20/07/2016 08:12 BST | Updated 21/07/2017 06:12 BST

What's In A Name?


My name's Maggy. That's Maggy with a y not Maggie with ie.

I don't mean to make a song and dance about it, unlike Liza Minelli who very wisely made a whole record to stop people calling her Lisa but sometimes I wish I could.

Getting someone's name right is not rocket science; it just requires a slight amount of observation. Anyone else who has an unusual spelling will know the frustration caused by the folk who simply can't see what's right in front of their face. If I had a pound for every time someone has called me 'Maggie' I'd have holiday home in Tuscany.

Okay, fair enough, if they don't know me, they're almost bound to get it wrong first time; it is an unusual spelling. But when they do it repeatedly--or when they write to me because they've read one of my books which, not surprisingly, as you can see here has my name on the cover--it can really get my goat.

Also, there are those who will insist on calling me Margaret. Mostly they do it to be ultra polite as they don't feel they know me well enough to call me by a nickname. I can understand that too and Margaret is a nice enough name but it's not mine. If I introduce myself as Maggy it's because I am Maggy.

Sometimes when I correct them, no matter how gently I do it, they can get arsey and say 'I don't see why it matters', but your name does matter. It is your identity and if it is repeatedly spelt incorrectly it feels very odd. It feels as though you aren't being seen. So maybe, just like my previous blog here, on being misquoted and then argued with by XCity magazine, it's about standing up for myself and saying 'I deserve to be seen as who I am.'

There have been times when I've not got to the right meeting, not seen my name on a guest list or not received the all-important email because the other person spelt my name incorrectly and the message never got to me. That's frustrating all round. And if I had a pound for every time someone said, 'I sent you an email and it bounced so there's something wrong with your computer' I'd be able to buy myself a top-of-the-range Macbook Air.

I'll own up here and say that sometimes I've misspelt other people's names on the first attempt too. Of course I have. Once is only human. But only ever once. And I do look carefully at every name because I know how lovely it is to be seen as who you are.

And then there's predictive text... That 'Maggies' me constantly (when it's not calling me Naggy or Moggy). Interestingly, I don't mind the latter two at all. Predictive text also messes up the name of the church into which I was ordained. Instead of the Apostolic Church of the Risen Christ, it makes a wild stab and comes up with the Apologetic Church of the Risen Crisp. I rather like that one. The church was re-named a couple of years ago and is now the Flower of Caramel (sorry, Carmel).

My surname is a bit of a problem too. Being 'Whitehouse' means that Maggy is frequently auto-changed to Mary. If you're too young to understand what horror that brought me in my teens and early twenties, let me explain.

In the 1970s and 80s there was a campaigner against violence and sex on the BBC called Mary Whitehouse who, in a nutshell, was Dame Edna Everage without the tact and diplomacy; who was Wolverine without the people skills ... and who was Russell Crowe but with balls. Nowadays, she's referred to as 'a social activist' on Wikipedia but back in the 1970s she was more often called an interfering old bat.

If I had a pound for every time someone said 'any relation to Mary?' in the 70s, 80s and 90s when I told them my name, I'd have enough to emigrate to Magaluf--somewhere of which she would definitely not have approved.

When I presented the breakfast show on BBC Radio WM back in the 1980s and interviewed Mary Whitehouse, she turned out to be a sweetie so I risked asking her to clear up once and for all, on air, that we weren't related. I asked her before we went into the studio if I could do so and she said, 'Absolutely. I quite understand it might be a problem for you. No, we're not at all related.'

But live on air, when I asked her the all-important question, she twinkled a little and answered, 'well, you know my dear, I've been thinking, and I think that we probably are.'

Mary Whitehouse ate Margaret Thatcher for breakfast.

Interestingly, nowadays I don't mind being called 'Mary' at all because even if she were a fundamentalist whose battle was certainly doomed to failure, she was certainly brave and committed and persistent; all qualities that I admire.

The 'Mary'ing has died down over the last decade or so but the misnaming hasn't ended there. As a professional stand-up comedian I am always introduced onto the stage by the gig's MC and twice in the last month they've happily announced, 'and your next act is the fabulous Maggie Smith.'

Okay, I give up. I may be misnamed and misspelt but at least I'm fabulous ... and I finally get to be a National Treasure.