I have been called so many names that aren’t mine, it’s a wonder my personality hasn’t curdled. I imagine it’s like working in a call centre or on a phone sex line – people just call me whatever they can manage.
When I was six months old, my dad’s father died, and my mother decided it was time for a christening. Having lumbered me with three names, the first one Greek and the second and third coupled together for a horror film about ten years ago, my mother also chose her childless friends to be my godparents.
I had a general nurse, a mental health nurse and a missionary doctor. My mother later confessed that if she had known I was going to be me, she would have given me the psychiatrist, the drunk and the lesbian.
I have been to a christening as an adult. I don’t remember a great deal of it as it seemed to be the dullest affair in the history of my life. I understand there must be a great deal of solemnity to these things, but why everyone in the congregation has to sound dead is beyond me.
At my christening, I’m told that when the vicar came to pronounce my name, he didn’t look at the piece of paper in his hand, but tried to get it from memory.
“I name this child.. Petronella,” he intoned.
“Petrina!” my mother spat, unfortunately not for the last time.
He didn’t miss a beat, “Petrina.”
My mother nearly hit him.
I have been abbreviated many times.
Pet – I will accept from someone from the north-west, where everyone is ‘Pet’, otherwise, definitely not.
Trina – and suddenly, I’ve become a lady darts player. Without her success.
Rina – a good number of my friends have called me Rina. I can’t help but hear the name and see an old Jewish lady, playing bingo, with a chain for her horn-rimmed glasses, and a special bingo pen.
Incidentally, I may be Jewish. I can’t be totally sure, because my mother was prone to exaggeration. I was raised to believe that if it helped the story, it didn’t count as a lie. Having a story to tell was a wonderful thing. If it needed a little pep to keep things interesting, exaggeration, elaboration, throwing in the lines you should have used, was not, strictly speaking, lying. Throwing in a murder was. Everything else was up for debate.
My mother was really funny. The best of her jokes never got out, however, because she’d tell herself the story first, reach the punchline and collapse laughing. She might get as far as, “A man walked into a pub..” and then, she’d disappear under the weight of her own giggles.
A friend of hers once tried to tell a joke in my mother’s presence. Quite a brave move in itself however, the “joke” was not only unfunny, it was wildly anti-semitic. My mother was many things, but never racist. There was nothing she hated more.
Her friend had clearly spent a lot of time working on the joke, memorising it, getting the phrasing right. My mother sat and waited. When her friend was expecting raucous laughter, my mother looked confused, and asked her to explain why it was funny. This is the kiss of death to any joke – when you have to explain it, it’s not funny.
Some pained minutes of explanation later, my mother’s friend felt rather stupid already and then, my mother supplied the zinger.
“My maternal grandmother was Jewish,” she said.
Now, to be born Jewish comes from the mother. So if her maternal grandmother was, so was her mother, herself, her daughters, her granddaughter. My mother’s friend nearly died on the spot.
Tree – I’m rather more ballsy and obnoxious than Tree fully suggests. It’s a little bit hippy-dippy drip-dry but it is one of my favourites.
P – the power of suggestion is quite incredible. On hearing that nickname, someone will need to find a bathroom. And pretty quickly.
Ina – I’m not an au-pair. I’d be a lousy one. I’d molly-coddle the kids, and then teach them swear words.
A very dear friend of mine calls me Petal. Others have tried to do so, and even in front of her. They get looks, like they’ve just fallen out of a dog’s bottom.
Only Laura can call me Petal.
One of my old boys on a Sunday lunchtime flew in the War. He’s an amazing man, and he has tried so hard to learn my name. He gets away with calling me whatever he likes. He thinks he’s got it right now. He calls me Petinka.
When people first hear my name, particularly when it’s come out in my accent, they look slightly shocked, as if I’ve pronounced myself ‘Dildo McShagfest’.
Many times I’ve been known as Katrina, Karina, Patricia, Melissa, Pagenta, I lose track.
I love an unusual name. Thing is, when people give their children an uncommon first name, it helps if you have an infinitely spellable surname.
I speak from experience. It probably made me a good speller, but I’ve always had to enunciate and then spell out every part of my name.
In school, we were sat in the order we appeared in the registration book. I sat next to a lovely girl called Akosua. I think the teachers had as many problems with her name as they did with mine.
They must have been quite relieved to move on to Mary.