Friday, 2 January 2009

What is Mary’s name?

When I was very young I learned that Nana had had a maid when she and Grandpa were first married. The maid’s name, according to Mum, was Mary. ‘Of course, that wasn’t her proper name. She was called that because all the maids were called Mary.” It seemed that it made life easier. When one maid left and another came you didn’t have to remember her name – it was always Mary. It also avoided any potential conflict with members of the family who might have the maid’s real name. (The maids went with World War I – one of many changes to people’s lifestyles caused by the War.)

According to Mum it was a common practice but only occurred with female servants. Male servants like butlers were allowed to use their own name, even if it was the same as one of the family members.

I couldn’t believe it. I was only tiny but I was horrified. It seemed to me that there was nothing worse than taking away someone’s name and giving them another one. I still feel the same.

My looking at the Bible before Christmas brought me to this passage from Genesis 3:20 (King James Version) “And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.” So God gave Adam his name but Eve was given hers by her partner. Is this the first example in the Bible of this sort of sexism?


  1. Names are a big deal.

    My wife renamed me. My new name is "Honey." It's not so bad. (Maybe Eve liked her name.) My kids call me Dad. Remember when someone changed your name to Mister? (As in, Mister, can you tell me what time it is?)

    Later in Genesis, the mom's seemed to name the kids... like when Jacob had children with Rachel and Leah.

    My sister-in-law changed her own name: from Shirley to Elizabeth.

    Go figure.

    (My wife tells me that Irish maids in the US were often called Bridgette, regardless of their given names.)

  2. I changed my name in my thirties - not easy to do at that age. I went from a Clive to a John though I stayed Clive in work.
    I had never liked Clive and I much preferred John.
    But how I would have yelled to stay Clive if some employer had arbitrarily said "From now on you are James. All our chauffeurs are called James!"


Hello - thanks for dropping by to leave a comment. Your comments are much appreciated even if I don't always reply. They will appear as soon as they have been moderated.

Blog Archive