What's in a name? Your queries answered

Share
Related Topics
Ever wondered exactly what the derivation of your name is, or of the strangely named people around you? Dr Vernon Monicker, an expert on the etymology of names, is back again to answer your questions. All yours, Doctor!

I have always been quite pleased that I bore the same name as the famous writer Christopher Isherwood, but it has never occurred to me until now to wonder what the derivation was. Can you help please?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Well, many names are derived from the occupation of the original bearer, such as Porter or Thatcher or Cook. Christopher comes into the same bracket, as it means "bearer of Christ" and refers to the time St Christopher bore Jesus across the river. Of course, it wasn't really an occupation, more a one-off errand, and I don't suppose he ever carried him across rivers again, however much he hung around hoping to help our Lord, and in any case I suppose Jesus had no need of him after he had learnt to walk on water. Nor do we know what name St Christopher had before he earned the name by which we know him. Obviously, he wasn't called Christopher to begin with, otherwise people would keep saying to him: "Why are you called Christopher if you have never borne Christ across a river?" And he would say: "One day I will, give us time, give us a chance, one day..."

I really meant the name Isherwood, not Christopher.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Ah. Well, Isherwood looks odd at first sight until you realise it is merely Sherwood with an I on the front. The original name was I Sherwood, but the name and the initials became fused together. You quite often find examples of this, as in Psmith and Pshaw.

It's odd, isn't it, that famous painters often have the names of military rank, such as Constable and Sargent. Is there a reason for this?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Not only that, but quite often you find that the lower the rank the better the painter. Beside Constable and Sargent there is also the inferior Victorian artist Leader, yet better than all of them, arguably, is Whistler, which was the lowest musician's rank in the old American army.

Many American tennis stars have names of obviously European origin, such as Sampras (Greek), Agassi (Italian) and Courier (French), yet the countries they derive from cannot produce tennis players of the same calibre. Does this mean that you have to emigrate to America to become better at tennis?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Courier, of course, is another interesting example of a name which comes from an occupation.

That was not the question I asked.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: I'm perfectly aware of that, but I don't know the answer to the question you asked.

For a hundred years or more, my family name has been Selby-Date. Now, of course, it looks faintly comic, as if we were called Bar-Code or something, so I would like to know what the true origin of this name is.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: This is another of these occupational origins. It comes from "Sell-Bidet", the name given to a bidet-seller. A perfectly honourable trade, but felt to be embarrassing to the English in Victorian times, who changed it to Selby-Date.

Why have so many inventions been named after Scots? I'm thinking of the macintosh, and macadam and so on. Even McDonald's has become generic for a hamburger. Is there something intrinsically talented about the Scots when it comes to inventions?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: No, not at all. The fact is that in the old days immigrant workers were divided into two groups for ease of administration, names beginning with A-L, and names beginning M-Z. This meant that those with names beginning "Ma ..." got in much qicker and had an enormous advantage. This included a lot of Scots, of course, but an equally large number of Italians.

I don't believe it. Name one.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Martello.

Name another.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Marconi.

Any more?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Macchiavelli. Maserati, Macaroni ...

OK, OK. Incidentally, is it true that the phrase "Joan Collins" has already gone into Cockney slang?

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: Meaning what?

Well, to sell someone a Joan Collins is, supposedly, to get a lot of money for something worth nothing.

Dr Vernon Monicker writes: My lawyers have advised me not to answer that question. Keep those queries rolling in!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Beware of the jovial buffoon who picks fights overseas

Boyd Tonkin
 

My shameful failure to live up to the spirit of Christmas

Howard Jacobson
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all