Wednesday 10 November 2004

What's in a name?

I had an e-mail from a friend last week. Oh, all right, an acquaintance. I accept that I haven’t got any friends. It said she was just rushing off to Budapest, which surprised me as I hadn’t even got round to asking her out before she sent the excuse. But it set me thinking.

Budapest, as every schoolboy used to know, is in fact two cities on opposite banks of the Danube called Buda and, funnily enough, Pest. But they actually sound better run together – particularly, one suspects, if one has some knowledge of English and happens to live in Pest.

One of the many odd developments of recent years on Tyneside has been the emergence of a new city called NewcastleGateshead, which emphatically doesn’t sound better than its two component parts. In fact, I think we can safely say that it will never catch on. The corporate identity gurus will have to come up with something shorter and catchier.

I’ve given it a bit of thought and the main contenders – short of a complete rename after some local hero e.g. Milburnville – seem to be along the lines of Newhead or Castlegate. My own money is on Newcagate (pronounced ‘New-key-gyet’), mainly because it gives syllabic superiority to the larger community to the north of the river.

Is this desirable and can we stop it? Personally, I was proud to be born in the great county of Northumberland, though rather less taken with the Urban District of Longbenton where I grew up. I was mortified when the hated Heath-Walker local government reforms of 1973 consigned me to somewhere called North Tyneside and the entirely bogus county of Tyne and Wear.

I don’t think my parents or I ever ventured south of the Tyne other than to get to somewhere more attractive on the other side of the County Durham borders. True, my mother was once misled by a relentless TV jingle into visiting Shepherds’ department store, failing to appreciate that the line about ‘the biggest and the best store’ omitted the crucial words ‘in Gateshead’. But that was about it.

Perhaps I also inherited a certain prejudice from my father, who undertook his reluctant wartime service in the Durham Light Infantry and didn’t enjoy it one little bit. The fact that people apparently kept shooting at him has long put me off Continental travel, too.

But, fundamentally, shouldn’t rivers stick to their natural role as dividing lines? Do Geordies really want to live in Newcagate rather than the City & County of Newcastle upon Tyne, as it used to be magnificently described on the signs at its boundaries? At least, I suppose, it would be a better fate than that which seemed likely to befall Mancunians in the 1970s, when people began to talk of the conurbation as SELNEC (South East Lancashire, North East Cheshire). Fortunately someone with an ear for language came up with Greater Manchester instead. Now there’s an idea. Greater Newcastle (incorporating Gateshead and Sunderland) rather in the way that The Journal always reminds us on the back page that it incorporates the long-forgotten North Mail.

I do believe it’s got a ring to it.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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