What’s in a name?

My parents named me Leonard Douglas – Leonard after my paternal grandfather, and Douglas, my mother’s maiden name.

The Douglas are an ancient Scottish clan and in the late 1600s, one of the Douglas soldiers settled in Glenmanus, a tiny rural village just south of the North Antrim port of Portrush. The descendants of the original Douglas remained in the village and farmed the land until recent times. Two of my cousins still live in the village, but most of the land has long been sold and has disappeared under a modern housing estate.

Until I migrated to Canada in 1965, I was only known as Leonard, although at grammar school, I had the nickname of ‘Blackie’. Indeed one of my good friends from my schooldays, Hugh Brewster, still refers to me as ‘Blackie’.

immigration card

Soon after I arrived in Toronto, I found myself being called Len, and that name has stuck ever since. I don’t recall how my name got changed, but I suspect it was something to do with my rugby mates. In any case I prefer to be called Len; Leonard now seems rather formal to me.

One night in 1974, I went to my favourite jazz club in Sydney, The Basement. I was quietly sitting in the shadows at my usual table, sucking on a bottle of red wine and listening to the music, when I was invited to join an attractive girl and two guys at a nearby table. I felt that it would have been rather rude of me to refuse the invitation, so I moved to their table. They thought that I looked very sad and needed cheering up, when I was actually quite relaxed and content, lost in my thoughts.

The introductions were made and everyone seemed to be in good humour.

‘I confess that I have never liked the name Len’ said the girl. ‘Don’t you have another name?’.

‘My second name is Douglas, but nobody would know me as that’.

‘But that is so much better. I love that name. I am going to call you Douglas’.

I never thought that we would meet again, but we eventually did, and for our next few years we were a couple; in Australia, across the Pacific, through Central America, in California and across the U.S and Canada, and finally in England, where we eventually parted. At times, I felt as if I was leading a double life; to my own friends and in my work, I was Len, and in her social life, I was Douglas. Of course my parents and siblings still referred to me as Leonard.

I don’t remember when the airlines first started to insist that a reservation had to be in our passport name. Certainly after the New York 9/11 attack in 2001, it was mandatory, in my case the name had to be Leonard Douglas Blackwood. A booking in any other than that exact name could result in boarding being refused. With the expansion of internet booking and with travelers keying their own data, inevitably mistakes occur. And most, if not all airlines, charge for name corrections.

Capture

Apart from air travel, until recent times I remained as ‘Len Blackwood’, until my UK bank suddenly demanded that I prove my identity with a notarized copy of my passport, and proof of address. The fact that I had held accounts with the bank for more than 30 years was irrelevant: I was a money laundering suspect until I proved myself innocent. As I was not in the UK at the time, it was an inconvenience, but eventually all was resolved. At least I hope it is. The banking bureaucratic wheels can turn ever so slowly.

And it is not just in banking that passport names can be required. In recent years I had keys of a French rental property sent to an address in Sweden. Unfortunately they were addressed to Len Blackwood and my ID was in my Leonard name. Everything else matched, but it took a long telephone discussion to a head office responsible to have the package reluctantly released.

I suspect that all the checks by governments and business serve only to keep honest people honest.  I can’t believe that they are much of a deterrent to a criminal requiring a false passport or a proof of address.  Today, fingerprint and iris recognition are proven technologies, identifying us as unique individuals.  It is hopefully only a matter of time until the new technology is adopted by governments and financial institutions and passports and bits of paper are ancient history.

I look forward to that day.