Thursday, 26 March 2015

What's in a soap surname?

(This post was originally posted by Llifon on the Coronation Street Blog in February 2015, reposted with permission.)

I've been thinking about this topic for a while but have not had the time or a motive to write about it. Well, today's the day. In comments to one of the recent weekly awards, Frosty asks why is Jenny Bradley referred to as Jenny Bradley instead of just plain Jenny. I don't know if they meant on the show or on this blog and other websites, but this led me to do this blog post.

Surnames are an important part of someone's identity, although not among Welsh people. Before Wales was invaded by England, a man's name in Welsh was connected to his father's (i.e. Gwilym ap Dafydd means William son of David). This wasn't used for women's names. So when the English invaded, they Anglicised the Welsh names with ap Gwilym becoming Gwilym's and then Williams. So suddenly the Welsh had thousands of people surnamed Jones, Davies, Evans, Hughes or Williams. So to differentiate they started calling themselves after their homes and that's how it is since. I don't know if it's the same in Ireland or Scotland.

In England there are some examples of this with Johnson, Michaelson, Nicholson and Jameson, but English surnames also come from various jobs like Baker, Barker, Cooper, Carter and Smith. So that leads us to Corrie.

Corrie characters' surnames are also very important to their personality. While we may refer to them as Elsie, Ena, Bet, Annie or Hilda, there is no doubt that their surnames of Tanner, Sharples, Lynch, Walker and Ogden are just as important. What I love about watching those old episodes is how in a row, Elsie and Ena or Annie and Hilda would use their full name when shouting each other. The same goes for men. Enemies Ken and Mike would always refer to each other not with their forenames but with their surnames Barlow and Baldwin. That may have been an imitation of the Ewing/Barnes rivalry of Dallas, but yet again it was a cold and impersonal exchange that provided us with a 20 year old rivalry. 

We are in an age now that everyone calls each other by their first names, regardless of age. In a couple of decades there probably will be no referrals to 'Mr so and so' or 'Mrs so and so'. Even in Corrie now, characters like Rita and Emily are referred to by youngsters with their first names whereas on Corrie 20 years ago they might have been referred to as Mrs Sullivan or Mrs Bishop. And certainly only a few people called Annie Walker or Ena Sharples by their first name 40 or 50 years ago. 

But Corrie characters' surnames aren't as important as they once were. We only refer to Maria, Fiz, Julie, Katy, Maddie, Sophie or Steph first names only. The age of a character's surname being of importance is slowly slipping away, in any soap. There are a certain generation of characters whose surname is an integral part of their identity - Pat Butcher, Pauline Fowler, Dot Cotton, Peggy Mitchell, Alf Roberts, Albert Tatlock, Martha Longhurst, Minnie Caldwell, Mr Swindley, Jack Sugden, Annie Sudgen, Eric Pollard, Alan Turner, Mr Wilks, Harold Bishop, Helen Daniels, Mrs Mangel, Meg Richardson, Amy Turtle, J. R. Ewing and Bobby Ewing.  

Pat Phoenix felt that Elsie's surname was such an important part of her character, that when the idea of her getting married was approached in 1967, she refused to have a new surname. So despite him being a Yank, Steve had to have a working class English surname! When she married Alan Howard, she took his name but returned to Tanner when they divorced. The same thing happened when EastEnders character Pauline Fowler remarried. Her portrayer, Wendy Richard, refused for Pauline to change her surname to Macer, stating that Fowler was an important part of Pauline's character. It has been revealed that Wendy Richard left the soap later that year because of the producers' decision for Pauline to remarry. So there are some people who have a strong view over surnames. 

So let me get this straight.
You want me to change my
surname again?! 
On the other hand you've got characters like Rita, Gail, Deirdre or EastEnders' Pat who have had so many surnames. Their surnames could show for how long viewers have been watching the show. If they refer to Rita Fairclough, they've been watching the show before 1992 or Deirdre Langton they have been watching before 1981 or Pat Butcher they've been watching EastEnders before 1995. Even Betty became a Williams after she'd been a Turpin on-screen for 26 years, and yet nobody was bothered. Emily's been a Bishop since 1972. If she would remarry now, would you be bothered? Or even Audrey not being Mrs Roberts? 

As for Jenny Bradley, I suppose she is being addressed this way because she is a returning character and we want viewers to remember her. Her father Alan was referred to as 'Alan Bradley' many times and probably to separate him from another Alan who was in the show 10-15 years earlier, Alan Howard. Over time I'm sure she will just be addressed as just plain Jenny.

So what's your view? Does a surname still hold an important part in a soap character's identity or is it a thing of the past?  

By Llifon

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