The image above is part of my birth certificate. I have virtually the same name as my father, but there is a discrepancy. He is (was) Alan, while I am Alyn.
The reason for this way of spelling my name was, according to my late mother, that around the time of my birth, there was a famous musician and conductor called Alyn Ainsworth, whose name appeared in the closing credits of many television shows. My parents decided that to give me my father’s name, but with a little twist, would be a good idea. So, Alyn it was.
This written variation may have averted confusion in the mail department, but audibly there was no difference between the names. If my mother called, two of us would turn up. This situation was remedied by the addition of the prefix big or little before the actual name, and I became Little Alyn. Problem solved.
But, that single-letter tweak to my forename would soon land me in hot water.
Delicious chocolate creations
While playing in the street one day, I came across a girl who had at her feet a tin of Quality Street with the lid off. Even at that tender age I was well familiar with the interior of that tin, and the brightly coloured wrappers that enveloped delicious chocolate creations — apart from the golden flat disc; that was toffee and to be avoided.
With my mouth already watering, I sidled up to the girl in the hope of a benevolent act taking place. I even dared to dream of peeling the foil off my favourite, the green triangle. As I watched, the girl took one of the sweets, the purple one, vaguely shaped like a tiny Ayers Rock, and removed the wrapper.
Now, at that young age I’d not had much cause to apply the word devastated to my emotional condition, but that was certainly one of those times. For what lay beneath the shiny purple wrap was not chocolate, but chalk! What my friend had was a tin of dummy sweets that were used as part of a shop display. She obviously knew what they were all along, and she began chalking on a wall, singing happily. I wanted to cry.
But I picked myself up and several of my friends and I walked chalk-handed up to the wooden bus shelter that stood on Cowpen Road at the top of our street. Here we went on a chalking frenzy, drawing rudimentary cartoons and initially writing our own names, but then pairing each other off with girls from the street.
Someone wrote David luvs Jakleen (our spelling skills weren’t yet honed), and that opened the gates. Over that half-hour we did more matchmaking than Cilla would years later on TV. As I paired Stuart with Lizzie, I wondered with whom I’d be ‘matched’.
One of my friends had a cousin who occasionally visited, and she sometimes wore an orange trouser suit, which was a very grown-up thing to my eyes, and I was quite sweet on her. I secretly hoped that someone would write Alyn luvs Heather, but they never did.
As we subjected the shelter, and then the pavement, to mild, non-permanent vandalism, I was aware that this was the very bus stop at which my dad would be alighting on his way home from work that evening. I banished my concerns with the reassurance that there were plenty of other Alyns in the world, and the culprit could have been any one of them.
Strictly out of bounds
Sure enough, that night my dad gave me a more thorough grilling than the kippers he’d just eaten for tea. He asked if I knew a David and a Stuart and a Jacqueline. I nodded to all three. He asked if I had been chalking my name up at the bus stop. This was awkward, for while the chalking was a minor issue, Cowpen Road, the main road as we called it, was strictly out of bounds to me at that young age.
I tried to deny authorship of the graffiti, but after my dad explained that the spelling of my name was something of a rarity, I confessed my sins and earned a lecture on telling the truth. Dad wasn’t too fussed about the chalking, but he did advise me to carry out any future scribbling sessions on the rendered gable end at the bottom of the street, out of general view.
And that was that. I thought I’d see out the rest of my days without any more name-related anecdotes to recount in later life. But I was wrong.
At junior school one day, we had an English lesson on how to write a letter. The teacher had a selection of cards, on which were printed the addresses of various organisations that would send out information packs free of charge. I was given something to do with the dairy industry.
A week or so after sending off my letter, I received a reply, which contained a magazine. It was a glossy affair, with several monochrome photos of cattle inside. The written content was incredibly dull, filled with charts and tables, and with words like yield, automation and acreage peppering the text. Still, it was my magazine, and I looked forward to showing it off at school.
As I slid the magazine back into its envelope, I spotted something in the nick of time. The envelope was addressed to Miss Alyn . . . I was mortified. Had I taken that envelope to school, and someone spotted the incorrect pronoun (I was years ahead on that issue), the taunts would have been relentless.
I watched the envelope burn on the fire, and I took the magazine to school sans-wrapping. But, there was still more moniker mayhem to come in my life.
A shy boy
When I first attended the local grammar school, our maths teacher, Mr Thomas, a Welshman, had his own system for remembering the names of his new charges. The teacher would select one pupil at a time with a point of the finger. On being chosen, the pupil under scrutiny would stand up and say his or her first name, which the teacher would then chalk on the board in a list.
I was a shy boy, and even this simple act, which would cause me to be the focus of attention, made me anxious. When it came to my turn, I rose, cleared my throat and said my name.
“Spelled like this?” he said, chalking Alan on the board. I said no. He wiped part of the name off and reapplied the chalk to make Allan. I shook my head.
“Well,” he said, wiping the name off again, “it must be the same as mine,” at which he wrote Alun. Again I shook my head. By this time, several pupils had turned in their chairs to gaze upon this bozo with the weird name. I spelled it out and he wrote it on the board, saying that he’d never seen the name spelled that way before, even though it looked Welsh. My face burned as I sat back down.
At this new school, teachers called me Joseph, as that is my first name. I didn’t correct them for fear of a repeat of the awkward maths moment. Fellow pupils started calling me Joe, and so I decided to go with that particular flow.
Out, vile consonant!
On my bedroom wall at that time, there hung a Certificate of Merit: First Prize, Upper Juniors I’d won in a poetry competition at school (my prize was a Platignum cartridge pen). With ALYN staring at me from the certificate, I decided to act. With a sharpened pencil, I changed the Y to an A with as much vigour as Cornwall himself; “Out, vile consonant!”
But I didn’t need to change it, because Joe thrived, like the grey squirrel, which went on almost to obliterate the native red. Alyn was crushed.
And so, the name I share with the Nazarene carpenter became dominant, although my parents never called me by it, and some people I’ve known since I was a child still call me Alyn.
These days, official documents like my driving licence have me down as Alan, the same as my dad. When looking through my mail though, I know when I’ve received a letter from the doctor’s or hospital, because they still address me as Alyn, as was recorded when I was born. I find it quaint.
(Originally published in Medium)