23 Nov

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

I doubt whether I always smell as sweet, and my name, though not fragrant is memorable.

I was born Peter Maarten Hendrik Littlewood on the 22nd of July in Kano, Nigeria, to Adrianna Littlewood (nee Van de Poll) and David Stuart Littlewood. My mother called me Henk – the shortened form of Hendrik – from birth. She gave me several explanations for the order of my Christian names:

“Henk, no one would remember the other two if I had not stuck them in front”
“It sound better in that order”
“It’s more distinguished”

I discovered many years later when I took up a research post in the Department of Zoology at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, the wisdom of PMHL. The admin department had made up a door plaque for their new Research Associate –
Dr. H.M.P. Littlewood. I was henceforth known as Dr. Hump.

In early school years being called Henk, led to many confrontations with teachers, pupils and parents who insisted on calling me Hank. I would deliberately mispronounce the offender’s name where possible “yes Yon (John)” “pardon Payter (Peter)” ….making their names sound Dutch. They never got it. The stupid TWOTS.

At Secondary school (a provincial Grammar with delusions of grandeur), it took about 5 seconds for the class bully to muse “HENK??? Hank…. WANK. WANK WANK!!!! HA HA HA”. Great nickname when you are entering puberty.

Despite being slightly built as a boy. I developed a reputation for being a fighter. I hit a lot of boys, much bigger than me. Hard. I was pretty Humpy then.

The thing is ‘Henk Littlewood’ is a most unusual name. It has a nice curt sound at the front – whistling then solid, like the sound of an axe chopping into a lump of timber – followed by a descriptive surname worthy of someone who makes their living making things from a little wood.

So thank you mother! You mad witch.


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