Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.

[49] ‘… You can call me Al’


On a bit of an idle whim, I have decided to bring together some recent ideas, prompted by three of my earlier posts. As always, it’s based on my memories and includes some sweeping generalizations!

After the last mammoth effort, this one will be quite short.


[30] ‘Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?’ was about names. It included the statement: “If you were a Robert, you were never called Robert, you were always ‘Bob,’ … this applied similarly to Bill for William, Dick (Richard), Jim (James), Ted (Edward).” But that was only part of the truth.

[40] ‘Dear Sir or Madam …’ looked at formality, including the way we addressed people. Back in the fifties, you were much more likely to be referred to (or spoken to) as Mister someone than by your first name. In a way, that went against the statement above. When you used both names, preceded by Mister, you tended to use the proper name not the nickname.

I always feel that people are given their names and those are the names we should use unless we know them well enough to be permitted to use more informal nicknames. It’s what I feel about my name. (‘Given’ used to mean ‘christened,’ but that was not important. It was always the person’s formal name. It didn’t have to be God given.)

As I have said before, I associate formality with respect, and informality with familiarity. It’s time to look at kings and queens.



In Britain, we respect monarchs and call them by the name they choose, which is usually their first Christian name. (If you disagree, just remember the bit about sweeping generalizations.) We had a few called King Edward and some called King William – we never had King Ted or King Bill, and the current monarch is Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth to everyone – except her family in private. Few women called Elizabeth choose to keep this name now, with many shortened nicknames available to them – from Lizzie to Beth. (Use of HM, or HRH or other titles extends the respect and the formality – although the trend is away from such full formality.)

(Only three monarchs of the UK so far have chosen to be known by another name. Alexandrina Victoria was always Princess Victoria and became Queen Victoria in 1837. She was never Vicky or Toria!

Her son, Prince Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, became king in 1901, and took the name Edward VII, against the wish of his late mother.

In 1936, after the abdication of Edward VIII, Prince Albert, Duke of York, assumed the throne as George VI instead of using the name King Albert. His full name was Albert Frederick Arthur George.

There is some unconfirmed speculation that HRH Prince Charles may choose to be known as George VII.

I won’t attempt to explain any of these decisions. Popes have been doing it for centuries. We have Pope Francis, not Pope Jorge Mario.)


The same is true of other members of the Royal Family with the unusual exception of Prince Harry. Prince Henry of Wales was christened Henry Charles Albert David, but it was publicly announced at the start that he would be called Harry, so that’s what we call him.

(I have a theory that this all goes back to the days of Henry VII and Henry VIII. In those days the court of England spoke a language more like Norman French than modern English. So Henry would have sounded the same as Harry. Spelling in those days was a bit random anyway.)

As with all names, there is a recent trend towards some familiarity with members of the Royal Family. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, is often referred to as Kate. I see this as a sign of affection rather than familiarity. I hope the new Princess Charlotte will not be given any nicknames in public.


[Strangely, the use of Christian names for monarchs might be seen as familiarity. But they don’t have surnames!]


We step down the ladder to prime Ministers. (I know I have left out Dukes, Earls, Viscounts and all the other British Nobility. All their styles and titles are just as they used to be sixty years ago, but many now choose not to use them.)

You will have noted from [47] ‘The Number of votes cast …’ that Sir Anthony Eden was never Tony, and Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson were never Harry. Politicians used to keep full, formal first names.

The earliest politicians I can find ever using nicknames are Bill Rogers (Wikipedia says he was usually William) in the 70s and 80s; Edward Heath (occasionally referred to as Ted) in the 70s and Tony Benn (who renounced a peerage and did not want to be known as Anthony Wedgewood-Benn). In more modern times, we have Tony Blair and Nick Clegg – I think that politicians now use their nicknames deliberately to convey a more familiar image.

I love both Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, together and separately, including ‘You can call me Al’ by Paul Simon. But please don’t call me Al! When I was young it was not one of the names that was ever abbreviated. (At Ilford County High School my classmates never called me Alan. We had too many boys called Alan, so I had to pick another nickname.) I have never liked the epithet, partly because I see it as part of the creeping Americanization of our English language, but also because I don’t particularly want to be associated with Al Capone. He wasn’t even an Alan, he was Alphonse!


Author: Alan

Retired, currently living in Cheltenham.

2 thoughts on “[49] ‘… You can call me Al’

  1. I am enjoying all your memories. If you are “Grumpy Old Man’ I guess I am a VERY grumpy old Lady, having been born in 1933!!! You do not remember anything about “The War” do you? I can beat you there!!!


  2. Pingback: [89] Honour Thy father and Thy Mother | Remembrance of Things Past

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