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18 September 2011 – What’s in a Name, initially?

September 18, 2011

You will know, as a regular reader, of how sport became important to me during my childhood. It is remarkable how childhood memories can play tricks. For example, my reminisces of times past when knees were scraped and trouser pockets housed string and the odd worm, would have it that summer days were perpetually blue of sky. Knowing English summers as I have come to as an adult this surely cannot have been the case. Similarly, as I became initiated in the wonders of test cricket, it seemed that in order to be able to play cricket for England one had to possess two middle names, giving one a total of three initials (MJK Smith, APE Knott, JDF Larter).

Of course this was not the case, as research confirms. There were many cricketers with only one middle name, including Sir Colin Cowdrey whose first name was in fact Michael, Colin being his one, and only, middle name; thus his father ensured his initials were the most famous in the world of cricket; those of Marylebone Cricket Club.

There were also cricketers with no middle name, thus having only one initial; K Higgs, G Boycott. Clearly one initial was significant of gritty, northern chaps. I didn’t know that then. I had no knowledge that single initial cricketers existed. I did know that double initial players did, as I knew the initialism story of the Cowdrey family. I really wanted to believe that to be a cricketer one needed three initials. Having three initials signified, for me, a person from the upper echelons of English society. So, MJK Smith and APE Knott must have been public school and Oxbridge educated. Well, as it happens, Smith was. Knott was not. The bespectacled MJK, the last man to have gained England caps at both cricket and rugby, read geography at St Edmund Hall, Oxford after attending Stamford School. Knott attended a secondary modern school in Kent.

As a child that was what I believed. Three initials denoted privilege; two initials meant ordinary. I had two initials. I didn’t think it then, but maybe one intial (Boycott, Higgs, my mother) meant extra-ordinary?

The use of initials in cricket, peculiar in sport in this regard other than when identifying siblings or namesakes, goes to back to the era of gentlemen and players. Gentlemen were amateur cricketers who played at the top level, whilst professional cricketers were referred to as players. There were first class Gentlemen v. Players fixtures almost annually from the early nineteenth century up to as recently as 1962. Looking at a list of results, which appear relatively evenly spread, would be misleading as often a team of eleven players would take on up to fourteen or fifteen gentlemen. The distinguishing feature on a scorecard of one of these games was that the players were listed with their initials before their surname (e.g. JB Hobbs) whereas gentleman would be listed similarly but preceded with their appropriate title “Mr” or “Sir”. (e.g. Mr CB Fry).

Incidentally, CB Fry was a unique individual who played cricket and football for England, as well as gaining an Oxford blue, and being selected for the Barbarians, at rugby union. He equalled the world long jump record of his day and, bizarrely, is alleged to have been offered the throne of Albania, which he turned down.

In the era prior to 1962, when first class teams could comprise both gentlemen and players, the spectator would determine which was which by consulting the scorecard. He would deduce that those listed as “Mr” were amateur and those with only their initials were paid for their labours. This is one of many interesting facets of the transition from amateur to professional sport.

I still remember with affection the rose-tinted thoughts of my childhood and want to cling on to many of them, including that of the number of initials possessed by a man in some way according them a particular status. Further, that cricketers all came from families of a higher status to my own for they all seemed to have two middle names in addition to their first. If this was the case, how important would be the Sri Lankan bowler currently playing in the test match against Australia in Columbo? He is listed in the scorecard as UWMBCA Welegedara.

Of course, the number of names (and consequent initials) one owns is no indication of social status. For one, MC Cowdrey was not plain old Mr Cowdrey, but was in fact Baron Cowdrey of Tonbridge. He was married twice. His children all enjoyed the title The Honourable, one of them marrying the exquisitely named Christel Margareta Holste-Sande. His second wife was The 14th Lady Herries of Terregles, the eldest daughter of the 16th Duke of Norfolk, who happened to have been the tour manager of the England team that played in Australia in the winter of 1962-3 (yes, of course Cowdrey was in the team – he was the vice-captain). It all seems a very long way from my double-initialed life, and a whole world away from that of the very singular G Boycott.

My word of the day is rhubarb. Not merely in that such might be your considered appraisal of today’s ramblings, but more that it is the material with which Geoffrey Boycott’s mother’s proverbial cricket bat is made of, as evidenced in phrases on TMS such as “my mother could do better with a stick o’ rhubarb than these fellers!”

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One Comment
  1. Hey, thanks for the article.Really looking forward to read more. Want more.

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