You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Thursday, 2 February 2012

on becoming Lady Demelza

I had a different name when I was born. I have changed every part of my name since then - first, middle, last, and title. I have made these changes legally, by deed poll. My mail arrives addressed to Lady Demelza.

Each of these changes has been made with a great deal of thought - many years worth of thoughts in fact. Each change has been a step toward crafting my identity to reflect my inner self.

My mum chose the name Demelza when she was pregnant with me. Demelza was the heroine of a Cornish TV series, Poldark, which was screening on ABC at the time. Demelza was the kitchen wench who married the master and became the lady of the house. Pretty cool story. Excellent choice, Mum!

This is my copy of the novelisation of the series, with Angharad Rees playing Demelza. (Apologies for the blurry picture. Keep in mind, folks, this morning is my first ever attempt at taking photos with a digital camera, and there's no-one around to show me how it works. I'm pretty much just pressing buttons at random and seeing what happens. This is the best image I got in nearly an hour of stuffing around.)

Unfortunately, my father did not agree. He vetoed Demelza and I was named with Mum's second choice, also a Celtic fictional heroine, but definitely not a cool name like Demelza. I was about 14 or 15 when Mum told me the story of how I might have been named Demelza. I loved it. When I was 17 and went out into the world, I was among new people who hadn't known me for years. It was a chance and I took it. I started to introduce myself as Demelza. I made this change legal by deed poll aged 19. It fits into a very neat division now - I had one name for my childhood, and another as an adult. This is a pattern which has been seen across many cultures throughout history and the world.

People often ask me something along the lines of - is that the name your parents gave you, or did you choose it yourself? In my case, the answer is both! I am so glad my mother had an extra name for me tucked away like this. She kept it safe and secret until I was old enough to appreciate it.

The Lady prefix started as a nickname. It started with one bloke I met at a festival who coined the name 'Lady Demelza'. It was not intended as a compliment. It was actually a cheeky, back-handed, Australian style affectionate criticism on my blunt and far-from-subtle manner. He was likening me to Lady Macbeth. We emailed for a bit, and ladydemelza struck me as a pretty cool email address. It might have stayed there but for a remarkable turn of events in January 1999.

I was at a Rainbow Gathering in Northern Tasmania for several weeks. One of the people at this gathering had to go back to town for a couple of days in the middle of this, so I gave him the keys to my flat in Hobart. While he was staying there, some mail arrived for me. He was considerate enough to bring my mail up to me at the gathering when he returned. Among the standard typed mail were two pieces of personal, hand-addressed mail. One of these was from the cheeky bloke, and so of course, it was addressed to Lady Demelza. Another was from a girlfriend, addressed to Demelza the Great. As these things generally go, my mail was passed around from hand to hand across the whole camp until it found me a few hours later. By then, of course, the whole camp was delighting in calling me 'Lady Demelza the Great'.

Now, that's a bit of a mouthful, especially for Australians, who will always want to shorten a word or expression, even if it were pretty succinct to begin with. And so in a couple of days, the Great wore off, and I was known to one and all as Lady Demelza.

I took this with appropriate good humour, but I didn't actually refer to myself to Lady Demelza for quite a few years. This happened at the firm insistence of my community. If ever I was heard to introduce myself as just Demelza, someone would most pointedly correct me and impress upon the newcomer that my real name was Lady Demelza. People said it all as one word, in one breath. Any separation between Lady and Demelza was frowned upon.

This went on, and after some years, I went with it and started calling myself Lady Demelza and signing my letters as such. On one memorable occasion, at a good friend's wedding reception, a man I didn't know introduced himself to me at the bar. I replied, of course, with, hi, I'm Lady Demelza. This man scoffed and snorted at what he saw as an affectation. I turned around and addressed the slightly raucous crowd in general. 'Hey people, what's my name?' Assorted voices replied in a wonky chorus. 'Lady Demelza!' The scoffing man apologised sincerely.

It was just last year when I learnt of a rather extraordinary legal loophole that exists only in Scotland, where one could argue until the cows come home about whether the title Lady, as it is used in Scotland, is the same as a Lady of the English peerage, or refers to a specifically Scottish tradition whereby owning land is all that is required to be a Lady, rather than having to inherit or marry a title. I discovered Highland Titles, an estate in the Highlands of Scotland that is exploiting this loophole for the most noble of purposes, that is, to preserve and protect the few remaining areas of Scottish wilderness. I purchased a 100-square-foot plot - just enough to pitch a tent on - within the Estate and received a title deed which gave me the paperwork to prove what my friends had known for years - indeed, Demelza is a Lady.

 Here's my title, and inset, the view from my plot.

I just love what Highland Titles is doing. Exploiting a loophole to subvert the dominant class system paradigm - what could be more fitting to the Australian way! But most importantly, by breaking up their estate in many tiny, individually owned plots, the estate holders are ensuring that this rare wilderness can never, ever be sold to developers, and nobody can ever build on it. The land is reserved for the grasses and the eagles, and I think that's just beautiful. Profits go toward purchasing further vulnerable areas of wilderness to include in this scheme, and to maintaining these areas as wildlife reserves.

I love to learn the stories behind the names given to people, places and things. Do you have a name story?


  1. I do have a name story, but it's long and boring.

    1. Well majikfaerie, since you already have such an impressive collection of long and interesting stories, we'll give you a break on this one.