Fall 2018 – Understanding Names

Understanding Names: Their Origins, Meanings and Folklore
Presented by Tim Nau and David Clandfield

Tuesdays, October 9 to November 27, 2018 – 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon

October 9     Place Names

Place names reveal how we see ourselves, our environment and our past. France means “land of the free people” and Tokyo means “eastern capital.” The names of cities and towns in Canada (which, despite its huge size, means “village”) come from many different languages with a range of meanings. This lecture will feature a toponymic tour of the Great White North, starting with “Mississauga.”

October 16     What are Street Names for?

Most Toronto streets have names but Japan seems to manage without them. When did we begin naming streets, who decides on the names and why? Street names can tell us about cultural and political priorities, which can change – as can street names, often amid controversy.

October 23     Surnames and History

Every surname tells a story. Smiths used to smite things, people named Small were small in stature, Madison was the son of a woman named Maud, and Mr. Hill probably lived near a hill. This lecture will explore the history of surnames and the meanings behind them.

October 30     The Elephant and Castle and Mon Repos: Houses Public and Private

The commonest pub names celebrated royalty or landed gentry. Many pub names, like those of private houses that we shall consider, too, celebrate creature comforts, popular pastimes, favourite celebrities or whimsical wordplay. We will look at quaint house names (Bide-a-Wee, Dunromin, Ersanmyne) alongside more sinister pub names like Devil in the Boot, Dead On and Last Drop.

November 6    Whatever Happened to Tom, Dick and Harry?

Which of Mia or Winifred is more likely to be a child? Is Frank or Liam more likely to have grey hair? Names often reveal a person’s age because fashions in naming quickly change, just like fashions in dress and music. It wasn’t always so, with the most popular babies’ names remaining the same for generation after generation, saying a lot about our ancestors’ values.

November 13     Naming to Sell

Trade names project an image or identity, vying for attention in a crowded marketplace, so they must be distinctive, descriptive, attractive. Trade names need to be memorable and avoid controversy – or must they? Cars and banks went one way, wines and boutiques another. Health matters, sensuality sells: check the products in any pharmacy. And what appeals in one language repels in another.

November 20     Names in Fiction

Novelists and dramatists get to not only create whole worlds but also to name the characters they populate them with. Why did Congreve choose Millamant as his heroine’s name or Defoe call his castaway Robinson Crusoe? Why, in Wuthering Heights, is the protagonist called Heathcliff rather than, say, John Doe?

November 27     From Marmalade to Beef Wellington: Naming Food

Stories are told of Welsh rabbit, Scotch woodcock, Alaska turkey, a cheese named for a celebrated gastronome and a wine for its inventor. A typical French menu reveals dishes such as tournedos Rossini, pommes Anna, chicken Marengo, crêpes Suzette, gâteau Saint-Honoré. They all have their own stories, some fanciful and some historically verifiable, all celebrated in a rich cultural history.