Comment: Why 'The Power' was always destined to be covered in glory

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The best name I ever heard of for a group - as in guitar, bass, drums and vocalist type of group - was coined by the fair-haired lad who began beating chess grandmasters as a 12-year-old. Nigel Short. That was his name, not the group's. His group was called The Urge.

The crying shame of it was that this magnificent title should have been owned by a bunch of youths who were never likely to - and never did - make a name for themselves. Other than for the fact of their name.

The Urge. It gathers dust now in that gigantic repository of the disbanded, alongside Stark Naked and the Car Thieves, Henry Cow and the Electric Prunes.

What's in a name? Lots.

Take Phil Taylor. Ordinary sounding bloke. But make him Phil "The Power" Taylor and - bingo - you have the world's No 1 darts player. He is transformed into a fearful phenomenon.

Yet nicknames - that is, the naming of nicks; that is, the nicking of names - need to be finely judged. Phil "The Plower" Taylor. Not the same impact. Phil "The Flower" Taylor. Again, psychological edge blunted.

Generally speaking, it is wisest to stick to clear, simple images when you want to enhance your image in this way, steering between the mundane and the grandiose. Phil "The Very Good Darts Player" Taylor. No. Phil "Arrows of Destiny" Taylor. Equally wrong.

The other difficulty with nicknames is that their owners can either outgrow them - see Ant and Dec emerge from the chrysalis that was PJ and Duncan! - or shrink within them. Alex Higgins may have been a Hurricane in his pomp, but that association now looks like a wrinkled tattoo.

Sometimes you come across characters who have no need to doctor their names because they have already been given something ideal. Thus we have the squash player Jonathan Power, or the golfer Gary Player.

Such is the power of words that we are predisposed by their associations. When I played football as a youth, we always beat a team called St Meryl. But one season, our rivals changed their name to Crown Villa. It had a convincing, commanding ring to it.

Crown Villa had the same players, even the same kit, but we never managed to beat them. Coincidence? Maybe. Or maybe it was the fact that we changed our own strip that season, giving up a lovely red and black vertical stripe - Manchester City's old away colours - for a hideous purple and yellow confection. For those shirts alone, we deserved to lose...

Names carry clear messages about their owners - not that these messages are always accurate.

My former girlfriend at university once introduced me to two of her fellow geography students whom - as I discovered - she had invited to her room. They were Robert Casselis de Piry and Philip Dany de Marcillac.

I was stunned by their mighty nomenclature. But after a cup of tea and a slice of cake I recovered myself sufficiently to recognise that both these newcomers, though clearly toffs, were pleasant, down-to-earth chaps. Why they were invited up to my girlfriend's room is something I never did manage to pin down, however.

Nominal expectations can work in the opposite way, of course. As a trainee journalist on my local paper I regularly dealt with press releases sent in by a PR executive called Melinda Conquest. Again, a moniker to dim the senses.

In the course of long afternoons sitting in front of my crumb-infested typewriter and the bent spike I had inherited from my apparently charismatic predecessor, between tapping out inspired intros - "Ice is nice, but plastic is fantastic" - and passive smoking like a beagle, I would muse upon the character and, yes, the form of this exciting PR entity.

She would be masterful, I felt sure, as her surname implied. Yet I sensed there would also be an otherworldliness about her, just as there was with that pretty puppet girl who couldn't speak and swam around during the opening credits of Stingray - Marina, Aqua Melinda, why don't you whisper the words that my heart is longing to hear? One day the chance came.

There was a query on one of the releases, and it fell to me - I ensured - to chase it up. As the dial returned from the last, fateful figure of her number I felt my stomach tighten. Soon, imminently, finally, I would be interacting with... Somebody at the other end of the line was answering in a voice which ... how can I describe it? Think Kat of EastEnders after a particularly raucous night in the Queen Vic.

"Hello," I said. "Is Melinda Conquest there?" "Speaking." That brief conversation taught me an important lesson about life.

One day I will remember it and act accordingly. In the meantime I continue to ponder on the difference it would have made had I been christened Magnus Winner.