Kitty Clover: one of my pet names from my mum

Hello again – who did you say you are, again?

Sharing names and notions

As if we are sitting round a big table, apprehensive and also eager to begin a session of life-writing with new friends, let’s free-flow our writing into three boxes-as-badges, by way of introduction:

The name by which I want to be known today is:

This is the one I would write on my name-badge in the Outer World

The name of which I was ashamed, in the past, is:

This is one that, while not wanting to share publicly, I might still accept as part of my history

The name to which I’d like to answer, in the future, might be:

This is the name to which I might aspire, “when I grow up”

What’s in a name? A rose by any other name / Would smell as sweet

My friend’s father (on one memorable occasion only) sent him away crying to his mother.

“What’s up, little one?”

“Daddy says I’m a ******** nuisance!”

“Oh no you’re not, you’re my little darling!”

No wonder we are confused as children, getting different messages from different people, two of whom just happen to be our parents.

And not yet, perhaps, distinguishing between “being” a certain thing, and being described as that thing, perhaps in the heat of someone else’s moment.

So by the time we are teenagers – and later, child-adults – we unquestioningly accept as true many of the insults, mockeries and verbal abuse that has been hurled our way. And maybe we also believe much of the stuff we have projected onto other people.

(Despite this, my friend and his father became great friends, working together and sharing skills until long after the latter’s death. They shared a name, they shared a temperament, they shared occasional exasperation to the point of scorn.)

Brain Dump

Brain dump: in your ThoughtBook, complete all or any of the phrases listed below, or any similar phrases you opt to follow up:

(Know that the outcome is for your eyes only… In your ThoughtBook you can call yourself, or other people, as many names as you want, so long as you remember this, which may or may not be true):

…sticks and stones

can break your bones

but words can hurt you never…

When I was little I hated being called ...

The worst thing I ever called another human being was... 

When I was a child I felt good about this name ...  

The most complimentary name I have used for myself includes... 

The most creative approach I have taken to introducing another person ...

Repeat for as many times as you want, for as long as you can comfortably write.

Now put down the pencil or pen, and come back into your body, your Bag-o’-Bones, your BrainDrain: whatever name you call it.

Come back to your hand (invigorated or tired or both, from pen-clutching) and let it unclench and relax.

If your hands are clean, and you feel safe to do this, let’s rest our fingers on the top (crown) of the head, so that we can cradle the skull. You may like to pat it very gently, as if you are reassuring yourself. Or you could stroke downwards with your fingertips, self-soothing. You could even sing yourself a lullaby. Feel free to experiment with what feels good, for a few moments.

Now we can transfer attention to the breath, as it comes in and goes out in tranquillity, all by itself… just like we did last week.

The names we call ourselves

In the early 1964 I wrote my first science fiction book (and my last, to date. I went on to write novels, so few of which have seen the publisher’s slush pile).

It was called ‘The Red Eye’. The draft was in a rough-book from my Christmas stocking, with a picture of The Fab Four on the front (Father Christmas knew me well). The final version was more neatly scripted, in a good quality exercise book that had long-tailed tits in apple blossom on the front.

I digress – call me Long Winded. For ‘The Red Eye’, however, I took the name Catherine Leyland. The name was an approximate rendering of my birth name, Kathryn Labrum.

Leyland was not from the British Leyland motor conglomerate (yet to be formed, in 1968). Rather, it celebrated the family name of friends who – unlike the bus-travelling Labrums – had a Citroen DS, with novel air suspension that won the car accolades.

I earned no accolades for my SF prowess, apart from my mum who discovered the final version under my bed, and hugged me proudly. Sister no 3 looked on rather begrudgingly (she preferred horses to almost anything else at that time).

Such fame didn’t recur until I won the Limerick Competition in the Alnwick Advertiser (Northumberland) in 1992, under an assumed name. I had purloined this from a Dumfries-shire agro-botanist (reader, I married him), who was by then a plant-doctor like me. Buying our third house, we were greeted in the Estate Agency as “The Doctors”.

(And when a stranger, phoning him at home, would get me or our son replying, and ask for Doctor McVittie, we would have the great joy of saying “Which Doctor?” Try it out loud.

Incidentally the self-same McVittie son, bemused by his new Morpeth schoolmates with Geordie accents, came home from infant school saying: In assembly they say “Shove over, Biscuit”. What does that mean?

