What’s in a name?


We have spent the week with Gérard, the mason who has been working on our new windows.  He’s a great bear of a man, who arrives at 7.30 and works away all morning talking to himself non stop.  As the Empurany church bell rings noon he knocks off and has an hour and a half for lunch at the café in the village, where he catches up with the local gossip.  Then he’s back at it until 5.30 or 6, manoeuvring enormous stones in his ham-like hands, never wearing gloves or any other form of protection.  He’s a gentle giant though and agrees with everything you say “Ah ça c’est sur” he comments about whatever observation you make.  His favourite adjective is “affreux”,  appalling, which he applies as both a positive and negative epithet:  “the sun’s been out all week – affreux” or just as likely “it poured with rain last month – affreux!”


His last name is Morfin – very common around here – and the hamlet where he lives bears the same name: les Morfins.  So we suppose he is Monsieur Morfin des Morfins, which sounds rather grand, and his cousins are variously Morfin-au-fond de-la-Place, who runs a garage, Morfin-ceux-de-la-Mouna, the suffix being the the name of their farm, and so on.  Years ago the chap who worked on our roof was named Sarzier and it’s nice to feel that sort of continuity in an area.  In fact we are sometimes referred to as ceux-des-Sarziers (those people from les Sarziers) which we take as a compliment.


Markus’s un-spellable and un-pronounceable surname is a corruption of those people from the top of the mountain and mine derives from weavers, but these associations seem very distant from our lives today.

We like feeling this attachment to a place which we have adopted and which perhaps, to a small degree, has adopted us.

5 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. J’aime voir l’évolution de la maison.
    En français ‘to have hands like hams”( très imagé) se dit “avoir des mains comme des battoirs “( en faisant allusion aux battoirs à linge en bois dont se servaient les lavandières pour battre le linge), mais je préfère l’expression anglaise, bien plus imagée et impressionnante, brrrr, un gros jambon à la place de chaque main, ça fait froid dans le dos…
    Au fait je vous écris de mon nouveau PC: je me suis offert un MAC avec l’argent d’une petite assurance que je viens de toucher…

  2. I’ve always assumed that Willis was something to do with Will or William. But it was the Usherwoods (grandmother to both of us) that always had a William in the family and often as the name of a family ship as well. I wonder what Usherwood derives from? (Even in our generation, brother Andrew is Andrew William.)

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