinks that might be more problematic.

If you are a Shirley you can join lots of other Shirleys at the Shirley Club. It was set up by Shirley Brown from Perth because ‘being a Shirley is lots of fun’. They even have a Shirley National Anthem. The late Shirley Strahan from the band Skyhooks was an honorary Shirley and the only male member. The idea of hanging out with a group of people with the same first name doesn’t do a lot for me.

I did do some name research though. The most popular names in NSW in 2004  were Jack and Joshua for the boys and Emily and Chloe for the girls. In twenty years there could be a Chloe Club. In England it was Jack, Joshua, Emily and Ellie. In Ireland, surprise, surprise it was Sean, and Emma. In Norway it was Emma. In Sweden it was William and Emma. Is this a worldwide Emma campaign?

More interesting were the names from Italy in 1427. They were Giovanni, Francesco, Iacopto, Lorenzo, and Piero. Sounds like a wine list but it may give the name changers in Byron Shire some ideas besides Harmony, Rainbow and Sky. I know a handful of kids called Byron. Byron at Byron Bay, not so sure about that one.

The last time my name was on the popularity list was in 1909. Susanna is not a modern name. But it’s mine and I’m sticking with it.

Originally published in Here & Now magazine 2005.

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By Susanna Freymark

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