What’s In A Name?

Back in February 2016, in the long-lost days when WordPress used to give a daily prompt, they did one called Say Your Name.  “Write about your first name: Are you named after someone or something? Are there any stories or associations attached to it? If you had the choice, would you rename yourself?”

This sounded very familiar, so I did a little checking and found that I had posted to an almost identical prompt on 1 June 2013. On the assumption that most of you weren’t here all those years ago – either in 2013 or 2016 – and won’t therefore have read those posts, I decided it was time for one of my rework and republish jobs. My follower numbers are around double what they were four years ago, and are far greater than in 2013, so I think I’m working on the basis of a safe assumption!

Me. Apparently.

Me. Apparently.

As you’ve probably noticed my name is Clive, which according to every source I can find means ‘cliff’ or ‘slope’  and is usually believed to refer to someone who lived near one of these. The name is of English origin, and was first found around the 11th century. I feel old!  It is apparently quite uncommon as a first name, but is more in use as a surname.  The most famous example of this is probably General Sir Robert Clive – or ‘Clive of India’ as he is more widely known. I’ve always understood that my parents chose the name as it couldn’t be abbreviated – an approach they seem to have abandoned by the time my duo-syllabic sister came along. However, I was born in Dover, which has a few White Cliffs nearby, so maybe they knew something?



I have also found that there is a small town and parliamentary electorate called Clive in the Hawke’s Bay Region of New Zealand. This was named after the General, rather than me, though. And something I never even thought possible: I’m an acronym. Yes, CLIVE stands for Computer-aided Learning IVeterinary Education. So, after all this time, I finally have proof that I really am the mutt’s nuts!

My surname?

My surname?

My parents’ plan met with debatable success. Whilst I was always ‘Clive’ at home, apart from the times when I was ‘Clive Howard Pilcher!!!!’ – usually a signal to make myself scarce – no one at school ever managed to shorten my name. They simply didn’t use it at all! I answered most to ‘Chip,’ which of course came from my initials (see above) and also to Pilch – if they couldn’t abbreviate my first name, why not go for the surname instead? And thanks to a major TV advertising campaign of the 60s and 70s I was also known as ‘Glen’ – the clue is in the picture. As I answered to all three nicknames as well as my real name, you can imagine the confusion when opposing football teams were trying to work out who my own team were calling to! You may have spotted that I’m attached to ‘Chip,’ which has also been a pet name for me for a number of people, not just in my schooldays. I keep it to this day as part of some of my online incarnations, i.e. Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Would I change my name? For what is probably an old-fashioned reason, i.e. that it is what my parents chose for me and I feel it would be disrespectful to them to change it, I wouldn’t: I’ve had 66+ years with it and I quite like it. It feels a little special to me, particularly as I rarely come across another with the same name, although I’ve found a couple of other Clives in the blog world. It’s not as if I’ve been lumbered with something embarrassing anyway. Never have I been more grateful that my parents have only been celebrities to me, not in the wider world! Calling your son ‘Marion’ for example? What would he do with that?  The reverse seems to be true of modern-day celebrities, many of whom seem to be competing for a ‘most stupid child’s name’ prize.

It isn’t just a recent trend, either. Going back to the 60s there was Frank Zappa, whose four children delight in the names Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. It’s not as if dear old Frank was strange at all, is it? One sounds like an insect repellent, while another appears to have been some kind of advance personality diagnosis. Into the 70s and along came Zowie Bowie, who understandably prefers to use the ‘Duncan Jones’ part of his full name in his film industry career. Another product of the songwriter’s ability for rhyming is Rolan Bolan, whose real surname is actually ‘Feld.’ I guess Held Feld or Smeld Feld were just too silly.

Bob and Terry

Bob and Terry – a joke 20 years before ‘Brooklyn’

In recent years we have many wonderful examples of celebrity parental idiocy. So many in fact that I could do a whole piece on them. But I’ll content myself by just making fun of a couple of the more obvious ones! The Beckhams’ reason for choosing Brooklyn as the name for their first born perhaps shows a love of the 60s TV series The Likely Lads and the 70s follow up (remember ‘Robert Scarborough Ferris’?). It’s probably as well that the act didn’t take place in Peckham. But Beckenham might have been nice.

My other chosen example is Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, who thought it a good idea to call their children ‘Apple’ and ‘Moses.’ It’s a real shame that they ‘consciously uncoupled,’ as now we’ll never get ‘Microsoft’, ‘Android’ or ‘God,’ will we?

And if you’ll indulge my diversion a little longer, I wonder where this could go next. Maybe we could get children’s names being sponsored by advertisers? ‘Direct Line Keitel?’ ‘Nespresso Clooney?’ ‘EE Bacon?’  And even without celebrity appearances and voiceovers, I’m looking forward to the first kid called ‘Moonpig’ or ‘MoneySupermarket.’ And we mustn’t forget the practice of choosing names based on favourite TV programmes and characters – anyone for Sherlock, Downton, Strictly or, simply, Who?

