What's in a name? Humiliation, that's what

This column is guaranteed to be an election-free zone. If any customer can find a trace of contamination by election matter, he will get his money back. Thank you.

Three or four months back I wrote a piece about names which could be confused sexually - names like Evelyn, Robin and so on. This was prompted by my belief that the American poet Joyce Kilmer was a woman, which caused many a correspondent to beat me about the head with the news that he was a man. (One person confused me by writing in to say, "You'll be telling us next that Val Kilmer is a man!")

Nevertheless I still stick to the line I took then, that people who were given sexually ambiguous names could not complain if their gender was occasionally mistaken - indeed, there were other names which I could have mentioned in this connection. Pat is one. Pat is short for Patricia but it is also short for Patrick, so a Pat can be a man or a woman. I had a distant cousin once, a distinguished jazz pianist called Pat Smythe, and he suffered from the fact that there was an even more famous woman show jumper called Pat Smythe. What made it all more ironic was that because she was called Pat Smythe (rhyming with "writhe") he, too, was called Pat Smythe although his mother, I think, had always pronounced her surname "Smith", which is the really smart way of pronouncing Smythe. His mother, by the way, had the wonderfully rare name of Ysenda, which is a name that never could be mistaken for a man's.

Hilary is another name given to both men and women. Of the two Hilarys I have met in public life, Hilary Rubinstein is a distinguished literary agent and editor of the Good Hotel Guide, while Hilary Strong is the distinguished director of the Edinburgh Fringe. One is a man and one is a woman. The late Ruby Murray was a woman, while the ever-youthful jazz cornetist Ruby Braff is a man. (I would guess that, in his case, Ruby is short for the commonish Jewish name Reuben, as was the case with Rube Bloom.)

Shirley was another name I mentioned as being bisexual, but after I wrote the last article, Geoff Lofthouse wrote to me from Leeds to say this: "You omitted to mention the best-known (up here) Shirley of all, namely Shirley Crabtree from Halifax, former Rugby League player and all-in wrestler, known in the ring as 'Big Daddy'! His story is that he became a rugby player and wrestler in order to combat the jibes and insults he received as the result of his unusual name..."

This is no laughing matter. I received another letter from a man called Shirley - admittedly it was only his second name - which had caused him considerable embarrassment in his youth and which he had spent many years not admitting to, "as I was gazumped by Shirley Temple born a year or two later, so no schoolboy could possibly reveal a name like Shirley".

But most poignant of all is the letter from a man who had been given the name Kay. Nowadays Kay, if used at all, is thought to be female, in the wake of stars like Kay Kendall. But when he was christened in 1924, Kay was indubitably a male name. Hans Andersen's Kay and Gerda were boy and girl. The childhood companion of King Arthur was Prince Kay. "So I had a perfectly respectable and proper first name of Kay. But no sooner had I got it and become properly used to it than some woman whose proper first name was Kathleen or Catherine or some such, decided to play the piano for the BBC. The BBC - then an infant and knowing no better - allowed her to become known as 'Kay on the Keys'. So my name was stolen and lost for ever."

The letter goes on to relate how he suffered such humiliations as being put in the female wards of hospitals before giving in and changing his name to Martin. I felt for him. My father used to call me "Kay" too, though it was only short for Kington. It was almost as if he were apologising for giving me the name Kington, which is infallibly turned into the more common Kingston. Even the Radio Times gets it wrong. Look at today's Radio 2 listings and you will see me at 7 pm listed as "Miles Kingston..."!

A reader writes: Just a moment, just a moment! Have you engineered this entire article just to drag in the misspelling of your name by the Radio Times?

It's not just me. They spelt Kevin Kline as Kevin Kilne the other day...

Answer me! Is this whole article just to humiliate the Radio Times for calling you Kingston?

Yes.

Thank you.

Well, at least I didn't mention the election...

This election-free zone will be back tomorrow.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Insight Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k – North London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum plus 23 days holiday and pension scheme: Clearwater ...

SQL Developer - Permanent - London - Up to £50k

£45000 - £50000 Per Annum 23 days holiday plus Pension scheme: Clearwater Peop...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn