Invalid Name

07 Aug Invalid Name

First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly 8.8.22


Every time we go to the vet, I think about that time my daughter decided to change her name. (Weird start for a story, but you know what I’m like.) We were there again this morning with our cat, Satchmo, named for jazz legend Louis Armstrong and while he was weighed (not as heavy as I’d feared) and vaccinated (Satchmo’s a big believer in science) I was thinking back 20-odd years to a visit at the same clinic with a different cat.

Jimmy was our big fluffy ginger boy who enjoyed a remarkable 21 years, living with me well before my daughter was born and still here with us after she’d left home. Terrific cat, used to sleep on my head at night as though I was a pillow or he was a hat. I still miss him.

When Jimmy was eight and Holly was six, we arrived at the vet and were greeted with, “Jimmy A’Court? Come through.”

“Is he an A’Court, too?” Holly asked me, clearly struck by this information. Back then, Holly still had her father’s name but, she pointed out that day, everyone else living in our house – her mother, her grandparents and the cat – was an A’Court so she wanted to be one, too.

I said I wasn’t sure how to go about changing it and she did one of those six-year-old eye rolls and explained, “Oh, mummy! You write a letter to the government and tell them that’s what you want to do and they fix it.”

So we did, and they did, and all these years later her children carry our name along with others, which is very cool. For a while, because of the patriarchal tradition of only sons keeping their names, it looked like A’Courts were an endangered species, but we are flourishing now.

Though it is something of a hospital pass – it is rare that anyone knows how to spell it, even less likely they know how to say it. (For reference, it’s A like the letter A, emphasis on the first syllable – think “Acorn” but with a “t” right there at the last minute.)

I still find it hard to correct people, particularly in those settings where someone says, “Please welcome Michele a-COURT” so the first words out of my mouth would need to be, ‘Hello, you’ve done it wrong, lovely to be here”.

In more recent years we’ve discovered that, in a digital context, having two capitals and an apostrophe renders a name “invalid”. Various ancestors would be spinning to see “Acourt” typed into in online forms.

I am also blessed with a tricky first name – Michele spelt the traditional French way with one “l” and (my mother’s idea) a grave accent which I’ve been told is pretentious, to which I say, “Moi?” I’m not fussed if anyone else uses it, but once you get used to a macron showing you the length of a syllable in te reo, you can handle a grave.

There is a gift passed among all of us with less usual names. I swear every Siobhan and Aiofe is inclined to take extra care to get things right when they meet a Cholmondeley Majoribanks. A name is a taonga, and getting it right feels like a blessing.

They got the hang of A’Court at the vet clinic ages ago. Though I do remember on an early visit with our new boy, the vet nurse asked, “Satchmo… Now how do you spell that?”