Dispatches from the South: The Name Game

Mike has gone on vacation and while he’s away we have a treat for Anglotopia readers. Mike has been kind enough to post some excerpts from his excellent book “Postcards from Across the Pond.” If you’d like to buy Mike’s book – you can do so here.

People in Britain name their houses.

The reasons behind this quaint custom are rooted deep in Britain’s history, beginning with the Roman conquest. One of the many changes the Romans imposed upon Britain was a system of numbering houses. This made deliveries easier for their Postal Carriers and worked fine until the Romans left, at which time life became suddenly difficult for the Anglo-Saxon Posties, who could only scratch their heads over addresses like Romvlvs, CCDLXIV Mead Street, Winchester before tossing the letters in the gutter.

Shortly after that, everybody forgot how to read and things got a little easier.

When the Normans invaded, William the Conqueror wanted a full accounting of his new country and insisted that houses be labeled alphabetically within each street by their owner’s name. This led to much shifting about of households and required squeezing, for instance, Peter’s new house between Oswald and Ralph (there were no names that began with “Q” in those days). This is why British homes are so tiny and cramped together and why Aaron and Lloyd are spelled that way.

Obviously, this method didn’t work very well and fell out of favor as soon as William died, after which the locals returned to their original houses.
This confused the Norman Posties—who had replaced the Anglo-Saxon Posties—so much they passed a law calling for a new system of household identification involving actual numbers. But, since the Normans were French, no one could understand the new law and everyone simply renamed their homes as they saw fit.

Eventually a numbering system was imposed (this was under Henry the VIII, who had invented a numeric classification scheme to keep track of his wives), but by then, the custom of naming houses was deeply ingrained.

Even today, as you walk down any street, you will note that a high percentage of homes have a plaque of some sort affixed to their gate, front wall, or, in the case of the tiny Victorian row houses, hanging above their door. The names can be mysterious (Dragons), whimsical (I [heart] myvilla), functional (Toll Cottage, on what used to be, one must assume, a toll cottage), redundant (Brick House, in a land where nearly every dwelling is made of brick), trendy (Greensleeves), cute (Dorabill, on the home of Dora and Bill), puny (Maidenover—which, I am told, is a Cricket term—on a house in Cricket Field Road) or just plain strange (Brilig, Dunragit).

But, in each case, I must assume that some amount of thought went into the naming and that the plaques, large or small, reflect the pride of homeownership in a land where housing is scarce and dear.

I think it’s a lovely custom, and so I’ve decided to name our flat.

As with the homeowners, a lot of thought went into the name but, unlike them, my plaque won’t be an ornate sign affixed to a wrought iron gate. It will, instead, be a small plate, Blu-Tacked below the Judas hole of a rented, 2nd-floor walk-up.

My wife thinks the idea is incredibly naff, and so do I, but then, that’s the point.

After much discussion, we chose a name alluding to the way my wife and I met, crossbred with some lyrics from the Sting song, “Fields of Gold,” which would be considered “our” song, if we had a song, which we don’t.

In order to accomplish this melding, the English lyrics had to be translated into Irish Gaelic. This wasn’t difficult—the Internet is awash in translation dictionaries, everything from Abenaki to Zulu. No, the problem was the result.

Orgagort.

We rolled that around in our heads for a few days but couldn’t get past the notion that it sounded like something you’d go to the doctor’s to get a shot of penicillin to cure.

My wife suggested translating it into Scottish Gaelic, but what’s the point in that? We didn’t meet in Scotland. I might just as well translate it into Danish. Besides, the outcome might be even more horrible.

In the end, we decided the original English sounded best: Goldenfields.

So if you ever come to visit my “estate” you may make note of the nameplate and even comment on how unusual it is for a flat to have a name, but don’t bother telling me how naff it is. I already know.


Comments

  1. avatar says

    I am surrounded by interesting homes. Next door is Tudor House (which is not Tudor at all) and next to that is Lyndhurst. Down the way a bit more is White Cliff Cottage (there are no white cliffs) and behind us here is a little place simply called “The Cottage”. I have always wanted a named home, but I didn’t realize I could just name it what I want. In that case I will have to name my flat “Seaview Height” because we have a sea view and we have the highest flat on the street. Done and dusted!

  2. avatar says

    Liv: “Brown House in the Woods” works; just make sure you can fit it on the plate ;)

    Lisa: well done! now there are at least two people in Britain who have named their flat. Maybe we can start a trend ;)

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