Richard, Duke of Gloucester (and other names)

Today we have parting of names.

In one of the expatriate ‘life in France’ blogs I enjoy reading, the parts of the author’s family members are no longer to be played by Relationnel, Leonardo and Black Cat.  Relationnel and Leonardo have thrown off the motley and come out.  I regret their passing.  The names gave their actors a certain magic they may henceforth, with respect, lack.  At least Black Cat has decided to remain in character.     

Names are important in fiction – or non-fiction, perhaps, in this case.   Would JK Rowling have got Harry off the ground without her genius for names?   Great works are built on great names: Gatsby, Garp, Meaulnes … Bond.    

In life I suspect names are less important. Most people grow accustomed to their name, and manage perfectly well with it, often turning a liability to advantage: many broadcast journalists manage to announce their absurd names to camera or mic with aplomb.  I gave up a job and potentially gainful career where it was house style to give one’s name when answering the phone, because I was unable to carry this off.              

Another blogger has a cat called Voltaire and a llama called Wiggo.  This is rather different, but they are good names all the same. Our national hero’s resemblance to a llama, in the nicest possible way, had not previously struck me, but now I will never be able to look a llama in the eye in the same way; and when I next watch the Tour de France spin by, I will stand well back for fear of being spat at.  How many thousands of domestic animals have been named Wiggo since last July, I wonder.

Relationnel and co remind me that my present life is sorely lacking good names.  This was not always the case.  I used to have a coat called Lenin and a succession of my early cars had names.  Desiree the Deux Chevaux was named after a song on the album It’s Only a Movie by Family,  Margaux the mini after my friend’s grandmother, Margot, who donated the car.  Gargantua, the Peugeot 504 convertible V6 – 2664cc, if you please, with styling by Pininfarina – in which I toured France for a summer of motoring bliss was named for her monstrous appetite. The name was a little obvious and I am not proud of it.  Somehow it smacks of my having sat down – perhaps in Gordon’s Wine Bar at Charing Cross– with the express purpose of giving the car a name. 

Names acquired in this way are unlikely to be sucessful.  The name needs to arrive naturally, irresistibly and out of blue, as a name did when Galaxy and I stopped half way up the Montagne du Goulet to interview a group of hikers with two donkeys who were resting beside the road.  “What are their names?” we asked the donkey-drover. “Canelle and Mousse Café,” he replied, adding: “they can’t all be called Modestine, you know.”  

Mousse-Cafe or Canelle and friends on the Stevenson trail

We had no use for Canelle at the time, but it was immediately obvious to both of us that Mousse-Café was the right name for our brown bicycle, a trusty servant and companion for Modestine, our older blue bicycle, which had acquired its name 24 hours before, when we embarked on the RL Stevenson donkey trail. 

Never mind: Gargantua was my car to end all cars and since then no car of mine has had a name.  Children have come along and our unglamorous cars have simply been known by their colour, apart from the au pair’s car which is known by the name of the au pair we liked best (until she wrote it off).

The same goes for the computers in the Queen of the Night’s office.  About ten years ago when we moved here, she had an assistant called Amber, whose desk fell vacant when business declined with the financial crisis.  All this time later, the desk and its computer are still hers.  ‘Can I go on Amber’s?’ says my daughter when she wants to go and pretend to be doing homework, away from spying eyes.  For the departed Amber (who lives and thrives not far away) it is a kind of immortality, perfectly in keeping with her name.  The computer is to be changed next week, but that space in the office will be forever Amber’s. 

Not that I favour over-elaborate first names for children and dogs. These creatures need frequent hailing and shouting at, in anger and from distance; and the name must suit this purpose.   Recently we met a man walking a small dog and asked him, as one does (having first checked the undercarriage): ‘and what’s this little fellow’s name?’

“Richard, Duke of Gloucester,” replied the man.  And how I ask would you shout ‘Heel, Richard Duke of Gloucester!’ across the fields?   By the time you finished the instruction,  Richard Duke of Gloucester would be history – galloping free, out of earshot and off the aural lead.  The man explained proudly that Richard Duke of Gloucester was long hand for RDOG, which is to say ‘our dog.’  Very clever, but I am not convinced ‘our dog’ would be much good for shouting.

Animals such as cats, rabbits and koi carp, on the other hand, are unresponsive to summons, and energy spent shouting for or at them is wasted.  So we can indulge our whims.  Heurtebise might suit a stick insect or a donkey.  And who can forget Ayatollah, scene stealing star of that wonderful film Diva?

Relationnel is to be found at

Wiggo the llama:   

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