8 - A Tap on the Head

What's a good cure for water on the brain?

A tap on the head

This page is dedicated to some freshly leaking thoughts about life, the universe and (almost) everything and will be revised from time to time as new musings drip onto the screen.


By A Different Name

Have you ever wondered how we really get our names? For instance, do our parents choose them for us or do we influence the choice from within the womb? Are we born with our names attached as part of a pre-natal contract with the universe, or do our parents follow their own instincts when they first look at our cherubic new-born features and declare us to be ‘Ogbert’, ‘Betty’, or, as in the case of a great uncle of mine, ‘Octavius’?

The reason I ask is that people almost always appear to resemble their names. If you hear of someone called ‘Quentin’ or ‘Cynthia’ you have a good idea of their personalities long before you meet them. In naming my own children, there seemed little choice – only one name was ever considered for each and, fortunately, the names matched the children’s genders and their personalities. The fit of name to child was perfect.

But here is where I have some difficulty about myself. Who am I supposed to be?

I spent my first week of life as Steven, and I sometimes feel that was my destined designation. But then my grandmother intervened, pointing out that I would be ridiculed because a local musical hall comedian, Screaming Steven, was popular in her time and the appellation would be attached to me whenever I cried in public, much to the embarrassment of all relatives within earshot. From somewhere no-one seems clear about came the name, Derek. I can still feel the anguish of my little new-born soul crying out against the violence of what was surely not just a new name but a new personality. Steven was gone – who is Derek supposed to be?

We become our names. Eventually. But, before I could make the transition from Steven to Derek, I had many further tests to overcome. Somehow, perhaps because my older brother couldn’t manage to say ‘Derek’, I was called ‘Ricky’ (and there are still some family members who refer to me by my infant name). I can remember the embarrassment I caused my mother when I was aged about six and we walked along the seafront at Brighton - I asked, loudly, ‘What’s my real name?’ Her immediate response was of concern that passers-by might think I was adopted (in those pre-enlightened days, not always a socially or morally acceptable situation in some societies). I then demanded that I be called Derek from that point onwards, but I don’t think I was taken too seriously.

‘Ricky’ became ‘Rick’ in my teenage years but only among friends and family. Anyway, a first name was an irrelevance at my boys-only secondary school where all students were referred to by their family names. So, from the age of eleven to sixteen, I was ‘Bland’ for most of the waking day: ‘What are you doing, Bland?’ ‘Pay attention, Bland!’ ‘Come here, Bland!’.

Bland, Rick/Ricky, left school after a hapless attempt at Year 10 and started work in a city architect’s office to become a fully-fledged Derek. I was a working man, a commuter, a wage-earner, an adult. Derek had come of age. Middle-class, sensible and dependable as Dereks should be.

Meanwhile, Steven (now a more manly ‘Steve’) was lurking in the background, waiting for a second chance at life. While Derek was being mature and sensible, Steven, being much more adventurous and creative, was planning a four-wheel-drive trip around the world, raving at Jimi Hendrix concerts, and making waves in the local art group. Somehow, though, Derek prevailed, leaving Ricky and Rick in the distant past while Steven settled into a secondary role, called on occasionally to write nasty letters to editors, make complaining phone calls to department stores and TV stations, and lend a helping hand in solving some of life’s trickier problems.

Maybe we have pre-ordained names that direct our destinies, leading to psycho-social problems when these names are changed. Or maybe it’s just that people respond to us according to our names and we learn to react accordingly. We may never know. What I am sure of, though, is that Steve would have handled my life very differently to Derek and certainly more capably than Ricky. Steve would have been good at football, more assertive in social situations and would never have become afraid of heights. He would have taken life by the throat and laughed at its vicissitudes like a buccaneer in the face of a storm at sea. He would never have meekly stood back in a crowd yet he would have been admired from afar, taking his rightful place at the centre of life’s stage.

Except, of course, Steve would still have to contend with being Bland. Now, there is another challenge.


© Derek Bland 2006

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