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Sunday, 21 September 2014

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This name thing can really get you in a pickle

With a name like Pickles, you tend not to worry too much about what people call you. Most made-up monikers are an improvement.

Onion, Branston, Piccalilli, Piccola, Pixie – I’ve run the gamut of terms of endearment in my time.

Tickles, Prickles, Ickle-Pickle – my, that one was fun.

Pickled Porkie (I was a chubby child), Pickled Herring (Dad was a fishmonger), Pick-n-Mix (I was a fan of Woolworths’ sweetie counter) Puffin Pickles (OK, so I smoked). See how original they all were?

How I managed to survive the many and various stages of name-calling without needing deep electrode therapy in a residential mind-bending institution is anybody’s guess. Thick skinned, I suppose... like a prickly pear.

To emerge in advanced adulthood labelled as nothing more offensive than Annie was a gift from the benevolent trauma gods. They must have reckoned, following round-table discussions and a secret ballot, I’d suffered enough. And for that I must be grateful.

But names are still a big deal in some quarters. Sensitive souls with diversity hang-ups get awfully sweaty about people addressing other people inappropriately.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if there weren’t a mind-your-language law against it, lurking somewhere in some dusty statute book. Nurses in particular are going to have watch it.

It was decided this week that they shouldn’t call elderly people in their care “love” or “dear” – patronising apparently and potentially hurtful.

“Old dear” is a hanging offence.

So, by extension, if you’re more than 88, a tad frail – and feeling that Bolshie – you’re perfectly entitled to snap ferociously at any person greeting you affectionately, while offering a helping arm to lean on as you cross the road.

“Thank you, young man. But call me Pet and you’re dead!”

A bit harsh. Under old rules anyway. But well within your rights now and potentially very entertaining. Just the ticket for brightening a dreary Monday morning walk to the Post Office.

The name thing is a contentious issue. And it seems to have ruffled my sequined friend’s feathers lately.

“People know I’m Twinkle,” she told me glumly the other day.

“I was out in Workington and some ladies there couldn’t wait to let me know they’d worked it out.”

“Oh dear...” I said, a smidge worried. I hate to let down a friend.

But I should have known it would be OK. She doesn’t mind being called Dear at all.

“Is that going to be a problem?”

“I suppose not,” she said reassuringly. “It could be a lot worse.”

Well, exactly! I can think of truly horrible names people are called.

Sometimes to their face – most often not. Not Twinkle, obviously. She attracts only kindly names.

Be honest. Dear and Love? What’s wrong with those? Only stuffed shirts with red tape running through their veins could deem those offensive.

The nice butcher in Cranstons has developed a habit of calling me Lass, which I found a touch strange at first. Where I come from everybody gets called Love.

A jobsworth local authority, to which I once had the misfortune to pay council tax, tried to ban that. It wasn’t a vote winner. A ban on Love was as popular there as boulders at Talkin Tarn were here.

Men, women, boys, girls, dogs, budgies – makes no difference. Whether you’ve a fancy for sausage or seed, every living creature is a Love in Yorkshire.

But it doesn’t take a nuclear physicist to work out that a butcher’s Lass in Cumbria isn’t meant as an insult. I like to think it’s an affectionate thing.

Had he called me Fat Lass or Daft Lass, I might have taken exception... and knocked his block off. But he never has.

So, I prefer to believe the best of his banter.

Anyway, it’s fun calling him Sweetheart in response. He blushes right on cue – all the way to the roots of his hair.

And there’s not much more appealing than a blushing butcher. Try it sometime.

It’s a minefield. Just opening your mouth to be chummy can open up pits of misunderstanding, trouble and ultimately a blind date with the mind-your-language firing squad.

“What’s in a name?” Juliet once wailed from her Verona balcony.

Well, Jules, quite a lot, as it happens. And had you been more of a Pickles than a Capulet, you’d wouldn’t have needed to ask.

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