Having a silly name: help or hindrance?
I wasn’t always a Cock*. I grew up as a Starkey but as one does, I fell in love with a Cock (quite literally A. Cock, my husband’s name begins with ‘A’) and decided to get married. We spent many hours discussing what our surname should be. My poor husband had grown up teased and tormented about his name but as his brother had already changed his name and he was the only other son, he had an urge to continue the family name.
I really wanted us and any future children we had to have the same surname but was not keen on committing myself and our children to a future of ridicule. The only solution seemed to be to create new, hybrid name, but would it be Starkey-Cock or Cock-Starkey?
Deciding on a name
We sounded out both names and as my sister suggested tried announcing our names as BBC Reporters (actually she suggested musicians playing Glastonbury but being more journalistic types our ambitions lay elsewhere) and see which sounded the best (or should I say least bad). Thus we decided ‘This is Claire Cock-Starkey, reporting from the White House for BBC news’ sounded infinitely better than the unfortunately descriptive sounding ‘Claire Starkey-Cock, reporting from the White House for BBC News’.
And so it was decided, on our wedding day I signed my new name into being (but due to arcane laws my husband had to go through the kerfuffle of actually changing his name officially through deed poll). We became the only two Cock-Starkeys in the whole world (we have since added three more mini Cock-Starkeys to our clan).
I realised early on that the key to having a silly name is to say it with confidence. People are so scared to say ‘cock’ that when calling my name at the doctors surgery or phoning to sell me insurance they frequently stutter, ‘Is that Mrs uhum *cough* Starkey?’. ‘Yes,’ I reply loudly and clearly ‘Mrs COCK-Starkey’. My husband has been known to be even bolder and state ‘Cock, as in penis’ when spelling out our name.
I had always wanted to be a writer and when I fantasised about writing a novel I began to imagine taking on a pen name, as it seemed rather romantic. But when I got married I was already working as a writer and was about to get my first credit on a book. I didn’t have time to consider if my name would be a help or a hindrance to my writing career but soon rejected the idea of a pen name. I wanted my efforts to be linked to me, the actual real me, not some mysterious invented character.
Why having a silly name is good
And so my full name now exists on nine books, it is indelibly out there in the literary universe, and so here are four reasons why having a silly name is good:
- It is memorable. Sensible, common, dare I say vanilla names are so forgettable. When you read my name you might snigger, you may even get a mental image of a cockerel (or those of a dirty mind may picture a giant phallus), you might wonder where such a name came from, but you won’t forget it.
- It is unique. When you googled my old name there were quite a few Claire Starkeys, a gymnast, a student, a business executive. But there is only one Claire Cock-Starkey and that makes it easy to be top of Google.
- Double-barrelled names make you seem posh. Tru fact.
- People won’t get you confused with anyone else. Case study: David Mitchell. I am a big fan of the Cloud Atlas writer and when I went into a bookshop to ask for his latest tome, the assistant had to ask ‘which David Mitchell, the Cloud Atlas one or the comedian?’ as both had books out at the same time.
The only bad thing I can think of about my name is the fact that it is so long. Sometimes forms aren’t long enough to fit it in, it doesn’t fit neatly on the spine of a book, and when composing a tweet or writing a short author biography it takes up half my word count.
* For those American readers who see nothing rude or funny about a cockerel, in the UK cock is an especially porny slang word for a penis.
Do you have a silly name? I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment!
Great post! I admire your decision, as I’m not sure I’d have been prepared to take on ‘Cock’. At school a terribly nice boy called Clive Grubb wanted to go out with me. Aside from fancying his bad-boy pal more, I was shallow enough to have been deterred by his surname. I hear he changed it as soon as he graduated from university – seems like I wasn’t the only shallow girl he happened upon.
I’ve just finished reading your book Hyphens and Hashtags, and really enjoyed it. I got it out of the library, but I’ll probably buy it now I think. Might get a copy to give as a gift to someone as well. Will definitely look out for your other books, as I like your style.
I have a double-barrelled surname too, and it’s definitely a bit posh. Not sure if that’s always a good thing, you understand, but it could be helpful on the cover of a book. (And I’m in the process of writing one at present, though mine is fiction, whereas you seem to have a pedigree in non-fiction from what I can see.) My surname has been a thing in our family for about 200-300 years, so there’re a few other Newton-Howeses in Google before you find me (Marcus.) Within a few generations the famous inventor of the first successful fusion power plant, your granddaughter, will have achieved a level of fame surpassing even your own, so your Google fame won’t be so guaranteed. Though you might not mind that by then…
Anyway, keep up the good work,
P.s. the way your article fitted on the page, I read: “…I fell in love with a Cock, (quite literally, my husband’s…” the rest of the sentence appeared on the next line, but in the meantime my brain was thinking, “I guess that’s what attracted her to her hubby‽” (Sorry about that, but lol! Also, notice how I included an interrobang there? I found out about them by reading your book 🙂 )
Thanks for getting in touch, so pleased you enjoyed Hyphens & Hashtags! Very fabulous that your surname has such a historic pedigree and you’re right that hopefully mine will continue on (although my kids are already muttering about dropping the ‘Cock’‽). I think that probably deserves an interrobang too 😉