I was born a Page-Roberts, for better or worse, and given the forenames of James Frederick Clare. For calling me the James part is anyone’s guess, Frederick because my father was one, and a knighted grandfather the other. Clare was because my grandmother may or may not have been born one, or perhaps lived in County Clare. We don’t know much about her past as she kept it secret.
Having started out with a hyphen to my name I kept it for my ordinary self and for my art and writing. After the 1950s I dropped the hyphen for my artwork signatures as it looked a little poncey, or might have made me out to be a dilettante, even though I was a fairly well-known artist at the time. All well and good.
After those early days I signed my work PR, or in capitals without the hyphen.
In the early part of the 1800s, my great grandfather, a Master Confectioner called William Roberts, married a Prudence Page who, because of her contributing wealth, had all her children christened with Page as their last given name.
Then, when one son, a Reverend, became The Very Reverend Dean of Salisbury and married a baroness around the very early 1900s, he paid to have a hyphen added between the Page and the Roberts, and a coat of arms created. That was a start to the hyphen business.
His brother (my grandfather) was also a Reverend. He was the chairman of The National Rose Society and had a famous rose named after him. He was clearly reluctant to add the hyphen to his name at the same time as his brother, because in my research into his printed writings he does not use the hyphen until later. (For the horticulturally inclined, there was also a Dorothy Page-Roberts rose – a simple, wild-looking one, now lost, and last seen in the mid west of the USA at a sort of garden centre in 1943 and correctly named, with hyphen.)
When it comes to how we name ourselves, my ex-wife later married a Mr Jones but kept to her previous married name of Page-Roberts.
The family name gets increased with marriages and retained through partnerships and liaisons by those who are happy with it.
But there are losses, too. My youngest son, a musician and postman by calling, discarded the family name in favour of Pete Page, as he considered his longer name to be a drawback in his work. And I notice that the other son, a prop master in Hollywood, has discarded the hyphen. Perhaps the younger one was also influenced by all the new double barrelled names appearing in the poorer areas of his postal distribution. Sportspeople, too, now seem to favour the two barrels.
Margreet, my wife, is Dutch, coming from a country where it is customary to conjoin your given and married names. So really she should have a triple barrelled name, which is clearly far too cumbersome. (When women divorce in Holland, their married name is usually abandoned.)
A double name has its difficulties, especially when such as records and prescriptions and the like are concerned.
Other than a change of name at the time of marriage, some change their name to that of their partner for convenience or the happiness of their children. But if changing one’s name for other reasons, do you go for a long, cumbersome and grander one, or a simple and speedily-written shorter one. Most just keep to the ones they were born with and get on with it.