It’s odd how the ‘ee’ sound on the end of a name makes it sound more affectionate. Jenny, Billy, Freddy, Johnny, Tommy, Susie, Margie, Amy, Lizzie, Winny, Jessie...
It can even be done with surnames: my Mum was always called Briggsy at work during the war. Entertainment stars often had names like Charlie Chester and Tommy Trinder. I thought I was lucky in having a first name that could not be altered in this way, until one day someone called me Raymie. This was meant to be kindly, even affectionate; so I couldn’t strike them dead.
But now it seems to be getting into proper names. Over 20 years ago, I was amazed when I learned that a friend’s daughter, Connie, was not an affectionate shortening of Constance, but is the name on her birth certificate.
Some women are lucky in having the ‘ee’ already there: Sally, Lucy, Lily... and Libby Purves? Some names cannot have the ‘ee’ even if their owner wanted it: Hilda, Karen, Brenda, Teresa and Margaret? Margarettee? Doesn’t sound right; so had to change to Maggie. Even so, it doesn’t always express affection – Maggie Thatcher with her handbag weapon, for instance.
Recently, I’ve been told, there is a craze among teenagers to invent single- syllable names for themselves. Haven’t heard one yet. Quite looking forward to it. I hope they have been warned about rhyming slang.
New names appear all the time. Tilda seems to be coming in as halfway between Matilda and Tilly.
At first, it all sounds quite a good idea, making the person seem more friendly and approachable. But it deprives them of choice. If Connie had kept the Constance, she could still have used Connie as well. Also, does it age well? An 80-year-old Connie? Or with a title: an 80-year-old Lady Connie?
It does not work with the really great, either – Winnie Churchill? That even causes a change of gender. Imagine him entering the Cabinet Room and one of his staff calling out, ‘Hi, Winnie!’
Micky Angelo? Sounds like a rock guitarist. Remy Brandt? A lady’s face cream? Billy Shakespeare? Johnny Keats, Willy Wordsworth and Chris Wren? But then we do have Percy Bysshe Shelley.
But even worse are the great musical names – Joey Sebby Bach, Luddyviggy Beethoven. And, with Mozart, you just have to give up. Wolfgang! Wolf and Gang, two very unpleasant things to have in your own name. ‘Woof, woof, Wolfie.’ TV advert for dog biscuits? ‘Sit, Wolfie; good girl.’
In literature, there is Leo Tolstoy slipping in unaltered. Very clever. Well done, Leo! Then, in other arts, we have Vincey Vanny Gogh, Matty Matisse, Money Monet and Bonny Bonnard. Makes him sound like Scottish shortbread. Pablo Picasso dodges in, already informal and friendly.
In publishing, there is my own first publisher, Hammy Hamilton, though I am sure he would not have liked it, and Johnny Cape.
Now, to cap it all, we have our own lord and master, the great Harry Mount! Not Harry Mountie, which sounds like a choccy bar.