‘My name is Katherine, with a ‘K’.’
Amidst current speculation about a potential name for the new baby princess, I have been considering a different name related issue entirely.
The press coverage of the birth of William and Kate’s new little girl yesterday was difficult to miss and what struck me most from the media reports, as a fellow Katherine, were the variations used in the spelling of the Duchess of Cambridge’s given name. From what I could work out, Her Royal Highness’s full name is Catherine (with a C), which she shortens to Kate (with a K).
This struck me as unusual. I’ve always assumed that only Katherine (with a K) could adopt the diminutive, Kate. Does it really matter? I hear you cry. Well, it doesn’t really, of course. But I find it interesting. Altering the first letter of your name can provide an entirely different feel to the title by which people will come to know you.
The name Catherine (spelt either way) has been popular in Europe for hundreds of years, reaching the peak of its usage in the 1880s. It is a common name given to heroines of romantic fiction, from Shakespeare to Emily Bronte and means ‘pure’ or ‘innocent’. It is also one of those names which has multiple diminutives and very rarely will you find a Katherine who doesn’t refer to themselves as a Cathy or a Kate. There are also plenty of women’s names which are similar to Catherine, and have evolved from the same root such as Kathleen or Caitlin.
Despite the many derivatives and pet names which stem from Katherine, I still believe it is unusual to change the first letter of the name. If the same was done with the name Christopher, for example, substituting the letter ‘K’ for the ‘Ch’, it would create a quite different impression of the man who possessed it, being much more bold and modern.
When I fell out with a friend in sixth form once, a quite pompous boy who had a rather abrasive personality, his complaint against me was that I continued to stubbornly insist that my name was spelt with a ‘K’. He clearly thought this was an extremely irritating affectation that I had adopted. In fact, it had never crossed my mind to spell it in any other way, that was how it appeared on my birth certificate! This chap and I soon forgot our little fall out, but his jibe was firmly fixed in my memory.
Was ‘K’ actually the more subversive letter, sharp and spiky as opposed to its curvy counterpart?
In reality, Catherine is one of those names where the spelling has historically been interchangeable. Look at Henry VIII’s wives, for example. And perhaps, no one is really interested except us Catherines.
Interchangeable or not, I shall continue to refer to myself as Katherine, with a ‘K’, because it’s part of who I am and a change of first letter would feel like a challenge to my identity, somehow.