Tag Archives: last name

Reservoir Dogs and colour surnames, part one

18 Feb

Reservioir Dogs

As someone who is very aware of colour and thinks about it a lot, I was struck with a couple of men I recently met whose surnames caught my attention. Mr. Brown and Mr. Gray made me stop to think and I began to wonder about their last names and the concept of colour surnames. This led me to memories of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 blockbuster film, Reservoir Dogs. Before discussing the movie, let’s find out about European last names and how they came about.

According to the BBC, surnames come from many sources, and prior to the 11th Century in Britain, people were known by single personal names or nicknames. Over time as the population increased, people needed further identifiers, so names like William the short, Henry from Sutton, Edward the butcher,  John son of Richard, or Roger of the wood were adopted, which made trades, nicknames, locations and places of origin, and father’s names the beginnings of surnames.  Last names also became necessary when taxation was introduced to England in the form of Poll Tax.

Colour surnames have a rich and interesting history, but for Tarantino, his Reservoir Dogs characters took the colour surname idea from a 1974 heist movie called, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. In this film, Mr. Blue, Mr. Grey, Mr. Green, and Mr. Brown, take a subway train full of riders hostage in exchange for what was then a large amount of money. Reservoir Dogs featured six characters with colour name aliases: Mr. Blond (played by Michael Masden), Mr. Blue (played by Edward Bunker), Mr. Brown (played by Tarantino), Mr. Orange (played by Tim Roth), Mr. Pink (played by Steve Buscemi), and Mr. White (played by Harvey Keitel). Little did Tarantino know how deep the roots of his character’s colour surnames went.

Mr. Blond/Gold

Ancient gold Anglo-Saxon coin

Ancient gold Anglo-Saxon coin

Our first Reservoir Dog, Mr. Blond, poses something of a problem, since blond isn’t a recognized as a proper colour. Blond is hair colour, but surprisingly, Blond is also a surname. The Blonds, now more well-known as the Blouts or the Blunts, can trace their heritage to the Normans. Sir Robert de Blount and his brother, Sir William de Blount assisted the Duke of Normandy to conquer the Saxons at Hastings in 1066.

According to Ancestry.ca, the name derives from a Jewish nickname for a fair-haired person, which influenced by the German and Yiddish, and there is a French influence: blund from the Old French.  The name was probably given to someone with blond hair.

The equivalent of Blond as a surname on the colour spectrum would be Gold, an Anglo-Saxon family from Suffolk, eastern England, where the family held a seat since early times. Like Blond, the name Gold has English, German, and Yiddish roots. In this case, the name may have been associated with someone’s trade like a goldsmith, or perhaps given to someone with golden hair. Another source suggests that Gold comes from the Old English pre-7th Century Golda (masculine) or Golde (feminine), given to people with bright golden hair.

Mr. Blue

Glaukos Pontios

Blue has origins in ancient Greek mythology. This is Glaukos Pontios, Blue One of the Sea.

The story of the Blue Man reaches back into Greek mythology: Glaukos, a fisherman, was transformed into a sea-god after eating a magical herb. His skin was glossy blue, his face long and grey with curly green hair and a beard; small eyes, flat nose, and large mouth, long arms and fish tails.  The Blue Man, known to the Scots as Gille Gorm (Blue Lad – gorm means blue in Scottish Gaelic) may derive from Mac Gille Ghuirm, “son of the blue lad”.

In the 14th Century in Kintail, a mountainous area of the northwest highlands of Scotland, Kerling, the daughter of Hugh Fraser, the Laird (estate owner) of Lovat, desired a lover. She sang a song to the Blue Man, who walked out of the waves to her. The lovers conceived a child, and it was from this union that the surname Blue originates.  In fact, Glaukos is said to have spawned a race of Glaukidai or Hoi Glaukoi (the Blue Men) who live in underwater caves. Their numbers are largest in the waters around Scotland, where Glaukos went after leaving the Mediterranean. Today, some clan members believe the blood of the Blue Man flows through their veins.

The ancient Scottish kingdom of Dalriada is thought to be the home of the Blue family and the name is first found on the isle of Arran, where a family seat was held since ancient times.

Mr. Brown

The name Brown may have derived from someone who wore brown a lot, like a monk.

The name Brown may have derived from someone who wore brown a lot, like a monk.

The Dictionary of English and Welsh Surnames… cites Brun, likely the root of Brown, as a personal name in the 1085 Doomsday book (the Doomsday book is England’s first public record, ordered by King William I). Brun is found in German, Middle English, and Old English; Bruni is from the Old Norse. The name was probably ”a nationalistic or tribal nickname for a person with a brown complexion or hair, although it may have also referred to someone who habitually wore brown clothing, such as a monk or a cleric” (source).

Irish Browns originate from 12th Century Normandy, and western Irish Browns are said to descend from a knight named Hugo le Brun. These Browns formed one of the old merchant Tribes of Galway, but in this instance, the spelling is Browne; Brown is first seen in Northumberland in the north of England in 1169.

Mr. Orange

house of Orange

Dutch House of Orange flag.

