#19 At least I… am not the only one to be wrongly labelled ‘posh’

December 8, 2009

Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, The Queen; I was always aware that people had ‘posh’ names but, until recently didn’t realise I was one of them.

In the past two weeks I’ve written two blogs for the Guardian website about my attempts to find work. Being young, enthusiastic and – I hope – talented I’ve tried to get noticed by national papers for the written work that I can do. I knew pretty quickly that my ambitious strategy would make me some enemies but I wasn’t ready for one of their attacks.

Apparently, the hyphen in my name (Gockelen-Kozlowski) is an unforgivable sign of privilege that means I’m instantly pushed up to the upper classes. It’s this anti hyphen feeling which led Conservative leader David Cameron to comment last month that Annunziata Rees-Mogg should change her name to Nancy Mogg. Unfortunately, however, unlike other members of the upper classes, somebody’s forgotten to give me the trust fund, good teeth and yachting holidays that usually come with membership: I’ve never formulated anything on the ‘playing fields of Eton’.

'We are all in this together'... or at least they seem to be.

Rather than pointing to a background in banking or pharmaceuticals my name is a patchwork of poor European families who escaped death and disease to come to England: It’s like wearing a T-Shirt which says, ‘It took a lot of persecution to make me’ and that’s why I love it. My family doesn’t have a coat of arms or village named after it but I have both my parent’s names with me always.

My name also gives my Mum some credit for all her hard work. As John Lennon so eloquently put it, it’s “she what bore you in the back bedroom, full of piss and shit and fuckin’ midwives”. Surely that deserves a mention?

Finally, my parents have, for as long as I can remember, been divorced. There’s my Mum (Gockelen) and my Dad (Kozlowski) and then there’s me: the only Gockelen-Kozlowski in the world. Brilliant. My surname is the creation of modern thinking, a modern world and equality.

And, if that’s true for me, who else is being wrongly labelled privileged? I asked some of my friend to see what, in 2009, was the cause of their elongated monikers. One friend quickly replied ‘my Dad’s a feminist’. Simple as that. Another admitted hers was denoting of grand lineage but, as she pointed out, it was her Mum’s name that she’s just taken after growing up in a single parent family.

 Most common cause of all though was ‘divorce’. When I mentioned my double-barrelled criticisms to a lady at my work experience placement she explained that her eight year old son had two names. His parents, like mine, divorced when he was very young and so a single ‘family’ name wouldn’t be appropriate. As she pointed out too, “it’ll be his choice when he’s older whether he keeps both our names”.

If divorce is, as it seems from an admittedly unscientific bit of research then most double-barrelled names are a symbol of the changing face of Britain’s families. So when David Cameron demands his prospective MPs to ‘drop’ their extra names it may not just be an aversion to his party looking posh: maybe he just doesn’t like broken Britons very much?

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5 Responses to “#19 At least I… am not the only one to be wrongly labelled ‘posh’”

  1. Rosie Niven Says:

    Interesting piece. There are a lot of doubled barrelled names within the African Caribbean community, in fact some of the poshest sounding names come from that community.

    Which reminds me, did you know you can get tripled barrelled names too? I was watching BBC London once and they interviewed a women who had just given birth about her baby (a piece on midwives, I think). The name of the baby was something like Jay-cee Lewis-Taylor-Smith. I kid you not!

    Someone I know got married and merged her name with that of her husband’s. You could always shorten your name to Gockelenski if you were to follow that example.


  2. Hey Tom, you’re defenetelly not posh. After having handing out your business card, you have proved that. As I am a young brazilian journalist, and own a blog as you, I came here just to congratulate for this brave attitude to stop those people and introduce yourself. Im sure you will do well. Best of luck.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    interesting you don’t discuss how you were never Gockelen-Kozlowski at school. ugh.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Sounds more like COCKelen-Kozlowski to me

  5. sharron Norton nee Gockelen Says:

    You may be the only Gockelen-Kozlowski but your not the only Gockelen Tom!!! There are a tribe of us about xxx


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