Useful ways of telling one Stephen from another

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
PEOPLE'S NAMES are a constant source of amazement to us, so I am glad to welcome back Dr Vernon Monicker, the world expert on people's names, who is always glad to answer your queries in return for a small pittance. Take it away, Vern!

In your last advice column, Dr Vernon Monicker, you were asked whether Archbishop Tutu was the only famous person ever named after a piece of ballet dancer's equipment. You never answered the question.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No, I didn't.

Will you answer the question now?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No. I am still thinking about it. Next, please!

You have often said, Dr Monicker, that many surnames are derived from the occupation of the first holder of the name - names like Thatcher and Clark and Fowler and Archer. Indeed, I was tickled to notice the other day that Humphrey Carpenter's life of Dennis Potter was a case of a carpenter writing about a potter!

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Have you actually got a question or are you just wittering on?

I was just wondering why all these jobs are so old-fashioned. Why is nobody called Jim Engineer or Bill Programmer?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Because nobody makes up new surnames these days, of course. All surnames evolved in the old days. And they weren't really designed as surnames. They were designed as ways of telling people apart. People would refer to someone called "Stephen", and other people would say, "Which Stephen d'you mean?" and they'd say "Stephen the potter", and the name would stick.

I wonder why they dropped the "the"? Nobody is ever called Stephen Thepotter, are they?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No. But they are in French. Think of the name Lefevre. Think of John Lemesurier.

John Lemesurier? Was he French? I had no idea!

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Of course he wasn't French, dummkopf, but his name was French. One of his ancestors was a "mesurier".

And what was a "mesurier"?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: I have no idea. But I know what Lefevre means.

Let's have it.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: It means "Smith". "Fevre" is from the Latin faber, meaning "smith".

So "Faber & Faber" is just a poncy way of saying "Smith and Smith"?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Indeed. There are quite a lot of English surnames which are foreign occupational names. In German "Kellner" means a "waiter", for instance. "Ziegler" means a "bricklayer" or "tiler". "Lehrer" means a "teacher", which is interesting, because Tom Lehrer actually is a teacher!

It's even more interesting that we have a German name meaning a "waiter", but not an English name. I mean, you never meet a Mr Waiter, do you?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No, you don't, but you meet a Mr Steward and a Mr Butler, which is roughly the same thing, if a little posher.

Have you thought of anyone else famous who is named after a bit of ballet dancer's kit yet?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Give me time, give me time...

Why did the Americans call Hurricane Georges by a French name?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Because the Americans hate hurricanes, and they hate the French, who they think are a poncy, pretentious lot.

We have double-barrelled surnames in English, such as Hempleman-Adams, but why do the French also have double-barrelled Christian names, like Jean-Luc and Marie-Louise, and we don't?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Because they are a poncy, pretentious lot, and we're not.

Presumably names are called "double-barrelled" after twin-barrelled guns. But what were they called before the invention of guns?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Double-edged, I expect, after swords.

Have you thought of anyone else famous who is named after a woman's dress ?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Yes. Darcey Bussell.

What's a darcey?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Not Darcey - Bustle! A bustle is the device at the back of a Victorian dress which...

OK. OK, you win.

Dr Vernon Monicker will be back again soon. Keep those queries rolling in!

Comments