Nancy with the laughing face

We met someone recently called Nancy, and afterwards we remarked Nancy was no longer a very common name, which is surprising for several reasons – older names are becoming really fashionable and Nancy is such a pretty name.

Thinking back, I can’t actually remember anyone I was at school with called Nancy, nor worked with, nor taught… Someone my dad worked with had a wife called Nancy, and my husband had a great-aunt with that name. In some figures I came across for, 2015, Nancy came 71/100, so maybe it will creep back in.

Nancy originated from Ann, or Anne,, and thinking back, sometimes my dad called my sister Anne, Nancy/Nance/Nan. There are quite a few famous Nancies (but in the list I looked at there were quite a few I didn’t know!

  • Nanci Griffith -singer
  • Nancy, Lady Astor, (née  Witcher Langhorne)
  • Nancy Dell’Olio, Italian lawyer
  • Nancy Mitford, English novelist and biographer
  • Nancy O’Dell, American  journalist
  • Nancy Pelosi, 60th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
  • Nancy Reagan, former First Lady of the United States
  • Nancy Sinatra, American singer and actress
  • Nancy Wilson the singer

The name crops up in fiction too, including a character in Swallows and Amazons, and in Oliver Twist. Nancy, Nance, or nancy-boy is also slang for someone who is gay – I’m not sure how current it is though!

Then of course there is the city  of Nancy in France, and its surrounding  arrondissement de Nancy.

And songs, apparently, although I don’t know it, Ed Sheeran has a song he wrote about his grandmother, and the famous Frank Sinatra song, Nancy with the laughing face. I have just found out while looking up things about Nancy, that there is a funny story attached to the song… Here is what Wikipedia says:

Nancy (with the Laughing Face)” is a song composed in 1942 by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Phil Silvers. It is commonly believed that the song was written for the birthday of Nancy Sinatra. This was a misunderstanding that eventually led to the song being recorded by Frank Sinatra. Former broadcast executive and music historian Rick Busciglio tells the story of the song’s inception as related to him by Van Heusen:

In 1979, I was working with songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen on a TV special with Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope that was never produced. Jimmy told me that one day (circa 1942) he and his lyricist Johnny Burke were working at 20th Century-Fox composing for a film. While Burke was out of their writer’s bungalow, Phil Silvers, the comedian, a friend to both, entered and suggested to Jimmy that they write a song for Johnny’s wife, Bessie, who was soon to celebrate a birthday. Silvers provided the lyrics, later revised by Van Heusen and Burke.
At the party they sang “Bessie… with the laughing face.” It was such a hit that they used it at other female birthday events. When they sang it as “Nancy… with the laughing face” at little Nancy Sinatra’s birthday party, Frank broke down and cried thinking that it was written specially for his daughter – the trio wisely didn’t correct him. Jimmy assigned his royalties to Nancy after Frank recorded it for Columbia in 1944.

Here is  Nancy’s song, from Oliver Twist, the musical by Lionel Bart, sung here by Judy Garland:

By the way, my featured image is of anonymous fashion model, i just thought she had a Nancy-like face.

How do you pronounce that?

To me my name, Lois, seems so easy – only four letters and pronounced almost how it’s spelt, Lo-iss; however over the years I’ve had all sorts of near misses with pronunciation – Loys, Lo-eese, Loss, Louise, Louis, Lewis, Lucy, Lose, Loose, Loos… I don’t mind, people try their best!

I don’t suppose it occurred to my parents that it would be difficult, my mum’s grandma was Lois, her sister had it as a middle name… And i guess, although I am really particular and careful with the names I give my characters, it didn’t really occur to me, as it didn’t to my parents, that some of my people would have problems.

In ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov‘, some people struggled with her surname – well, there is the famous Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov, which is  a different spelling of the same name – which would have been written in Cyrillic anyway, so it didn’t seem too difficult to me. Some people wondered why he had a ‘foreign’ name… well there are plenty of people born and bred in this country whose names might have originated from different places…

However the character in ‘Rosa‘ who people most struggled with, was Tyche Kane… she is one of those characters and I honestly can’t say where her name came from, it was just there, with her… Tyche was the daughter of Aphrodite and Zeus, of course. I pronounce her name Tie-key – and I guess she does too! However some of my readers struggled – Titch, Titchy, Tike, Tickey…

I pondered on this… but then thought, well, this is like real life and names – some people always have trouble with knowing how to say things, so I have just left it…

I was reminded of this when I saw the following:

… and here is a link to ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’:

Fuggan and apple dickie

I was wandering through my recipe books as I often do, and came across something called fuggan… I’d never heard of it before, but it’s Cornish, and is a simple but no doubt delicious  pastry with currants or other dried fruit. When I looked it up to find out more about it I came across an Arthur Fuggan, living in Oldham which I know well as I lived there for many years.

Arthur was born in 1864, and in the 1891 census he was living with his sister Matilda, her husband, his mother, and a niece. Oldham was one of the most famous and important cotton-spinning towns in the nineteenth century and so it was so surprise to see that Matilda was a cotton speed tenter.  Her husband was a pianist and when I saw that Arthur was a self actor minder I thought that he must be something to do with being on the stage… However, the word ‘minder’ made me wonder as I know that was a job in the cotton industry. I was right; a self actor minder is someone who ‘minded’ a ‘self actor’, or “operates a self-acting spinning mule, patented by Richard Roberts, which could be operated by semi-skilled personnel.” A tenter is merely someone who tents or tends a spinning machine in a factory. Arthur doesn’t appear again in the census, not by that name anyway, but there seem to be families of Fuggans living in other countries, particularly the USA

Back to the fuggan…  when I looked further into the edible fuggans, it seems there is also a meat fuggan, which is just meat and pastry; as far as I can gather the pastry is made into a longish fat lump, split down the middle, the seasoned, finely chopped meat is put in and the pastry moulded round it . Somewhere else I found that it was usually pork and sometimes had potatoes as well. It is baked in the oven and I guess might taste quite nice and  a way I  would think of making a small amount of meat go between a family. Apparently, the top of it was patterned with cross-hatched marks, representing the fishing nets of the men who were out at sea, no doubt looking forward to their tasty fuggan when they got home!

And so apple dickie… Similar, it seems to a fuggan, a Cornish pastry with chopped apple mixed into it and baked!

Naughty words, and odd names…

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s been on my mind today; I have a very dear friend who has made most useful and helpful observations on my books in the past, comments which have really enabled me to be more objective about my writing.

She has just started reading my latest novel, Lucky Portbraddon, and I know, I just know she is going to make at least two comments; one is going to be about unusual names, and the other s going to be about swear words.

I have written so many posts about names and choosing names,for actual children and for imaginary characters, so I’m not going over it all again except to say that I do a huge amount of research about names, and the names I use in my novels, trying to make sure they are the sort of names which might typically be associated with a particular person, or a particular age and class and with the sort of background I have given them. As I write I keep thinking of my friend and thinking about what she might say about my characters. Most of them in Lucky Portbraddon have perfectly ordinary names, Alex, James, Nick, Ruby, Alison, but one of the main characters is called Ismène. She was one of those characters who just arrived on the page with that name… I tried to call her Emma but it just didn’t work… Lo and behold, my friend has bought my book and the first thing she said was about the name!

Having my characters using ‘bad’ language is another thing,another thing which I don’t; take lightly. I never use bad language in front of my children… except in very trying circumstances when some naughty word escapes, and I don’t use it casually in my books. However, some characters do use obscene or foul language – just a we might come across people in real life who do. It would be unrealistic for them to say “Oh bother, oh blow, oh goodness gracious!”

I have heard recordings of soldiers from the first World War who use obscene/foul language… I’m sure people always have, so in Lucky Portbraddon, some times some of the characters swear at each other… and one character in particular swears almost every time he speaks. He is young, and I’ve noticed that young people do use a lot of words which older people might not approve of. I’m not using it – or rather, he‘s not using it to shock, it’s just the vernacular.

I know my friend is going to comment… and having her metaphorically sitting on my shoulder as I write does make me think very carefully about the language I use, even if my characters don’t!

Judge for yourself about the names I’ve chosen and the language I’ve used!


How do you say it?

