Please don’t call your daughter Ophelia unless you’re willing to provide swimming lessons.
Emotionally Weird is a funny, clever novel about a student called Effie, and rather like Russian dolls, there’s another story inside of it, and then another one inside of that (printed in different fonts so nicely clear). It’s set in the difficult late seventies, in a cold and drab Dundee, made colder and drabber by the power shortages and routine black outs. It’s nice reading a book set someone where I know, where people speak in a way I recognise, spouting such phrases as ‘Face like a tatti-howker, but a harmless wee wifie.’
The novel is from about mainly about Effie’s university life, and how so, so different it was back then. It was fun. You got to take interesting courses, paid for by the government, and with a grant to help you live. All those cocky middle-aged men like Jeremy Clarkson who made snide remarks about students watching TV all day in pits of grime, are stuck in this time. Students may still live in filthy hovels, but all the kooky fun has been sucked out it. Like Scrooge and Marley they are swamped by invisible chains, but not of profit, but of debt, that they forge harder and longer every year. Many students I know miss lectures as they may clash with a shift in the supermarket that they can’t afford to turn down. ‘The Young Ones’ was a long time ago. And this makes the book nicer to read, to remember a time when students had the time to sew themselves strange clothes and belong to various passionate political student organisations.
My favourite part has been a conversation between Effie and Maisie Ophelia, the daughter of a lecturer she babysits for, where they discuss why it is preferable to give children more positive names from literature, and less of the Ophelias and Cordelias. Maisie suggests ‘Ratty’ and ‘Mole’. Those are indeed fine names. The problem with Shakespeare names with negative endings is they trace back directly to that one source. We don’t have actors or writers called Gonerill. My grand-aunt was called Myra, a perfectly good name until 1965, and that Hindley woman ruined it (Adolfs everywhere have a similar problem), but at least the name didn’t begin with her. I knew a woman called ‘Regan’ which to me says less tragedy and more utter cow-bag of a daughter, or possibly an American president, but I can’t think of any other more attractive references.
I can understand if the name stems from an unusual source but at least sounds nice. Many moons ago there was once a little girl on a ward I was working on called ‘Metallica’. Even if you have no idea of the band, it could be a cross between ‘Matilda’ and and ‘Angelica’, but just with slightly more guitars and black denim. But face it, Goneril just sounds like gonorrhea, and Romeo sounds like a brand of ice cream, which is apt as he’s so fickle his name couldn’t represent anything of substance. Romeo brand tractors and power drills are unlikely to happen.
When I was pregnant my mum suggested ‘Oberon’ to me as a name for a boy. I imagine the discovery your name comes from the king of the fairies would result in an extra special kind of bullying. However, we could do with a list of better names to use from Shakepeare, the bold and brave, the poetic and interesting. Then maybe we’d get more Mercutios, Banquos, Hermias and Violas.
And more Rattys and Moles would be good too.