I guess the earliest moment that I became interested in my name was when as a young child I enjoyed playing a game called ‘Letters in your name’. The competitors lined up in the street along one kerb, while the person who was ‘it’ stood at the far kerbside facing away. He or she would randomly call out a letter and if it appeared in your name you could step forward a pace for each occurrence. The goal was to be the first to tap the ‘it’ on the back.
It was here that I first gained an appreciation of my name. As Robert Soulsby Denton I was pretty well-placed with 42% of the alphabet covered, and some useful multiples – three Os and two each of B, E, N, R, S and T. Of course the notion of kids unsupervised in the street, standing in the gutter near drains and using the road as a playground is something of an alien concept today.
I can’t resist mentioning that our house had one of the best features a child of my age could desire – an internal alleyway between us and our neighbours. It was an inbuilt all-weather sporting arena and climbinmg frame!
Of course the name Denton was something fellow schoolchildren would immediately choose to routinely relate to teeth – with catcalls of Dentist, Denty…
Soulsby was a strange middle name that, for most of my school years, was not something I was too readily preparedto reveal. However, I later worked with a management team at Hugin Cash Registers – others on the tream were Robert Nelson Holmes, Peter Friend Prowse and Jack Kith Reynolds – none of us could afford to cast the first stone!
As we saw, my father and grandfather both had precisely the same name. This was not a problem for those two in their less bureaucratic lifetimes but, for my father and me, it did become an issue. We filled in each other’s tax forms and opened each other’s mail.
To keep the letters from my wife-to-be private, she had to write envelopes to me using the suffix ‘Jr’, a somewhat demeaning and jarring Americanism, though not quite as bad as Robert Soulsby Denton III.
I was led to understand that Soulsby was perhaps my great grandmother’s maiden name – but I have now established that it wasn’t! Its use in our three names (and as middle names for my son and grandson) in fact had a much more significant history. I did not learn this until I was sixty-eight years old!