Putting a face to the name

By Ross Pringle

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What's in a name, really?

I don't mean the kind of mangling we reported on this week where Whanganui MP Chester Borrows has to take out a listing for the wrong spelling of his surname, so common is the error.

No, what I am curious about is what our name says about us as individuals. Clearly it's an identifier, and a person's name can so often seem apt and in tune with its historical meaning. But what aspect of your identity is defined by your name, and what impact does your occupation, parentage or even where you live play in shaping who you are?

Of course, names have a long association with all those factors. Back in time they were determined by your occupation - think carpenter or butcher - and/or links to location or your parentage. So MacDonald is son of Donald. Pringle, for instance is derived from a place near Stow Roxburghshire, Hoppringel.

Names and how they are used can also convey certain meanings. Use of a nickname suggest a level of friendliness and informality. Some people become known simply by their initials, almost as a term of endearment, such as JFK and SBW - aka John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Sonny Bill Williams.

Only on certain occasions is a person's full name used: by your mother or perhaps a partner when you have done something wrong, or in a criminal sense.

There is of course a good reason why people's full name is used when they are subject of criminal proceedings and face charges.

Using the accused's full name, occupation and age is critical in establishing identity so as not to bring into disrepute the reputation of any other people with similar names, especially where a person has a common Christian and/or surname.

Even in those cases, the way the name is used can say a lot.

I recall the Bain massacre in Dunedin and when David Bain came under scrutiny and was eventually charged, the way he was referred to as David Cullen Bain. The emphasis on his middle name seemed unnatural to me - it was spat out with a type of venom that had definite connotations and seemed clearly designed to affect the public perception.

That came to mind during the recent furore over the placement of Stewart Murray Wilson on the grounds of Whanganui Prison.

He was largely referred to as Stewart Murray Wilson and, as per newspaper convention, Wilson. Often the ghastly nickname he was lumbered with was trotted out.

So what did that say about him, or our perceptions of him? No kindly SMW for him, that's for sure.

So many people were using his name, spitting it out, yet as much as they knew of what he had done and that he was coming to our patch, they knew very little about the man behind the name.

Murray Wilson was released on parole on August 29, and in the three months since, has largely dropped out of the public domain. While battles and debate around his terms of release and possible trespass have continued, we have heard little about how he has been filling his days, or his life, after 18 years of incarceration.

Today, we are able to change that. Reporter Laurel Stowell, who earlier had written to Mr Wilson, had a lengthy telephone interview with the man with the famous name.

It is enlightening and reveals that Mr Wilson is leading a most mundane, lonely existence. That does not mean we have to feel sorry for him but it does show that behind all the Beast hysteria, there is a man, albeit one who has done some despicable things but still a man ... with a name. Feedback: editor@wanganuichronicle.co.nz

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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