There are many things to say about inimitable foodie Clarissa Dickson Wright, who passed away on Monday.
Her boisterous TV presence, unapologetic disregard for political correctness and fondness for dousing things in animal fats, or the way the former barrister recovered her life and built a new career after 12 years of alcoholism left her broke and so full of quinine from her G&T habit that her metabolism had ground to a halt – giving her the famous physique that made up half of Two Fat Ladies, a title she never found offensive. “What do you object to? Are you saying I’m thin?”
But one of the most notable things, at least to me, was the fact that she had 10 middle names. TEN. She was christened Clarissa Theresa Philomena Aileen Mary Josephine Agnes Elsie Trilby Louise Esmeralda Dickson Wright, allegedly because her parents were so glad to have picked at least one name they liked that they got pissed on the way to the church.
Of course the most notable of these is ‘Trilby’, something of a revelation because who knew you were allowed to name kids after hats? I was planning to call mine after characters in Downton Abbey, but now it’ll most likely be little Fedora, Fascinator and Pork Pie instead.
Headwear aside, her enormous moniker is a fantastic tribute to the noble art of the middle name. I love middle names. My boyfriend doesn’t have one at all, a fact that has always distressed me. Such a waste of an opportunity! Plus, it makes it so hard to get a sensible email address. With a relatively common first and second name, he’s forever bound to jamming numbers or awkward underscores in until he finds an option that hasn’t been taken yet.
Middle names are a fantastic creative outlet. They’re the freebie round; the bonus extra session in the karaoke booth. As long as you give your progeny relatively sensible first names, you can really let rip in the middle without judgement. In fact I’d make a whole separate list of the middle options, and fill it with the sort of thing that will one day prompt a wedding congregation to suppress a small snigger.
Then if they grow up to be a performance poet or an accordion player or whatever and fancy being known to the world as Marmalade or Obsidian, they can swap their names round and use the special one. Alternatively if they grow up to be a chartered surveyor in Cheam, they can forget the special one ever existed.
My own is Ruth, a middle name just dowdy enough to raise an interest from time to time, but largely unremarkable since the kids in my middle school class realised it was a different word to “roof”. (At least it’s not Louise. Every second girl of my generation has Louise as a middle name. You meet middle-Louises with such regularity that I’ve begun to believe there was some sort of special promotion on during the late 80s.)
Still, I have enough to handle in the name department. As my mother has sighed on many an occasion, “so little goes with Bravo.