At Christmas I was given a copy of Mortification, a heart-warming anthology of writers' embarrassments edited by Robin Robertson, and my immediate embarrassment was that I wasn't quite sure who Robin Robertson was. He sounded like, but wasn't, Robert Robinson. He also sounded like, but wasn't, the crime writer Robert Richardson. Come to that, he also sounded like the writer and broadcaster Rony Robinson, but he wasn't him either. He was, in fact, the poet Robin Robertson, of whom until that moment I hadn't heard but whom I was glad to add to my list of people who have two names, both beginning in R.
Am I alone in thinking that two R names is a much commoner pair than with any other letter? You get plenty of other pairs of names using the same first letter, of course, from Frederick Forsyth to Charlie Chaplin, and Donald Duck to Greta Garbo - you even get two partners using pairs, like Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears - but the ones using R seem enormously more common. Without thinking too hard I can come up with famous names like Ralph Richardson. Rob Reiner. Ruth Rendell. Roy Rogers. Ray Reardon. Raymond Radiguet. Ronald Reagan. Rembrandt van Rijn ...
It's as if the two Rs together produce a magic pull, or provide an easy running euphony which tickles the ears and satisfies the imagination. When parents like Mr and Mrs Reagan or Mr and Mrs Rogers lean over the cot and look adoringly at their gurgling offspring, and one of them says: "How about calling him Ronald?" or "How about Roy?", there seems to be little internal quality control which causes the other to say: "Is alliteration a good idea?". No. It seems to trip off the tongue.
It applies to made up names as well. Ruth Rendell was not christened Ruth Rendell. It's a nom-de-plume. She chose it. She must have liked the two Rs.
Parents of jazz musicians seem to have the condition worse than most. Without much prompting I can come up with jazz figures called Red Rodney, Ray Russell, Ross Russell, Roswell Rudd, Ronnie Ross, Rufus Reid, Reuben Reeves, Rudy Rutherford, J Russell Robinson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk ...
Ah, now that's interesting. When you get a man with three names, quite often two of them begin with R. There we had J Russell Robinson and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and when you think of those, you immediately think of Richard Rodney Bennett, and Robert Russell Bennett ...
My wife has just leaned over my shoulder to see what I am writing about and has asked me who could possibly be interested in all this. My answer is: all those poor people out there with pairs of R names whose condition goes unrecognised. Why, you only have to look up a name like Robert Richardson on a second-hand book website and you find that people are forced to fight back against their fate.
How? By using an extra initial, that's how. There's a Robert Richardson who writes on astronomy, only he has become Robert S Richardson. There's Richard G Robertson (author of the Practical English-Thai Dictionary), Robert S Robinson (illustrator of The Gay Poet, a study of Eugene Field) and Robert H Robinson who has written several books on shellfish ...
May I say in conclusion that the attraction to each other of names beginning in Rhas never been more wonderfully illustrated than by the coming together of Mr Rolls and Mr Royce?
And that the only time I ever met a married couple who both had the same first name, it began with R? He was called Robin. So was she.
My case rests.
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