I have a childhood memory of my father having a blazing row with a census-taker. It must have been around the 1991 census, the person collecting (or perhaps dropping off) the forms was determined to find out my father’s name.
“But you must have a Christian name!” He cried.
“And I tell you that I don’t!” Said my father, stubbornly.
“Of course you do, everyone does! You have to tell me for the census.”
“No – I do not have a Christian name,” responded Dad.
“How?! How is that possible!?”
“Because I’m not a Christian!” My father was triumphant.
“Oh…! Oh. Well, you know what I mean. Your first name then.”
It seems hard to believe now, but growing up in the 1980s & 90s, the Christian religion seemed like quite a big deal. Everything stopped on a Sunday – hardly any shops open, religious programmes on TV, and half my friends stuck in a Madrasa.
Without me ever really noticing it, the UK has become increasingly progressive and tolerant. I remember having to write my “Christian name” on my school books but, in my adult life, I honestly don’t think I’ve encountered the phrase. It’s as archaic as the term “Coloured” or “Spastic” – words which were once part of everyday parlance which have fallen out of favour.
Well, until yesterday. The person who asked for my Christian name was mortified when I pointed out that, as I hadn’t been baptised, I wasn’t able to provide him with one. We both laughed at the absurdity of the situation – the way our brains regurgitate outdated notions at random. I still talk about “hanging up” the telephone, even though it stays firmly in my hand. A memetic skeuomorph which is hard to dislodge from the common tongue.
For people who are (for want of a better word) privileged, the notion of micro-aggressions seems almost hopelessly childish. A throwaway comment which upsets you that much? Man up!
But, for those of us outside the default, it can be a sudden jolt to the system. An otherwise pleasant day ruined by an unwelcome reminder that society doesn’t see you as normal.
A quick look through Government websites shows an interesting array of forms which are still asking citizens for their “Christian names”.
- South Tyneside Council’s Report Of Industrial Disease – Report Form DR1
Shepway District Council’s Notice of Interment (for non-denominational cemeteries and crematoria)
- Salford City Council’s Application for Insertion in the Book of Remembrance.
- Argyll and Bute Council’s Property Occupancy Questionnaire.
- Hull City Council’s Application For The Transfer Of A Licence For A Hackney Carriage Vehicle.
- And, perhaps my favourite one. Aberdeenshire Council’s Application for Permission to Hold a Performance of Hypnotism!
I know some people who think this is just Politeness Gone Mad – but it hurts. It tells you that some parts of the country simply won’t accept you for who you are. It’s sad, irritating, and – thankfully – getting better.
It’s not a big thing, true. Just a queer little throwback from people who haven’t quite caught up with the march of progress.