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21 August 2010

What’s in a Name?

Tag(s): Languages & Culture

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

 Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare


At a recent optician’s appointment the receptionist confused me with another David Pearson living nearby.  “There are an awful lot of us,” I said.

And there are.

I was born in 1950 when David was the second most popular boy’s name after John. Charles had been the name of the first son of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, although in my case it was a family name; my Father was called Eric Charles, and his Father was James Charles. Pearson is not quite as common as Smith, Brown and Robinson but not far behind. In the Manchester telephone directory there were pages of Pearsons and a good number must have had the Christian name David.

Pearson means Son of Peter, Peter’s son and so is synonymous with Peterson, Pierson, Peters, Pearce, Pierce, Pirsson, Perez, Petric, Petrov, McPherson, Fitzpiers, and no doubt many others. Peter of course was The Rock on which Jesus founded his church and so the name Peter, Pierre, Pedro etc is synonymous with rocks, stone etc.


I first became aware of a namesake when I began to read the evening newspaper regularly. One day David Pearson, aged 17 was killed on his motorcycle. This gave me a strange feeling. Some weeks later David Pearson, aged 27, was married. Had this been a Resurrection? I realised that there were a number of us.

In 1967 I went to Minnesota on an AFS exchange Scholarship. At Blake School I became aware that the previous year there had been a senior called David Pierson. That was OK but he had been the outstanding athlete in the school. He won colors in Football, Hockey and Athletics where he was Co-Captain. I immediately felt under pressure that I had to live up to Dave’s reputation in some way. Fortunately I did, in Soccer at least, where our team won the State Championship and I won Most Valuable Player Award.

While I studied in America I was taught the importance of names. This essay complains about the problems of a common name but I learned that those with distinctive names can suffer much more. Apparently there was a much married socialite who finished up with the moniker Phoebe B. Peabody Beebe. Say it quickly and it sounds like a machine gun. Sadly she took her own life. Another playboy had been christened William Newton Hooton.  The American pronunciation of this is especially brutal and he finished in a lunatic asylum. Other strange but true names from American sources can be found in the following list:

Spiro Agnew, Oscar Asparagus, Magdalena Babblejack, Olga Beanblossom, Wilburn Beerwart, Spring Belch, Sibyl Bibble, Fletcher Boogher, Ace Case, Aphrodite Chuckass, Sinbad Condeluci, Jubal Early, Tony Fiasco, Felix Frankfurter, Armand Hammer, Learned Hand, Ima Hogg, Mona Lisa Gooseberry, Moon Landrieu, Daisy Lobster, Dewy Odor, Ethel Oink, Lamoine Plopper, Faith Popcorn, Elihu Root, Moon Unit and Dweezil Zappa, Clara Belle Sweat, Joe Terror

In business I started to deal with Agencies of various kinds and again my reputation appeared to go before me. There was another David Pearson. I never met him but we corresponded and he ran his own Advertising Agency. He could have called it by some esoteric name but such is the power that he hit on David Pearson Advertising. I cherish a letter he wrote to me enclosing some blank letterheads with the caption: “Have fun with this!”

When I met my wife and gave her my name, far from giving her a common name I made her even more unique. She was already Carmen Libera Angela Veronica Chellew Bello. She now became Carmen Libera Angela Veronica Chellew Bello de Pearson. So distinctive was this that one Valentine’s Day I bought her a star and named it after her.

When I joined Sony the Japanese never came to terms with my name. It may appear common to Western eyes but to the Japanese they called me Pearson, Person, Parson even Peason.

And that reminded me of the immortal molesworth. This is actual dialogue from the lunch table between molesworth and his grateful friend peason:

” I think aldous huxley is rather off form in counterpoint, peason. And he repli I simply couldn’t agree with you more rat face but peason is very 4th rate and hav not got beyond bulldog drummond.”

I was once booked on a return flight from Los Angeles with Virgin Atlantic. The flight was overbooked and there was considerable delay in issuing my Boarding Card. Many passengers were milling around and as we got closer to take off time I became increasingly nervous. I asked for my boarding card on several occasions and was told it was not ready yet. Finally with just a few minutes to go I went up one more time and this time it was given to me. I got on the plane and with a sigh of relief settled down for the long overnight flight. Suddenly a man appeared claiming that I was sitting in his seat. He also had a Boarding Card with the same seat number and worse, had the same name, David Pearson. I had been issued with his Boarding Card. Fortunately the airline offered incentives for passengers to delay their flight to the following day. I could not delay as I had a Board meeting to attend. This man and his wife decided to accept the offer and so I was free to fly. I don’t know what would have happened otherwise.

I have mentioned my wife’s extensive names. Her patronymic, Chellew, is a Cornish name and the diaspora of Chellews from Cornwall in the 19th Century to look for alternative mining work in the New World when the Tin Mines failed is a fascinating story. In researching it Carmen visited the Library of the Church of the Latter Day Saints in South Kensington. The Mormons believe that they can enlist the souls of the dead so have an enormous archive of family records. Carmen was researching her family and I met her there one day after work. I had a little time to kill and so I discreetly looked up my own record.

There it was on the slide. In the quarter April to June 1950 David Charles Pearson was one of FOURTEEN David Pearsons whose births were registered in England and Wales.

More recently in 2005 I set up my own company. On receiving confirmation I checked at Companies House how many directors of registered companies shared my name. I stopped counting at 200 and eight of those have Charles as their middle name. If you include those with David as a second or third name there are nearly 400.

So what, you might say. Well, in the age of the internet and social networking I think a distinctive name is going to be an asset. Despite the evidence I mentioned earlier that particularly unusual names may be harmful to mental health it should be possible to give your children names that will remain unique and so allow them to set up personal websites, Twitter accounts etc without finding that thousands have got there first. In the future I believe this will become normal.


Copyright David C Pearson 2010 All rights reserved

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