Goodies or baddies, it's all in their names

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The Independent Online
The origin of names has always been a fascinating subject of inquiry and speculation, so yet again I am proud to secure the services of that great expert, Dr Vernon Monicker, who has agreed to answer your queries on the origins and meaning of your name, or anyone else's name, come to that.

Is William Hague the first leader of the Tory Party to be named after somewhere foreign? And does his name in fact come from The Hague, the Dutch City?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No, there have been leaders of the Tory Party before now who were named after other places.

Could you tell me who they were, please?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Well, there was Anthony Eden. I think we can all agree that Eden is a foreign place, if also mythical. And of course Benjamin Disraeli had a name which really meant "from Israel" - indeed, I think his father, Isaac, used to spell the name D'Israeli, with an apostrophe, which made the origin even clearer.

Yes, but surely in Disraeli's day there was no such place as Israel, so how could he be named after it?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: The name of Israel was well known to people from the Bible. The same is true of Eden. There was no such place as Eden in Anthony Eden's lifetime, but the name was familiar from the Bible. Eden, of course, took the side of Israel in the Suez Crisis of 1956.

Is that meant to be significant?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No. I just thought of it.

You haven't told us yet whether William Hague's name is derived from the Dutch city of The Hague.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No. It is another spelling of Haig.

What does that come from?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Haig is another spelling of Haag.

And what does Haag come from?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: The Dutch town called the Hague.

Ah! So William Hague is Dutch after all.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Certainly not. A geographical surname was acquired when a man moved away from a place, not when he lived there. If a man is called William Kent, it is a sure sign that his ancestor moved away from Kent and then became known as Kent, or the man from Kent. If he stayed in Kent, he wouldn't be called the man from Kent. Statistically, you are likely to find fewer people called Kent in the county of Kent than elsewhere.

Of course, other places do have leaders named after places. President Abraham Lincoln was named after a town in England.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: So what?

Well, I just wondered if Abraham Lincoln were alive today, what his nickname would be?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: "Lucky" Lincoln, I should think. Or "Old Man" Lincoln, perhaps.

No, I really meant - what would the abbreviation of Abraham be ? Because although in the old days he was called simply "Abe" Lincoln, I am not sure that it would be so simple today.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Explain yourself.

Well, abbreviations seem to be changing. A lot of girls call themselves Abi these days as an abbreviation for Abigail, even though the shortened form looks vaguely ridiculous spelt "Abi". A lot of people called Alistair are known as "Ali", which also looks ridiculous, partly because it looks exactly the same as the Arab name "Ali", partly because a lot of girls called Alison are also known as "Ali". We never did this in the old days. Alastair Cooke was never known as Ali Cooke. He might have been called Al Cooke, at a pinch, but of course he wasn't. Again...

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Nobody was called Al in those days. It reminded people too much of Al Capone. Gangsters' nicknames never catch on. Can you think of anyone else called Pretty Boy, or Dutch, or Sun Dance Kid?

Hmm. Thinking of Al Capone, what was Al short for?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: I should think he was short for very little.

Ha ha. I meant, what was Al an abbreviation of?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Alan?

Alan? ALAN?? Alan Capone? You're joking! Baddies never get called Alan...Can you think of any bad guy called Alan?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: What about Alan Clark?

Perhaps we can continue this discussion some other time.