Shakespeare. Shakespere. Shakespear. Shakspeare. Shackspeare. Shakspere. The lingual revolutionist himself had six renditions of his surname. Nowadays, people are rarely as lenient as the Bard about their name’s spelling. It’s unsurprising to see expecting parents suffer from the moment they’re pregnant, deliberating whether their offspring is destined to be a ‘Paul’ or a ‘Ringo’.
However, people constantly bulldoze over this tormenting work, addressing individuals with some mangled version of their title, typically facing zero repercussions. Since its birth, my name has endured an unrelenting barrage of mutilations. I have been falsely labelled ‘Pepper’, ‘Pippa’, ‘Pierre’ and even the elusive ‘Barbara’. Do not let these maimed parodies of my name fool you; I am 100% Piper.
But why do we care about our name’s correct pronunciation? I believe deep down we know names are distinct from common vocabulary. To quote Lorein (Babylon 5), “words have meaning and names have power”. Names encompass more than words- they represent individuality, personality, identity! They anchor us to our pasts.
Speaking of history, let’s discuss Piper’s etymology. Historically, my name wasn’t a first one. It was a surname, inspired by the Middle English occupation of a ‘pipere’, which predictably evolved into the ‘piper’ we know today. The surname first developed after the Norman Conquest of 1066 and eventually migrated to a first name. Unfortunately, I did not adopt the mellifluous skills of my name’s ancestors; my musical ability is that of a stringless violin.
My name has not had the best reputation over time. The Pied Piper gave all of us other, less rat-obsessed Pipers a bad image. We’re not all kidnapping rodent charmers. Well, not me, at least.
I didn’t come to bear the appellation of ‘Piper’ due to past performers, or a fancily-clad pipe enthusiast. What is my name’s origin? It all began 18 years ago, the decision lasting a moment, but sculpting my identity for a lifetime…
Setting: A cozy, comfortable home nestled in the heart of Sydney, Australia. A crisp dusk, the air heavy with the songs of cicadas. The building is picturesque, if slightly ramshackle. Faded bricks and creaking weatherboards loyally shield the Shields (my last name, which first emerged in- well, that’s another story…) who reside there, a veteran of years of use.
My mother Delina sat anxiously in the bathroom, feeling every second drag by until the results of her pregnancy test became clear. Her husband Brett was engrossed in the show ‘Charmed’, age barely grazing his features. When Delina emerged, Brett spoke before she could even open her mouth.
“If we have a daughter, her name should be Piper.” He gestured to my namesake (who, oh so hilariously, happened to be a witch) filling the screen, her appearance in stark contrast to mine. My mother agreed before revealing the test, a tiny positive symbol sealing my fate.
To think this key aspect of my identity hangs on a television programme is mind-boggling. What if my parents held a taste for cartoons, and I had ended up as Popeye? Who would that person be?
In the end, I’m grateful for Piper. Although it may undergo major mispronunciations, it’s still the same punchy collection of plosives. When I was young, the name was meaningless to me, but, through forging my own identity, I’ve developed one for Piper too.
Written by Piper Shields, published on 19/10/2018. Header image: Adobe Stock