What’s in a name?

The Compass - - OPINION -

Hav­ing the same sur­name is a usual oc­cur­rence in the small out­ports of New­found­land. When I tell some­one I am orig­i­nally from Branch, I am asked if my maiden name was Nash, Power or English. There are oth­ers but th­ese three are the most plen­ti­ful.

When I grew up in Branch in the 50s and early 60s, it was a com­mon prac­tice to be named “af­ter some­one.” As a re­sult there were lots of Mar­garets, An­nies, Roses, Kates and Marys. Be­cause lo­cal women of­ten mar­ried within the area, there was a great chance that a num­ber of Marys might end up with the same last name. In large towns, this sit­u­a­tion would not even be no­ticed. In Branch, it caused a change in how one was ad­dressed.

My mother, Ag­gie, was mar­ried to John Power. Never, in my childhood, did I hear her called Mrs. Power. Re­spect­fully, she was re­ferred to as Mrs. Ag­gie John. She ac­cepted this as nor­mal and never ques­tioned why my fa­ther was not iden­ti­fied as Mr. John Ag­gie. He was just Mr. John. It was only when I sat down to write this ar­ti­cle that the dou­ble stan­dard hit me. I im­me­di­ately re­marked that this would not bode well with to­day’s lib­er­ated women who some­times refuse to take their spouses’ sur­names.

The locality in which I lived was known as the Hill. In the small con­fines of that neigh­bour­hood, where three Mar­garets were wed to Pow­ers, they were re­ferred to as Paddy’s Mar­garet, Stephen’s Mar­garet and Am­brose’s Mar­garet. This dif­fered from “Ag­gie John” in that the male name pre­ceded the fe­male one.

I am sure that women’s rights or­ga­ni­za­tions of th­ese mod­ern times would take ex­cep­tion, but the sta­tus quo was dif­fer­ent in the 50s. Fem­i­nism aside, I think the ti­tles were quite at­trac­tive and lyri­cal. It was sort of mu­si­cal the way Mrs. Rose Neil, Mrs. Rose Clif­ford, Mrs. Mary Pat and Mrs. Katie Gus rolled off the tongue. This method of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion helped de­crease con­fu­sion.

When I was di­rected to bring a mes­sage to Mrs. Emma Ge­orge, there was no mis­tak­ing where I had to go, al­though there was def­i­nitely no one in the place with the last name Ge­orge.

Now males with iden­ti­cal names had to be dis­tin­guished also. My fa­ther was Kate’s John be­cause he had a cousin also named John. Daddy’s red-haired un­cle was Foxy Jack so as not to mix him up with another Jack. At one time there was a Foxy Nick and a Black Nick. All th­ese nick­names arose for the sole pur­pose of clar­ity. It made things sim­pler.

A girl from the city who vis­ited Branch ev­ery sum­mer told me re­cently that she was al­most adult be­fore she re­al­ized that my last name was Power and not John. Laugh­ingly, she added “I only heard your mother called Mrs. Ag­gie John and your fa­ther Mr. John.” There was no men­tion of Power at all.”

With the ad­vent of mod­ern day names such as Crys­tal, Kayla, Ma­son, Todd and the like, mis­un­der­stand­ings are less prob­a­ble. If a Jen­nifer is mar­ried to a Ja­son, not likely she will be­come Mrs. Jen­nifer Ja­son. As ru­ral pop­u­la­tions de­cline, fewer young folks are set­tling down in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. A snafu due to a mis­nomer is less likely to hap­pen.

Some proud sur­names have al­ready been threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion in Branch. In the tele­phone di­rec­tory, I found only one list­ing for the name Camp­bell and none for the beau­ti­ful tra­di­tional ti­tles of Quigley and Downey.

I only hope th­ese won­der­ful names and oth­ers such as Mooney, Corcoran, Hen­nessey, Roche, O’Rourke, McGrath, Line­han, etc. live for­ever in the de­scen­dants of those who were glad to call Branch their home. I am cer­tain the names I heard while grow­ing up there will abide in my mem­ory as long as I live. Ma­rina Power Gam­bin was born and raised in her beloved Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She is a re­tired teacher who lives in Pla­cen­tia where she taught for al­most three decades. She can be reached at


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