If you’ve ever noticed an unusual amount of people wearing orange the same day, chances are, the Dutch football team has a match on. Orange has always been and will always be associated with Holland, and that’s because it is the colour of Dutch royal family, who owned land in Orange, southern France.  The royal family became politically associated with the House of Orange.

The surname Orange was first introduced into England by one of the followers of William, Duke of Normandy, in 1066. This William became the Protestant King, William de Orange (not to be confused with William of Orange, King of England in the 17th Century). In the UK, Orange family roots are in Buckinghamshire, England.

Mr. Pink

pink hammer 9th century

Pink may have originated from the sound of a hammer hitting a nail in the 7th century.

Surname Pink, and its derivatives, Pinch, Pinck, Pincke, Pinks, Penk, and Penke, are English names from the Medieval period, derived from the pre-7th Century Old English word, pinca. This is a nickname surname that is said to have been given to a ”bright, chirpy person, thought to be as active and cheerful as a chaffinch” (source). Another theory is that Pink was a nickname for a small person, or a diminutive of the Sorbian (Slavic) word, pien, meaning log or tree stump, suggesting a short or stout person. Pink may also be a variant spelling for a blacksmith, ”an onomatopoeic word imitating the sound of hammering which was perceived as pink(e) pank.”

The surname Pink was first recorded in Yorkshire, where the Pink family was listed in pipe rolls (financial records of the 12th Century by the English treasury) in 1176.

Mr. White

WAS

The name White may have been used to describe an Anglo-Saxon with white hair.

White is a common name in the UK, derived from the Middle English Whit.  The origin of the name is thought of as way to describe an early family member who had white hair or a very pale complexion, common among the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic peoples of early Britain. Another possible origin of White is the White-smith, or an early form of tinsmith.

The earliest record of the name White in Scotland is Uuiaett Hwite in the late 11th Century, predating the Norman invasion.

And that is the story of Tarantino’s colour surnamed characters. Four more colour surnames with equally rich histories will be discussed in the next post: Black, Grey, Green, and Purple.

 

 

‘Oo are ya?

4 Sep

There are identity-related decisions that we’re not even aware of because we have not been socially “allowed” to make them. Think about all of the traditional rules around being a man: protect, provide, be strong, silent, and emotionless. For people of the past, it was unthinkable to consider men as anything else. With the modern reshaping of the masculine mould, men are experiencing the freedom to express themselves through their clothing and style and forge their own identities, including their own names.
mask identity

Most modern men turn away from the intense control that the old boy’s school had over everyone and everything. That tradition is crumbling and humanity is thriving in diversity, equality, and respect. We’re in an awesome period of gender advancement and people are making their own rules, choosing their own roles, and creating their own identities.

As we continue to question and deconstruct, our choices become wider and we have the opportunity to make significant changes to our lives and our selves, including what we’re called. For example, I always wondered why I didn’t get my mum’s last name instead of my dad’s. Women had much more to do with the children than men did, so why were we labelled with the dad’s identity? It didn’t make sense to me, even as a child.

I got into a conversation with myself about names, thinking that there are no true female last names unless the woman chooses one herself. Traditionally, she’s born and given a man’s name (her father’s), and if she marries, she takes the name of her husband, and symbolically leaves her own heritage and blood line, and takes on a foreign one. There was no choice —  the equivalent of a cattle brand; ownership seared in. It’s a modern concept that a woman can create her own identity by choosing to change her name to what she pleases. Our name is linked to our identity and we should be free to choose our own. Men included.

Jill Filipovic, in The Guardian, wonders why, in the modern age, “does getting married mean giving up the most basic marker of your identity? And if family unity is so important, why don’t men ever change their names?”

A good question that I’ve asked myself. Then I read this:

William MacAskill, in Why men should change their name when they get married, says that he and his fiance together chose MacAskill, her grandmother’s maiden name, to take as their married name. Why? He wanted to go with a name that sounded better and was cooler than his birth surname, “Crouch”. It wasn’t about tradition, it wasn’t about gender assumption or emasculation, MacAskill changed his name out of aesthetic.

It’s no surprise that MacAskill shocks people when he tells them his intention. The news meets with reactions of “raised eyebrows, confusion, or aggressive questioning”. The concept of a man changing his name is probably an alien concept and outside most people’s consciousness (indeed, sacrilegious to some). MacAskill mentions that no one reacted when his fiance said she was changing her name, which reminded me of my parent’s reaction to my name change: Well, she’d change it when she got married anyway.

The irony is that I haven’t been married. I changed my last name 13 years ago because I wanted to and I had a choice to. I never liked my father’s harsh-sounding Austrian last name; it felt like an ill-fitting cloak that I couldn’t take off. Instead, I chose to associate with my mother’s Irish side and went with a softer sounding name. It was largely aesthetic for me but also very liberating because I had the choice. It also feels so much better.

It’s a wonderful time in social history where people can keep pushing for change, for balance, for betterment. No matter what gender we self-identify with, we have the choice to decide on who we want to be and how we want to be known according to our own rules. It’s a blessing. In this modern world that unravels the colossal knots of exclusive patriarchal rule, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and even better if choose it yourself.