What’s in a name?

On Thursday night I had the rare experience of being at a social function where I was introduced to people as Elizabeth rather than Liz. Usually this only happens at family functions where grandparents or aunts have forgotten/been unaware of the moniker that I usually go by. In this case, it was because I was with one of my oldest friends, who knew me best in my Elizabeth days. [We met on our first day of secondary school and became friends essentially because she could fit ‘geography’ into one box on the timetable and I couldn’t.]

One of the reasons I’m called Elizabeth is because my parents felt that a multi-syllable surname you needed a similarly multi-syllable first name to accompany it. I think they had a point, although their choice of boy’s name – George Hezekiah – slightly contradicts the theory!

The bonus of such a name is that there are a myriad of ways in which it could be abbreviated. At home, growing up, the main abbreviation was Lizzy, although I hated being called this at school or by people I didn’t like. Even now, the only people who use that are close family friends – it certainly wasn’t a name I would’ve considered going public with.

Age 16, just as I began 6th form, I had a revelation. I decided that on embarking upon my A-levels I would be Liz, not Elizabeth. To this day I have no real idea where this came from, except that my Music teacher had previously insisted that she call me Liz because the full version was too long. If I’d been a little less timid and a tad more adventurous, I might have gone with Libby – as in the Neighbours character and a nod to my antipodean roots – or gone with something from the second half of the name (Beth/Betty – though woe betide anyone attempting to call me Betty!), but no, I was dull and boring.

Life as Liz has been good. It’s helped shorten my email address for one thing – Elizabeth.Clutterbuck is many characters too long. The thing with the full-length version is that now, 13 years on from my decision, it’s not me…but who am I?

Elizabeth used to get into trouble and got yelled at by her parents, and now writes diligent letters to her beloved grandparents – it’s like a character from a bygone age that I can play if needed.

Liz is dependable, conscientious, a little bit dappy and in the middle of a slightly scary vocational exploration.

Lil is one person’s great friend and confidante.

Eliza writes and writes and writes, but I’m increasingly aware that it’s a very different persona to Liz – especially as she’s a massive extrovert. Incidentally, I love that there’s a small but distinct group of people who actually use this short with me.

This is probably not a great train of thought to be pursuing on a Saturday night after a couple of glasses of red – I don’t want to get too deep and philosophical – but it’s an interesting thought. Do we (or more specifically do I) take on characters according to the different names we give ourselves and are awarded? Can we ever change who we’re meant to be simply by altering our name? Is it wrong to have different personas?

Am I just thinking way too much?

A photographic aside – Elizabeth is also a very common name, especially amongst my friends. At last count, nine Facebook friends shared it with me. Years ago, I lived on a corridor with four other Liz’s (ok, three Liz’s & one Lissie) and on my last night in the building we had a night out at which this photo was taken, consisting of five Liz’s and one Alice – there’s an anecdote too, but it’s too complicated to share.

Alice, Liz B, Liz C, Lissie, Liz P & Liz dG


  1. I know what you mean. I am JJ, Jen, Jenny and almost never Jennifer unless I’m at the doctor’s. Years ago I was never Jen to anyone but immediate family and one or two closest friends but when I met Husband he referred to me as Jen. Even work colleagues I didn’t know called me Jen. Most odd. But I found I didn’t mind. I don’t find it makes me be someone different but I do wonder what to settle on if I ever publish.

  2. You could always go with enigmatic initials! Or, create a whole other pseudonym – although I always feel that denies people who knew you once upon a time from spotting your work in a shop and saying “ah, Jennifer…I used to go to school with her”.

  3. My issue is the trauma of having a name too short to shorten. 3 letters (2 of which are the same) is impossible to shorten. Which – as you know [Eliza] – results in people lenthening my name.

    But I think I’m basically the exact same person regardless of what name people call me, though I’m aware that that’s not true for everyone.

    It’s an interesting question!

  4. Well dear Chica…we could always simply call you ‘A’ or ‘N’ – though neither sound attractive.

    Your parents really ought to have christened you Annabelle, then we could’ve had a lot more fun. Ann, Belle [although someone does call you that somewhere!!], Bella, Nab, Elle…

  5. As a Rebecca, I sympathise. Bex, Becki, Bexstar, Beck, Becca, Bee, Beckity, Dexter…
    Then don’t even get me started on my family name. Bush, Bushers, Twiglet, Baby Bush, Shrub, Bushbaby…

    I have an addendum to your theory. I agree that we have different personae with different names, that is until you have more than five versions of your name at which point you’ll pretty much answer to anything. Albeit with a slap if aforementioned version is of the obscene variety.

  6. Your surname does you no favours my dear! (I still can’t get over your ‘Mighty Bush’ hoody…)

    Here’s to multi-syllable names and multiple personalities!

  7. I know, right?! At least I’m a girl and get to marry out of it.

  8. Oh, btw… I have also been known as Betty. So yeah. I sympathise.

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