Page 6, 1st October 1965

1st October 1965
Page 6
Page 6, 1st October 1965 — • Making a name mean something • Mesopotamian treasures

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Locations: London, Phoenix


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• Making a name mean something • Mesopotamian treasures


asks the title of James Pennethorne Hughes' book (Phoenix, 15s.). If it is, cheer up, for it might have been a great deal worse.

It might have been Gumboil or Spittle, Tombs or Custard, Batty or Anguish, Bracegirdle or Gout. Muddyman or Rumble. Shacklady or Sneezum, Srnellie or Bottle, Maggot or Whisker, Whalebelly or Shufillebottom. Hapenny or Hogsfiesh. Shepewasch or Tipple . . . In tact I could fill this entire review quite agreeably with the ridiculous results of nickna m e. mis-spelling, mispronunciation and the general centuries-old confusion that now results in the surnames we are saddled with.

The cheering thing that emerges from Mr. Hughes' fascinating book on them is that, however absurd yours may sound, it may have a perfectly respectable and unfunny background. Lush, for instance, conies from the office of usher, Tubb is just a diminutive of Theobald, Reeks means a rough pathway and Booscy a cowstall: Snooks. Swindle and Tortoiseshell all come from place names — Sevenoaks, Swindale and Tattersall.

So look before you laugh, because there are pitfalls everywhere. Sherry. Portwine, Whisky, Fillpot and Tankard (say) have nothing to do with drink, but come respectively from the French cluirie, "le Poytevin" — the man from Poictou, the river Wiske in Yorkshire, t h e Christian name Philip, and the German Thankweard or Tancred.

As for spellings and corruptions, names may go up in the world or down, depending on a letter or two: thus Arblaster, a particular sort of bowman, turned into the much more exotic Alabaster, or (conversely) Godbe-here became Goodbecr, which makes Hardy's Durbeyfield (that always struck me as brilliantly persuasive) seem pretty tame.

There are about 1,300 surnames in the index, and Mr. Hughes deals with them all. Yet he wears his history and philology and sociology as lightly as his wit, so that aft the information comes across quite painlessly to the layman, Indeed it would be hard to find a short hook on a specialised subject more likely to arouse enthusiasm and interest in the general reader.

Without knowing t h e tongues of our island's many invaders — and a great deal more — it is impossible, of course, to go far, but all the same it is tempting to speculate on the tombstone, monument, shopkeepers' and acquaintances' names we come across daily, or even to thumb through a directory and wonder just why o,000odd Smiths and only one much odder Silly have telephones in London.

Or to brood over familiar names till they suddenly seem to mean something. As my son. fired with detective enthusiasm, suggested: "Mightn't our neighbour Mr. Wagstaff really be a sort of cousin of Shakespeare?"

Isabel Quigly

ASPLENDIDLY illustrated survey of the artistic treasures of ancient Mesopotamia by lean-Claude Margrieron and the first in the series Archaeologia Mundi produced in Switzerland and published in England by Frederick Muller, 70s.

The expository essay by Jean-Claude Margueron deals with the history of archaeology in Mesopotamia rather than Mesopotamian history as revealed by archaeology, and is more rhetorical than normally suits English taste.

But the photographs speak for themselves of the astonishing variety, and vitality of Mesopotamian craftsmanship and vision. This is a tribute to selectivity, since the antiquities of Iraq when viewed in bulk often seem depress. ingly fragmentary and uncouth.

At animal sculpture the prow-Iraqis excelled. Their human portraits are more puzzling, but whether inept. or caricaturally realistic, or hieratically elongated, they are as full of vigour as their nil-rich descendants today.

For the rest, a kitchen mould in the shape of a fish: a magnificent page of cuneiform script; a model chariot and a wondrous ludo-board take their ingenious places alongside the imperial friezes of Assyrian conquerors; the world . famous Harp and Standard of Ur; and the lapis-lazuli Rant caught in a Thicket associated with the story of Abraham and Isaac.

Alan Neame

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