David Newnham says it's time to name names

11th February 2000 at 00:00
David Newnham says it's time to name names.

"When I was at school," my grandmother used to say, "I'd tell them they could call me what they liked as long it wasn't too late for dinner."

And before you shriek that I wrote the very same sentence last week, let me reassure you that I have nothing further to say about dinner. Which leaves us with the touchy subject of nicknames. (Warning: the following contains references to male genitals.) Let's start with Anne-Marie. Familiarity dictates that we lengthen short names and shorten lengthy ones, so when Anne-Marie joined the staff, we called her Anne.

But she wasn't having that. "My name," she announced, "is Anne-Marie." The price of friendship, it seemed, was a five-letter word beginning with M. At the time, I found this annoying. My grandmother was right. Our names are not our property. Take mine. Full name? Newnham, David Hugh. Why? Well, Newnham because an ancestor had lived in a new homestead, David because my mother's maiden name was Davis, and Hugh because my father's conscript chums shortened Newnham to Newy and finally to Hughie.

Cll me Davis Hughie Newhome if you must. I've been called worse. At school, Newnham was wilfully confused with Newman, and from Newman it was but a short step to Nudeman (tee-hee). To 13-year-old boys, there's only one thing funnier than Nudeman, and that's Nudewoman. But Nudewoman was never going to stick. This was the heyday of the term "nitwit", and as "nit" and "nude" both began with "n", I quickly became Nitwoman - Nits for short.

"It's because your hair is too long and you don't wash it," snorted my mortified mother. What did she know of etymology? Call me David, call me Dave - you decide. Within reason, though. When a mischievous friend tried his hand at re-christening his colleagues, I got an insight into the dynamics of nicknames. He had been at public school with a boy called Newton, and poor Newton had acquired the name Scrote (don't ask). Newnham sounded much like Newton. How did I fancy sharing the boy's nickname?

Not a lot. Not at all, in fact. Grannie was right. People are free to call us what they will. But if they want to be called friends . . . well, ask Anne-Marie.

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