“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare.
I feel I have to disagree with William Shakespeare.
If the flower in question had been named differently, if the flower had remained the same beautiful flower we know, but had been given the name of carnation, would it have inspired poets and lovers through the centuries? I think not. The poetic muse would not have been aroused, I fear. A carnation by any other name does not do it for me, and would Robert Burns have been inspired to declare, “My Love is like a Red, Red Carnation?” Again, no. For names are of great importance, and each has its own resonance.
I was reminded of this a few days ago, when, in the course of conversation with a dear friend, he confessed that he had always hated his name. Although I have known him for thirty years, we had never discussed this subject before, although he now made it clear how strongly he felt about it. He told me that his mother had apparently chosen two possible names for him, but her choices were overridden by a ferocious grandmother and assorted aunts. Either of his mother’s chosen names would have suited him admirably, and he expressed great regret at what had happened. I asked him why he had not changed his name, but it had apparently never occurred to him.
It was outside his sphere of experience, and he was interested to know that, in the 1970’s, a number of my friends had changed their names by deed poll, according to the practice of Numerology, rather fashionable at the time. It was believed that, by changing your name, you would fulfil your destiny. I was not convinced by this, and, in any case, was quite happy with my name. I felt comfortable with it.
I have also been fortunate to have been given two delightful nicknames. You will all be familiar with La from my introductory blog. The other is a name I acquired early in my career, when I was resident pianist for the cello master classes in the early years of the International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove. There, during one particular year’s festival, the resident cello Maestro bestowed upon me the lovely name of Blossom, which I am still called to this day by friends and colleagues from that time. I am specially honoured to share this name with the bewitching and sassy jazz singer/pianist, Blossom Dearie, who I saw perform on one legendary occasion, in 1966, at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
My given name of Christine lends itself to some variations, including Chrissie, Christina, even Maria Christina, incorporating my middle of Mary, when I played for a Spanish dance company. All of these I was happy with, and enjoyed the different identities I seemed to acquire with each one. But one diminutive I have always hated! How I wince when someone has the nerve to address me as Chris! It is not that I do not like the name. I do, for others, but it feels completely wrong for me. I am not a Chris!
Two of my students remember an occasion, forgotten by me, but recollected by them with great glee. They tell of when an arrogant student came to play, with his violinist, in my ensemble class at Trinity College of Music in the mid-eighties. A regular group of students attended my weekly class, but others would drop in from time to time to perform with a singer or instrumentalist. This student was new to the class, and was working on the Cesar Franck sonata for violin and piano. He was talented, but the playing was apparently messy and ill-prepared. However, he showed no humility or respect, and argued with every suggestion I made. The other students watched with mounting apprehension as the atmosphere rapidly deteriorated. And then, to their horror, he addressed me as Chris!! Everyone froze, and the class held its collective breath, waiting for the inevitable explosion. It came………….The student, whose name I have thankfully forgotten, slunk out of the hall, never to be seen again!
People often ask me how Leo acquired his name. That’s easy to answer. Being a pedigree cat, he came to us already possessed of a lengthy and very impressive name, (complete with Russian birth certificate, and up-to date passport!) Nevertheless there is a curious tale to tell.
Having taken the decision to purchase a cat, I had decided to use money from a legacy left to me by my dear friend Charles, who had passed away a few months earlier. This seemed appropriate, as Charles had been a great cat-lover. I knew he would have approved. My husband and I mused that it would have been a lovely gesture to name the cat after Charles, but apart from the fact that Leo already possessed a fine name, and, at three years old, would not take kindly to it being changed, my husband gently pointed out the indisputable fact that Charles was not exactly a suitable name for a cat. However, a few days later, I awakened one morning with the dawning realisation that Charles had, in fact, bestowed a name from beyond the grave. For my friend had been born in August, under the sign of Leo. He so clearly exhibited all the characteristics of this sign, being truly the king of the jungle, that when he was being particularly bossy and arrogant, I would tease him by calling him a typical Leo!
A strange coincidence, or a happy synchronicity? I like to think it was the latter. Thank you, dear Charles.
As we are rapidly approaching the festive season, it seems appropriate to add the following true account of one memorable Christmas Nativity play.
Joseph and Mary had reached the stable, and were awaiting the birth of their child. “What shall we call the baby, Mary?“ asked Joseph. Mary was silent. Joseph tried again. “What shall we call the baby?“ he repeated, more insistently this time. Again, no answer came. Mary had succumbed to the dreaded scourge of stage-fright. Her mind was a complete blank. In theatrical parlance, she had dried!
Now desperate, and realising something was seriously wrong, Joseph, rapidly approaching breaking point, yelled at the terrified Mary. “What shall we call the baby?” Mary turned her face to him as the light finally dawned. She beamed, as she joyfully and triumphantly exclaimed, “Colin!”
Joseph looked at her in utter disbelief and horror.
“Colin?” he shrieked. “Colin Christ?”
Collapse of Nativity play!