Colourful Surnames

Black, White, Grey, Green, Brown, Gold/Golden. Niall, I hear you ask, why have you capitalised all those colours!? Surely you’re not going to tell us that there’s some obscure English rule that says that you have to use capital letters with colours, and we’ve all been doing it wrong all this time? God I’d love to, but no, those words are capitalised because, yes, they’re colours, but in this case I’m using them as surnames.

I’ve written before about surnames, and what they mean. Most of them have fairly mundane origins, describing people’s jobs or their birthplaces. This is because in the grand scheme of things, surnames are fairly new. Many of the earliest English surnames were attached to people to differentiate them from other people in the village with the same first name (e.g. that’s John Miller the miller, not John Taylor the tailor). If you think about a lot of common English surnames, it’s probably not too hard to imagine where they came from. But why is it that colours are so common as surnames?

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Sorry, What’s Your Name Again?

It can be a bit of a drag having a fairly uncommon name, sometimes. Not that I’ve ever wanted to change my name, or generally been unhappy with it, but it sometimes feels like it’d be nice to have a name that people understand straight away, and can’t later mispronounce. It’s ok in Ireland because even if it’s not the most common name, it’s still known by everybody. Even for English speakers from other countries, it’s not too difficult, as it’s a pretty simple sound common in English. Like smile, or while, or of course, Nile. Continue reading

“I see you took the name of the town. What was your father’s name? “

Following on from yesterday’s look at mispronunciations (and “mispronunciations”) by native speakers, I want to look specifically at how we often pronounce surnames differently, specifically surnames from other languages. I thought about this after watching The Godfather Part II recently, and noticing the way the character Senator Geary pronounces the surname Corleone*. Notice how it changes in the clip below (contains salty language!): Continue reading

What’s Your Name?

What’s your name?

Not a particularly difficult question, generally speaking. In English, when we say name, we usually mean a person’s given, or first, name. Things can be a little more confusing when you have to switch to dealing with French though. I’m currently living in Belgium, and routinely get momentarily confused by forms which ask first for nom, and then prénom. My instinct is to write my first name in the space for nom, until I remember that in French, nom means surname, and prénom means first name. Continue reading