1 EAGLETON NOTES: On Being Called EdwardEs



Wednesday, 31 August 2011

On Being Called EdwardEs

Nephew-in-law, Ian Edwards, posted on Sunday about the troubles he has with his name.  He decided when he married my niece to adopt her surname name instead of her adopting his.  However it has not been straightforward.  I've never had problems with mis-spelling of my surname although in Napier I am sometimes asked if my Edwards has a second 'e' because there is an Edwardes Road in Napier.  This has reminded me that I had written a piece some time ago and it's been lurking for a long time as a draft post.  So here it now is!

The idea for this post is not new.

Nor is it unique in its application to my name.  It could be Miller instead of Millar or Thompson instead of Thomson.

The matter was originally brought to mind by a letter I received.  The letter annoyed me.  Not by its contents but because of its address.

My name is Edwards.  But the letter was addressed to Edwardes.  I am, I confess, a little sensitive about that extra E.  When I see it stuck onto the end of my name I am conscious of an annoyance altogether disproportionate to the reality of the situation.

The Edwardeses are as good as the Edwardses.  There is nothing to choose between us.  We are all the sons of some Edward or other.  Why in heaven's name someone along the way had to stick an extra E into his name, though, I fail to understand.

It is probably pride on his part.  Just as it is pride on my part not having that E.

But whatever the origin of the variations we feel a pride attaching to our own particular form.  We feel an outrage on our names as we feel an outrage on our persons.

It was such an outrage that led to one of Robert Louis Stevenson's most angry outbursts.

An American publisher had pirated one of his books.  But it was not the theft that angered him as much as the mis-spelling of his name.  "I saw my book advertised as the work of R L Stephenson and I own I boiled."

I feel at this moment a touch of sympathy for,  or is it with, that snob Sir Frederick Thesiger.  He was addressed one day as 'Mr Smith' and the blood of all the Thesigers boiled within him.

"Do I look like a person with the name of Smith" he said and passed on.

And as the blood of all the Edwardses boils within me I ask "Do I look like and Edwardes?"

Yet I suppose one can fall in love with the name of Smith as with the name of Thesiger if it happens to be one's own.

I should like to see the reaction of Sir F E Smith if someone were to have called him Sir Frederick Thesiger.

But perhaps there is another reason for the annoyance.  To misspell a person's name is to imply that he is so obscure or negligible that you do not know how to address him and cannot take the trouble to find out.

And whether we like it or not there is something within us all which rebels at the thought that we are not even worth that much effort.


  1. Try having my maiden sur name...Rude. That was so not fun when teachers, on the first day of school, would ask me if I was as rude as my name? I wasn't then, but if I used my maiden name instead of my husband's sur name, you can bet that I would be! Our names are important to us and should be respected enough that people would learn how to spell and pronounce them.

  2. Growing up with a father who constantly got our names wrong, I answer to anything. Dad's "Pauline, Peter, Patricia" is a long standing family joke. On the other hand I go to trouble to get peoples surnames right, especially if there is an alternative spelling. I pause every time I write Thompson/Thomson/Tomson and nearly every time have to look up which is which.

  3. Ah, one of my "favourite" topics!! My first name is Meike, which is not the most common German female name, but not really extraordinary, either. And so often people who I correspond with in business address me as "Mr. R...." because they do not read properly and mistake my first name for Mike.
    I never let that stand but always reply to them, letting them know that Meike is a female name. Usually, they come back quite embarrassed and apologize profusely - but maybe next time, they will read more carefully!
    Like you said, to misspell someone's name is to imply they mean so little that one can't be bothered to make the effort to spell them correctly.

  4. At least you cannot make a mess of the name Smith. When I became a "Truby" it went from "Trubey" on a good day to "Trillbe" on a bad day.

    Yes - Smith was not such a bad name to have had.......

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  6. It must be annoying to be a 'Smyth'...

  7. Have to admit a smile of recognition as I read this. I always have to spell both my first and my last name. My first name Monica is also frequently spelled Monika here in Sweden. It's kind of odd that one should feel that it matters. But somehow it feels strange if someone writes it with a 'k' (if they mean me). Actually that feels more strange than hearing someone pronouncing it with an English accent rather than how we say it in Swedish (which is more like how it is pronounced in German - if that is of any help). I think one or two hundred years ago spelling was more haphazard though... Looking at some notes from my own family history, not only is the spelling of first names is a total mess, but they also seemed to be able to take just about any last name they happened to take a fancy to! Makes me realize that the idea of a 'family name' is/was really just a parenthesis in my country...

  8. haha - like it...reminds me of that saying "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"... and of how that saying defo doesn't apply to the names we give ourselves...

  9. VERY interesting post! Loved all of the comments, too. ;^) This is definitely a topic we feel strongly about. It has come to my attention even more as I've done ancestry research. When people came to America, sometimes immigration officials were less than sympathetic. I think of it now and can barely tolerate the thought of the indignities. You know how proud we are of our names. And there, if the immigration official could not understand it or pronounce it, they just said, 'Well, ha! That may have been your name before, but NOW it is Smith, or Jones, or whatever is easy to spell.' Sad. And families took it upon themselves to make spellings easier. I've traced a family name, Winburn, to Winborn, to Winbourn. . . and there are many others.
    I don't miss Smith at all. That was my married name. ;^- (Still, all I can think of is the Mary Poppins joke "...wooden leg named Smith...") ;^D I went back to my maiden name ASAP!!! ;^) My dad used to call Mr. Smith, Mr. Smythe. And he got away with it! ;^) That's my dad. I couldn't have.