Thursday, 25 June 2015

Names and associations

Valerie at a serious location, back in the black and white days
As I was sitting on the bus heading for the station the other day, I contemplated the way that associations can completely change how we view a particular name.

This came to mind as the bus headed past Cheney Manor. Given that name alone, my suspicion is that a rather splendid Tudor mansion would come to mind, either in beautifully laid out formal gardens, or possibly going a bit to seed as the owners couldn't keep it up. Definitely a des. res.

But if you know Swindon, you will probably be aware that Cheney Manor is not a distinguished old house, but an area of the town that has seen better days and whose most notable occupant is a small trading estate. The only obvious 'Manor' is one of those not entirely welcoming looking modern pubs. All-in-all, it's not exactly a National Trust tourist destination. (Sorry to any Cheney Manor residents - I'm sure it's a lovely place to live.) Suddenly, given the context, the name feels very different.

I experienced something similar as a student, but with a person's name. From my youth, I had very negative associations with the name 'Valerie'. This may have been because we had someone in our junior school class called Valerie who had an unfortunate bladder condition. Or just because it's one of those names. Either way, it felt like a name to avoid.

Then I met Valerie, who sang in the same choir. Like half of my college (or so it seemed) I fell head over heels for Valerie. And suddenly I couldn't understand my previous attitude to the name. It was a lovely name. Possibly one of the nicest girls' names ever.

Sadly for me and that half of the college, Valerie married a musician from another college, who (it was generally considered in our college) was unworthy. Strangely, soon after, the name was once more one that I really didn't like too much.

As it happens, I now know a couple of exceedingly nice Vals, and that seems a fine name to me. But I'd be grateful if they didn't tell me that it was short for Valerie.

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