Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: TOM GUTTERIDGE

IDON'T know where the name Gutteridge came from. Wherever it was, I wish it had stayed there.

Gutters, Guts - it was so easy to burden me with schoolboy nicknames. I feared the sniggers of classmates when the teacher called out my name for the first time. Even now, when asked to spell it for the benefit of Indian call centres, I say the first five letters slowly, g-u-t-t-e then a quick "ridge, as in the top of a hill". I mean, why use the awful "gutter" word if I don't have to? I used to cling to the hope of gentrification offered by those ridiculous "know your name" companies. "The name Gutteridge has a long Anglo-Saxon heritage," they'd say. "From the region of Goodrich in the county of Hereford. God means good and Rica means powerful." So I was descended from a king. Then the company would try to sell me the family crest.

All nonsense, of course. There's no more nobility in the Gutteridge name than the word Smith, Baker or Hann. You are what you make of yourself, I always thought.

So the recently published research into surnames and social mobility by Scottish-born economist Gregory Clark (out of an American university, predictably), raised several eyebrows. According to Clark, there's no more social mobility in the world now than there was when the Gutteridges were good and powerful ones. A person's surname carries information about their social status, which generations can do precious little to change, and the narrowing of the gap between the posh and the poor (I paraphrase here rather shamelessly) has scarcely narrowed in centuries.

Despite what we'd like to believe about the effects of the industrial revolution and the efforts of politicians to create a more even society, the principal influence in our social status is our great- and great-great grandparents' names. In other words, try as I might, I can never take the gutter out of the Gutteridge. Well that's what Professor Clark reckons, anyway. Clark comes from the Latin clericus, meaning scholar. So his life was pretty preordained too.

The popularity of the television programme Who Do You Think You Are, the obsession with Ancestry. …

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