My name, Lois is not very common, but it’s not that unusual either; Lois was St Timothy’s grandmother, and considering how ubiquitous Timothy is it’s strange that his granny’s name didn’t catch on too. I’m not complaining, I like to be unusual – although I wasn’t so keen when I was young and had to continually spell it for people and pronounce it for them.

You would have thought that Lo-is, was easy… but it’s mistaken for other actual names, male and female:

  • Louise
  • Eloise
  • Lucy
  • Lewis
  • Louis
  • Lulu
  • and even on one occasion, Laurence

As for spelling it, instead of taking the simplest four-letter spelling, I’ve had all sorts of offerings,as well as the above:

  • Loeese
  • Lorris
  • Lios
  • Loose/Lose
  • Lowes/Lowis/Lows
  • Lossie

So I have always tried my hardest with someone with an unusual name to say it as nearly correctly as I can – even if I have to ask them a couple of times, apologising for having such a poor ear. A difficulty comes when the name is written down, and may even be very familiar in the written form, but how do you say it? Where are the stresses, are there any hidden sounds, or sounds which disappear, or change from what you expect?

One of my son’s favourite names is Leonidas, most famously a Greek hero, born about 540BC and dying at around sixty in 480BC. I can’t recall ever having heard it spoken, but I’ve always pronounced it Layon-nid-as… My son insists it’s Leon-ide-ees…

I found this:

This man seems to say something like Leon-nithe-ass… and I’m sure he must be right!



I decided to walk from the station to rendezvous with my friends in London; as I strolled along the Bayswater Road I passed a building and the plaque caught my eye. We have dear friends who live in the Netherlands, and anything to do with their country and history interests us.

Once I was home, I was able to find out more about ‘Orangehaven’ – it was a club founded during the second World War  on the initiative of Queen Wilhelmina; she had been Queen of the Netherlands since 1890, when at the age of only ten she inherited the throne from her father King Willem III. When the Germans invaded her country during World war II she escaped to London.

There were about 1700  ex-pat Dutch people who had also fled the invaders  and the Queen was determined that there should be somewhere in London for them  where they could meet, socialise, and receive support if they were in need or difficulty. There was also some accommodation for people when necessary. The club opened on the 6th June 1942 opened the club was. One amusing story in what was otherwise a sad and trying time, whenever Queen Wilmelmina came to the club, everyone drank tea , all alcoholic drinks, were discretely hidden from view


WhatsApp Image 2016-07-30 at 11.09.53

Place of the ash trees

I have a fairly unusual first name, and a quite unusual surname – and my married name is also quite unusual too. I like having that distinction, although when I was a child I didn’t like my first name particularity, but soon got to like it and can’t imagine being anything else.

I suppose because of my own names, I am interested in other unusual names – names of people, first and surnames, and names of places too. The other day I was watching the news, and i can’t now remember what the report was about, but their was a police officer whose surname was Upex… that really is a very unusual name! There are so many people from other countries in the UK now that I wondered if it might be a name from overseas, but no; it is English.

Apparently, the first recorded spelling of the name was on a marriage record in 1636, in Norhtamptonshire, but it seems as if the name is much older than that, going back to an old English place name, something like Up-aesc which means has a connection with ash trees.

In the 1841, 1851 and 1861 censuses, all the Upex individuals recorded lived in the counties of Northampton and Huntington, and so it continued over the next decades, with the majority of the families living in the same area and Cambridgeshire; a few moved further away, Yorkshire, Cornwall, London, but the majority were in that broad area across what might be called the south Midlands.

However, for people from the Northeast of England, and Middlesbrough in particular, the name Upex has a very different connotation… pies! Apparently Upex meat pies are the best in the world. I can’t find out anything at all about them historically, except that the orignal pie production closed down for twenty years, but apparently is now back and being enjoyed across the area.

As well as Superintendent Upex, who first triggered my interest in the name, there are two Professors Upex, one an archaeologist particularly interested in British landscape history, one a very senior lawyer, and a Dr Upex who is also a specialist in archaeology.

I wonder if it is the case of having come across this unusual name once, now I’ll bump into it a gain and maybe again?

… and i have to say my featured image isn’t necessarily of ash trees!