Friday, 1 July 2011

Thing 3 (Part 2) : Names


Unobjectionable, easy to pronounce. There were no others in my year at school (the only other Helen I remember at school actually had the same surname as me). At college, a few more, but not in overwhelming numbers. (One of those is now an academic at my place of work!) It was only on arriving at library school that I started to realise just how common a name it was. In my first professional post I was greeted on the first day with "we were wondering if you wouldn't mind using your middle name": I was the third Helen in a small team. In my current post I started on the same day as another Helen, and there are several others. And just look at all the Helens following CPD23! It does seem to be a very popular name for librarians.


"No", I said, "I don't mind using my middle name, it's Ceridwen". Cue hasty change of subject, and no more was heard about using my middle name. Outside Wales, not much chance of anyone pronouncing or spelling this one correctly. (The "C" is hard and the stress is on the second syllable. Ker-ID-wen.) Its heyday was a bit before my time (like a lot of expatriate Welsh, my parents were a bit behind with fashions in Welsh names), but there are more of us around than you might expect. Ceridwen comes from medieval Welsh poetry originally: she owned the cauldron of poetic inspiration, which sounds good, but she wasn't a very nice person. My parents did not realise, and nor did I for a while, that it is used widely within pagan circles, and quite often by people who didn't start out as Ceridwen. It gets shortened to Ceri (usually, though a recent Welsh novel featured a Crid). It's the name my husband and his friends and family use.

My Twitter name at the moment is @Ceridwen339. I'm aware that it puts some people off - too Welsh (tough!), can't pronounce it (see above), or possibly expect Wicca and are disappointed. 339 is simply the number of a house I used to live in. Inevitably there was already a @Ceridwen (she lives in Arkansas) and several variations on Ceridwen with numbers and different spellings, all foiled no doubt by the Arkansas lady (and including a Ceridwen Price). I'm probably going to tweak the Twitter handle (339 isn't a magic number, but maybe it looks that way in conjunction with Ceridwen!)


Another common name, but one which causes a surprising amount of bother. People make you say it and spell it over and over, and claim they have never heard it before. Nobody gets it first time on the phone. I get more financial spam than anyone else in the office. It has nothing to do with money! It's just a boring patronymic.

Helen Price? There must be hundreds. Strangely, several of them are or were librarians (and there's that Sol and Helen Price Library). There are over 80 Helen Prices on LinkedIn, and, inevitably, at least 6 on Twitter, including one in Cardiff. I always used to sign my name "Helen C. Price" and that is how it appears in LC authorities.


I'd been warned by married friends that marriage is a name minefield. I started out intending to keep my own name - well, as a cataloguer, I wouldn't want to mess with that authority heading, would I? Saunders, as well as being another common patronymic, was also the surname of two other people working on the same floor (it's right up there with Helen as a common name!) My intention was scuppered quite early on by officialdom, but I did hang on to my own surname as an extra middle name, which for some reason I thought was a well-established practice (Hillary Rodham Clinton, Elizabeth Barrett Browning), and now I know it isn't. The trend today seems to be moving back to wife taking husband's name. Changing your name brings its own problems. Credit rating? Back to square one. Getting bureaucrats to accept that you are still the same person, ditto. If you are a married woman, making sure you still have enough ID with your name on it, changed or not, to be able to produce documentation for anything, be prepared to do battle. I would really like to know what the experience of couples in civil partnerships in these matters is - I haven't spotted a name-changing tradition developing there but there may be one. I do know one or two married couples where husband and wife have joined their names.

Saunders is also probably on a level with Price for people making you spell it and not hearing it right first time (favourite version : Mrs.Thornbirds) and some people seem not to be able to pronounce it either.

Helen Saunders? Quite a few of those (though fewer librarians!) Helen Price Saunders? Yes, that's me, usually. Helen Ceridwen Price Saunders? Definitely me, but that is too many names!


  1. Great post. I kept my maiden name as an extra name when I married Sarah Green Barker, but that has shortened now to Sarah G Barker hence sarahgb on twitter. Most times people forget instantly it's Barker and change it to Baker, which drives my husband insane. Others who don't listen properly here the Barker, instantly forget the Sarah, remember it was an S and I become Sue Barker. Names eh!

  2. I took my husband's name too and agree the bureaucracy was a faff! However it was quite a nice way to distance myself from things posted on the internet in my teens... :)

    People seem to have trouble with my first name aurally, because it's unusual and maybe I don't enunciate it clearly enough, so I get called Edie, Enid and Judith among other things.

    My surname seems to be regularly misspelt as Spellar or Stella rather than Speller. I always feel a plum when asked to spell it and recite "S-P-E-L-L..." :)