The Other Mr Shakespeare

Many wives these days are electing to stick with their ‘maiden’ names – i.e. those they were born with – rather than automatically adopting their husbands’. That, it seems to me, is an admirable way of escaping from the old-fashioned patriarchalism implied by the other way; if you feel you have to get formally married, that is. Another way to achieve that, however, would be if the husband took his wife’s name in place of his own. Is one allowed to do that in Britain, without having to go through any expensive legal hoops? I’d have quite welcomed it: as Bernard O’Hara (when I was married), or Bernard Ohrlander (now). Both those names must be preferable to ‘Porter’. ‘Oh Mr Porter, what shall I do? I want to go to Birmingham and they’re taking me on to Crewe!’ I was plagued with that chant in my junior school playground. Until they felt my fist in their silly faces. (Sorry, I was never a ‘turn the other cheek’ sort of a boy.)

The thought came to me when, in connection with my inquiries into ‘YouGov’ – see my previous post – I found that the chap who runs it had done just that: replaced his own birth name with his wife’s. Gosh, how women’s lib! would be one’s normal reaction; and it may well be that it was his feminist principles that mainly motivated him in this. But then you need to know who he is, what he does, and what his original name was.

He’s the chap who runs YouGov for the Conservative Party. His original name was Stephan Kukowski; his current one – his wife’s – is – wait for it! – Shakespeare. You’re not telling me that the enormously English resonances of that name didn’t have an influence on his decision to adopt it, while working and scheming for the ‘patriotic’ party. Like the name ‘YouGov’, it’s misleading, and possibly deliberately so. It must also say something about his attitude towards his proud family origins – Polish? German? – that he has turned his back on them in this way. Of course he isn’t keeping this hidden; but who’s going to bother to look him up? By the time anyone (like me) has Googled him, the impression will have stuck.

He isn’t the only continental European-cum-British patriot to have done this sort of thing. One of the most prominent British imperial propagandists of the turn of the 20th century was one J. Ellis Barker (look him up). On further enquiry his real name turns out to have been Otto Julius Eltzbacher, from Cologne; just 28 miles from Moenchengladbach, as it happens, where Kukowski was born. This is a common phenomenon generally: that the keenest and most fanatical ‘British patriots’ have been foreign born and/or bred. (I cite examples in my The Absent-Minded Imperialists.)

I’m not complaining at a foreign-born person’s being open-minded enough to espouse another country’s patriotism. I’m quite keen on Sweden, as it happens. It’s the subterfuge I object to. I’m not going to change my name to Berndt Cyrilsson (my father was a ‘Cyril’) to try to persuade the Swedes I’m one of them. And I’m certainly not going to give the impression that my blogsite is somehow ‘official’; which of course is what ‘YouGov’ does.

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One Response to The Other Mr Shakespeare

  1. Oh! Mr Porter, what shall I do?
    I want to go to Birmingham
    And they’re taking me on to Crewe,
    Take me back to London, as quickly as you can,
    Oh! Mr Porter, what a silly girl I am.
    I had to Google that as well: an amusing metaphor that I haven’t heard of since last century.

    Like

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