Not realising- until his father explained – that he was (and is) The Biscuit.)

Perhaps you have examples from your own family name. Do feel free to leave them – the examples, not the family – in the Comments box.

writing our name acrostically

I enjoyed our creative responses to the exercise I offered a few weeks ago, using words found within the letters of the word ‘orientating’.

One of you, Bramel, used the letters of ORIENTATING in that order, to start successive lines of a free-flow poem, incorporating found words and compass points. This is now in the Comments section to that post.

He was unwittingly anticipating today’s invitation to poem-building using a structure known as the Acrostic.

As the article in Wikipedia tells us, an acrostic

is a poem (or other form of writing) in which the first letter (or syllable, or word) of each line (or paragraph, or other recurring feature in the text) spells out a word, message or the alphabet

(You may have come across such patterns in the poems of authors such as Lewis Carroll. )

My own attempts to use the letters of my name, or of the town where I was born, or of my address, came later:

I was in an Attic Room that some of us call The Eyrie, at Cambridge Buddhist Centre. Teacher Amaya had started a group called “Writing Your Way”. and in midsummer 2014, I was a late arrival, at my first class.

We were following a book of that name by Manjusvara (2005, Windhorse Publications), and had got to an exercise in chapter 11. where we used the letters of the town where we were born to write an acrostic poem.

According to my Thoughtbook for June 2014, my attempt with “Chester” went like this:

Coming fourth
Hesitantly, late, daughter to
Eric and Lecky
Saturdays, shopping, sickened by brewery waste
Terrified of steam trains.
Enlivened by
Raucous shrieks of swifts

Copyright Kathy McVittie 21 June 2014

from the ThoughtBook, Saturday 21 June 2014

Reading that again six years later I am inordinately proud of that. Somehow I seem to have captured the first five or six years of my life, not necessarily in a way that means much to other people, but which is dripping with memory and sensed experience for me, particularly that dense, nauseating odour of Northgate Brewery, a fog of sensory overwhelm which hung over our family shopping expeditions into the city centre less than a mile away from “The Hawthorns”, 24 Gresford Avenue, within hooting distance of Chester Railway Station.

Help at hand

For you to have a go at writing a name poem (either based on a given name, a loved name – yours or that of a friend – or a familiar place-name, here are some pointers from my own experience:

After you have written the name-letters vertically down your page (mine was on the left hand side) make yourself a Brain Storm (an imaginative, spiky version of a Brain Dump) on the adjacent page, just random thoughts about the subject of your Name, and your personal relationship to it.

Let your mind travel far and wide, gathering ideas. They can be really disconnected and random at this stage. You probably won’t use them all (I didn’t include the Roman origins of ‘Chester’), but while your mind is free-ranging, you may well uncover some fragment that comes alive. First in a remembered sensation (like my reaction to the fermenting beer) and then in a phrase. See then whether you can change word order or choice, so that your phrase begins with one of your name letters.

You don’t need to overwork this exercise. Take it lightly and notice what comes. Your poem doesn’t have to include a full life-span, nor encompass a whole place. It can be like an Impressionist painting, vital and without a ponderous texture. Seizing the moment and letting it linger, before it fades.

naming appreciatively

And now you might want to list the names of a few friends, authors, teachers, for whose contributions to your health and happiness you feel grateful in your life, in your present situaation, or just today.

Today I am grateful for:




If you would like, you can share your “gratefuls” in public via the Comments (under a pseudonym – a madeup, assumed name- if you wish to use one), or privately by email to me.

See you next week, when we’ll look more fully at some of the writing/ living resources that we are able to use, share, and appreciate during this strange year.

Just for the record:

Today I am grateful for:

~ Amaya, for his gentle, non-proscriptive teaching over the last five years, much of it in the Eyrie, and Manjusvara for founding the Wolf at the Door groups referred to in ‘Writing Your Way’ (and still continuing, albeit online).

~ my ThoughtBooks, which contain some gathered wisdoms and also a lot of Hot Air to buoy the wisdoms up like fly-away balloons;

~ the Writing Companions who have made my recent path onto the Life Pages so much more pleasant and productive… particularly today thanking Sam and Marie for the 2016 sessions of Writing Our Way, at Dalefield.