I’ve sidetracked myself some way from where I began. But apart from taking the chance to have a pop at idiots, there’s a serious point in here somewhere. As I’ve said, I wouldn’t change my name – it’s part of me, my identity, who I am. Why should I or anyone want to change that? We all go through difficult times now and then, when we may well wish we were someone or somewhere else. But if we were able to conjure ourselves into another persona we’d be giving up our identities, wouldn’t we? Our names are part of us, part of our culture and heritage. And giving up on yourself is something no one should ever do.



And in case you didn’t know, that boy named Marion was born Marion Morrison, but became John Wayne. Hardly surprising, really, as “Kindly dismount and have a cup of camomile tea” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

41 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Pingback: What’s In A Surname? – Take It Easy

  2. A great post, Clive! 😀 I rather like your name and my first boyfriend at school was called Clive … I’d fancied him for two years (from the day the English teacher threw a book at his head – those were the days!). At last, he dared build up the courage to ask me on a date in Fifth Form! I feel names are part of our identity but if lumbered with Marion as a giant of a man it is probably best to change it! Goodness knows what some of the famous celebrities are thinking of regarding the names to their children – don’t they like their kids?!😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Annika, glad you enjoyed it. It’s good to see you found a brave Clive early in life! I really don’t understand celebrity names: it seems that some are in a competition to prove how stupid they are 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve known a few Clives in Britain, but in the US we’d be baffled by it as a name–just as people would in Britain by someone named Earl or Marshall, neither of which is uncommon in the US. I did know a Marion, though. He went by Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How funny that you were called Chip. There was a TV programme years back called CHIPS, which stood for something something Police (can’t remember). I always answered to ‘Curly Wurly’ at school (how I hated that piece of confectionery!) due to the big hair I once had.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Names are interesting! Clive is a good name. When I was younger I didn´t like my name but I´m OK with it now. British people seem to think it is an odd name but it is common enough in North America. My middle name is Dale, after Dale Evans. (my parents were huge fans) I don´t answer to Dar. That is just too weird.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I hadn’t realised ‘Clive’ was a geographical (or do I mean geological) word… I learn something new so often (I just wish I could remember it all!)

    Mine’s Valerie but I’ve been using Val for years as I prefer it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Irish tradition has a naming sequence- 1st son gets Grandad’s name (father’s father) 1st daughter gets Granny’s name (mother’s mother) and so on. I have 2 sisters – I got both grannys’ names (Catherine Mary) and couldn’t imagine myself as anyone else. Next sister should have been a boy as they’d picked out Robert (dad’s dad) so she ended up with Roberta plus Jean after a Gt grandma …forever known as Bobby and my baby sister is Patricia (Patsy) after one of mum’s cousins (no idea why) followed by Marguerite Ann. Seemingly Dad had insisted on his granny’s name Margaret Ann…. (always known by the two names) but mum ‘changed’ it. Patsy loathes it – hates having to give her full name.

    At least with Clive you know who you are and where you fit into your family. 😊
    That naming pattern I mentioned is a real pain for genealogists – I have so many Johns and Archibalds with the same surname, all of different generations, fathers sons grandsons uncles nephews, at times it’s difficult trying to match the right one to the right family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like the idea of the tradition though, as you say, it can become confusing over time. It’s less of a thing here – parents mostly choose what they want, or relegate the traditional name to being the second or third Christian name. I quite like having a less common name 😊


  8. As a teacher for thirty-one years, I saw many names. Near the end of my career, what was in vogue was to take the standard spelling of a name and come up with alternative spellings such as Michael became Mychael, Sherry transformed into Cherie, and Jason was turned into Jayson. Speaking of Jason, it was remarkable how many Jasons were mischievous little guys with flaming red hair. One of them turned in his papers with the signature Jason the Genius. I suppose many teachers would find a reason to forbid this, but it didn’t matter to me. I found it rather funny.

    I also went to school with a boy named John John. Being called that when you are little might be cute, but those parents weren’t doing their kid any favors by the time he got to high school.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would imagine that you’ve seen all sorts of names in your time as a teacher, including loads of ‘made up’ ones. One thing we Brits find odd about American names is the use of what we would see as surnames being used as first names. It just looks strange!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. My name is Bree….actually its Berice….growing up the way people/kids made fun of my name etc etc….or add N to Bernice or Beris..annoying. One day I was in a busy pub and a friend called out to me. A cute guy came up to me and said “hi Bree Im Andrew”…I couldn’t be bothered correcting him in that busy and noisy pub and Bree was born. At one stage I was going to legally change it. However I changed my mind. I use Bree for a few things but anything legal I use Berice…its actually Italian which when doing our family tree discovered we have Italian ancestry. People at work called me breezer…bicardi breezer…after the mixer drinks we have here in Australia. Short names are often lengthen and long names made short. The human race is silly ….#SeniSal

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I use my real name as I couldn’t find any other mes on Amazon Kindle – but mainly to embarrass my family. I recall being most disillusioned when I first realised that stars don’t use their real names – Hollywood one syllable names to replace much more interesting multisyllabic Russian Jewish, or the other way round. Englebert Humperdink instead of Arnold Dorsey – I assumed he had made that up and was astonished many years later to discover he had stolen it from the composer of the Hansel and Gretel opera – are you even allowed to do that?
    I don’t know any other Clives, it’s all Martins and Brians around here!

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