What's in a name? Quite a lot...

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The Independent Online

Today I am bringing you some advice on what to call things. It isn't just babies we have to find names for, it's race horses and roses and dogs, and - well, hurricanes!

So how do we go about it? I have here an expert in applied names, Professor Ivor Screw-Loose. All yours, Prof!

Dear Professor, Your name isn't really Ivor Screw-Loose, is it?

Professor Screw-Loose writes: No, it is just a nom de plume to get the party going. There used to be a series of joke titles, do you remember, using joke names? Like "Taking the Corner" by Eileen Over!

Dear Professor, No, I don't.

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Well, never mind.

Dear Professor, I notice you have just changed your name. Is there a reason?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Yes. I use different names in different contexts. But then, we all do that.

Dear Professor, No, we don't.

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Yes, we do.

Dear Professor, Give me an example.

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Willingly. A woman may be Mum to her children, Darling to her husband, Mary to her friends, Mrs Smith to the butcher and Miss Quigley at work.

Dear Professor, How can she be Miss Quigley at work?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Many women retain their maiden name, or previous married name, as a professional working name. This suits them, though it doesn't suit the banks. Few banks understand women can have more than one name. A lot of women spend their working lives going from one bank to another till they find one that understands them.

Dear Professor, My wife and I had a baby recently, and started calling it "Baby", but now think we should choose a name for it. Do you have any advice?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: The most important thing is to choose a name that is not going to give rise to an unfortunate nickname. If your child is going to be at all popular, its name will be shortened, so Sylvia runs the risk of being called Silly, and a Napoleon will be called Nappy. Names that give double nicknames are excellent value, such as Terence, which can be shortened to "Terry", and then abbreviated even further to "Tel". If you want your child to be a loner, give it a name that can never be shortened familiarly, like "Guy".

Dear Professor, How do hurricanes get their names?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Ah, now, the opposite applies to hurricanes. You don't want to like hurricanes, so you don't want a name that has a pet form. That is why "Ivan" was such an excellent name. Not only are there no familiar abbreviations, but it sounds Russian, as if the hurricane was the fault of the Russians.

Dear Professor, Is that really why they chose it ?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Oh, no. They were just running out of names beginning with "I". Hurricane names go through the alphabet. The next hurricane after "Ivan" had to begin with "J" so we are now getting Hurricane Jeanne.

Dear Professor, Why not "Jean"?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Because that looks a bit like the French male name "Jean", as in Jean Renoir, and the American hurricane people would rather die than use a French name.

Dear Professor, What is the origin of Ferenc, my grandfather's name?

Professor Vernon Quigley writes: Never inquire after the origins of names. They all mean something boring like "swift" or "brave" or "true". Except "Courtney", which is Old French for "snub nose".

Do you have problems with names? Drop a line to Professor Digby Pratt (which is, alas, his real name).