whatyoucallit


“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” says Shakespeare.   Shakespeare and the Bible cover most things. And I suppose the inference is that it doesn’t matter very much what you call it, though I confess, it has always mattered to me.   II only got to Miss Raeburn as I got older and I have always like the full name, mine or anybody else’s, unless referred to several paragraphs into a story, in which case the last name will do. My mother went to one of the first co educational schools in London where everybody was called by their last names. I prefer that to the false familiarity of endless first names.

As I lay in bed the other night, unable to breathe and so sleep, I began to read a book called Do I Make Myself Clear ? by Harold Evans, now Sir Harold and editor at large for Reuters.   I met him as Harry when he edited The Sunday Times. The ST published my first piece, probably because somebody owed somebody a favour, and I would be more likely to give that gift horse sugar than to look in its mouth. And Mr. Evans took me to lunch in the unreconstructed Ivy restaurant, from which experience three things remain in my memory – it wouldn’t happen again, he said (“Tina might not like it” ), he had tea after the meal, not coffee (I admired his assurance) and he knew exactly what he was doing.   Such clarity by any name was appealing to me.   I’d have chosen it over beauty or wealth.

When did the hunt for clarity begin?  Not as early as I would like to think.   And that led me to wondering about when did I begin to want to understand better, and about my secondary school teachers, and to wonder whether it made any difference to me that I knew the first names of some but not others.

In my older sharper self, I say that I don’t remember the name of anybody I don’t like. I often remember all sorts of other details (hair, clothes, tricks of speech) – but their names ? No.   Were the first names of my teachers just bits of information, or did the names, by association, reveal something ? I had an overactive imagination even then. I think this started because one of my English teachers had been to school with my sister, so her first name was known and then maybe I began to look for them, to see if I could get to know more of them.   I do not know what motivated me but lying in bed with a cold 60 years later I can still remember those names and the faces that go with them – and my admired history teacher who was Miss S. Phillips though I never knew what the initial stood for.

I like the names of things. I like words.   But if you like them you must learn how to use them – so I was brought up short by a caller for referring to a domiciliary visit – “it just means a home visit” she said. Silly me. But words stick, even if names don’t. I have a friend who remembers no proper name and we have endless conversations in which she tries to place “the man behind the bar in that film about Morocco “ while I ask helplessly “who else was in it ?” We have abandoned that now, she just says a man who … knowing that, with a bit of luck, I’ll trace the reference elsewhere.

So it was the language as much as anything that fascinated me in the first four letters to The Times about the current headlining would be Daesh returnee jihadist bride – all from men – one kneejerk, three considering legal and social aspects of the case. And last night’s news gave me the figure I was waiting for. There are several hundred such cases under consideration, people who renounced their UK citizenship in the name of holy war waged on everything this flawed but old and stable country offers.   No way back.   It’s called treason.

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