The secret of how Aunty Beryl got her name - Janet Christie

People can be judge-y about names, from Apple to Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye), but it’s always best to haud yer wheest because there’s often a perfectly good reason.

George Formby and his wife Beryl, in 1932. (Photo Getty Images)
George Formby and his wife Beryl, in 1932. (Photo Getty Images)

It’s June 1945, South Yorkshire, and a 12-year-old child - my mother - has been sent to the registrar to record the birth of her little sister, since the father is down the pit and the mother “still upstairs under the doctor”.

With strict instructions to name the baby ‘Janet’ the child skips along. Normally trustworthy, she can also be fey, especially after a trip to the cinema, and to be fair, she’s just had a big surprise. The first she knew about a baby sister was when she was taken to Aunty Annie’s where her mother had gone for a few days, and there it was, a baby, no explanation apart from a mention of cabbage patches. They really did tell her this.

Delighted at the turn of events, my mother skips along to the registry office, a happy little plan forming in her mind.

“I like the name Beryl. I’ll call the baby that,” she thinks.

She signs the registry, pays for the certificate and skips home. However, on her dad’s return from the pit all hell breaks loose, not least because he has to go and pay a shilling for a middle name, ‘Janet’.

No more is said, especially to Beryl/Janet, my mother taking her role in the affair to the grave, although she did share it with me once, along with a giggle.

I in turn passed it on after about 60 years, time for wounds to heal and people to die, when my aunty said she’d never understood her parents’ choice of name.

“I’ve never liked it,” she says again this weekend as we talk passports. “Beryl! Janet’s better.” she says.

“Yes,” I agree. How could I not, it’s the name I was given in honour of my aunty and my Scottish great-granny, and possibly by way of atonement.

“But I wouldn’t have minded Beryl,” I risk. “You don’t get many.”

“I think it was after a film star she liked,” says Aunty Janet, still slightly riled.

“Really? Glamorous. Who?”

“George Formby.”


“His wife was Beryl. Gets a bad press,” she says and we laugh.

Whatever. You can’t not like George Formby and his banjo ukelele. It’s turned out nice again hasn’t it, mother.

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