names


names
   Socially, legally, and emotionally, 'name', 'identity', and 'status' are closely linked. The Christian naming ceremony (christening or *baptism), has both a religious and an identifying social function: the baby is admitted into the Church, but it is given a name considered attractive in its family's social circle, or is 'named after' a relative or friend. As practising genealogists know, inherited forenames are a regular feature of English families, often over many generations - the idea that naming a baby after a living parent is unlucky, mentioned in Camden's Britannia (1586) and occasionally in the 19th century, can never have been widespread. More common in the 19th and 20th centuries has been the belief (still current) that a child should not be given the same name as a dead sibling (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 277-8).
   From the mid-19th century onwards, there was a fairly widespread disinclination to mention the baby's name before the christening; it might even be kept secret. Most references imply that it would be tempting fate to preempt the ceremony, but some are explicit that it could give ill-wishers a chance to harm the baby magically (Opie and Tatem, 1989: 278). Most folklorists have taken for granted that the latter notion is rooted in prehistory, since
   'Many savages at the present day regard their names as vital parts of themselves, and take great pains to conceal their real names, lest these should give to evil-disposed persons a handle by which to injure their owners' (Fraz-er, 1922: 244). One clear illustration is the fairytale * Tom Tit Tot, and further instances can be found among *magic practices in England. A written *curse or a malevolent *image may have the victim's name on it; magically summoning or banishing supernatural beings usually involves uttering their name(s); some verbal *charms aggressively address the sickness or injury they are meant to cure ('Ague, ague, I thee defy!'). Nevertheless, the analogies must not be pressed too far; in particular, whatever 'primitive man' may have done, there is no sign that within historic times in England people tried to hide their names from witches, as they did their *hair or *fingernail clippings.
   There has been a strong tradition, especially among male workers and in communities such as the armed forces and schools, of substituting nicknames for proper Christian names. Many of these are conventionally linked to particular surnames, for example 'Nobby' Clark, and 'Dusty' Miller.
   ■ Opie and Tatem, 1989: 276-8.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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