patrick-mcgoohan

Number Six or ‘Sixy’ as he was known to the rest of the Village people

Do you mind having your name mucked about with? Or were your parents perceptive enough to call you Lin or Hao (obviously, it helped if they were Vietnamese). Maybe you don’t have a problem with diminution or prefer being Sue or Seb to the formal Susan or Sebastian (a bit like those pedigree chums who are registered as Asquith de Carteret III but answer to Mr Wiggles at kibble time).

Then, as if your given moniker wasn’t enough to reconstitute at will, you get saddled with a nickname (more than one, as they tend to vary with context).

I worked in an office where a form came round one year, asking us to tick our preferences for Christmas lunch next to our ’names.’ The compiler having dispensed with formality (or fear of retribution) and identified everyone by their lovable quirks, I established, by a process of elimination, that I wasn’t Biscuit Tin Ninja, Geordie Bore or MMWFOIH (moody monobrow with forehead of inbred horse – could have gone either way, that one – though if you have to ask, it isn’t a nickname).

‘I am not a number, I am a free man,’ insisted Number Six, aka Patrick ‘Paddy’ McGoohan in The Prisoner. We never definitively catch Six’s name (it could be John Drake) but he appears to be a blazered reincarnation of Winston ‘Smithy’ Smith from George Orwell’s 1984, an apparent everyman ground down by a totalitarian state whose name has provoked numerous theories as to its origins.

Names – slippery devils at the best of times, then, and loaded with historical and personal resonance. When was the last time you met an Adolf (or wanted to)? And if reports are to be believed (I refer you to 1984 again), Kim Jong Un has just banned anyone from sharing his name (my nephew will have to rethink his confirmation choice).

To be honest, once it gets this complicated, wouldn’t we all smell as sweet by a few digits printed out on a ticket at the bread counter?