The difference a simple maiden name can make

We had a session yesterday with Dr Wordsmith, our language expert, which developed into something of a poetry masterclass, with Dr Wordsmith explaining his endearingly off-centre theories on poetry. As he was on a bit of a roll, I have decided to hand things over to him again, and take the day off to practise the euphonium.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I do not quite understand your theory about the poetic quality of the name of Bill Clinton's wife. Please explain.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Certainly. For years, Bill Clinton's wife was best known as Hillary Clinton, which, whatever its other virtues, had no rhythm, no swing to it. Recently, she has reintroduced what I believe is her maiden name, Rodham, and now wants to be called Hillary Rodham Clinton. This is a sign that she has her husband where she wants him.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Come again? How do you reckon that one?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, normally, the wife takes on her husband's name when she marries him. She makes the ultimate sacrifice. She changes her name. No man would ever do that. Except, of course, for the Duke of Edinburgh. But in return for her changing her name, she makes a silent bargain with herself that all the other changes will have to come from the man. The story of a marriage is the long, slow story of a woman changing her man.

When the work is over, she feels free to start changing her name back.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I see. I think.

Dr Wordsmith writes: One accidental by-product, in Mrs Clinton's case, is that she at last has a name with certain poetic possibilities. As I was saying yesterday, it has overtones of one of Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales. As, for instance, in:

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Was clever as clever could be.

"My husband," she said, "was

President,

But soon it will be me."

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I hate to take issue with you, but I don't agree with the Bellocian parallel. I think that Hillary Clinton's expanded name sounds more Milnian.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Milnian?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, As in A A Milne. I'm thinking of the poem that starts something like "James James Morrison Morrison Champion Jack Dupree..."

Dr Wordsmith writes: Do you know, I think you are absolutely right! It DOES have overtones of A A Milne. Let's see now...

Hillary Rodham Clinton,

Though she was only three,

Said: "When I am a grown-up,

A president's wife I'll be!"

Hillary Rodham Clinton,

Though she was only four,

Wanted lots and lots of money,

So she began to study the law.

Hillary Rodham Clinton,

When she was only five,

Thought that Jackie Kennedy

Was the cleverest woman alive.

Hillary Rodham Clinton,

When she was six and a half,

Had lost her sense of humour

And never learnt how to laugh.

(Not at herself, at any rate.)

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Yes, we get the point. But what was all that about the Duke of Edinburgh changing his name when he got married?

Dr Wordsmith writes: He was Philip Mountbatten before he got hitched. He then changed his name to the Duke of Edinburgh. His wife didn't change her name. She went on being Princess Elizabeth. She only changed her name when her father died, not when she got married. Strange family custom.

Dr Wordsmith will be back soon. Keep those queries rolling in.

Comments