TOM UTLEY: For once I’m royally ahead of the trend! I’ve got an Archie
TOM UTLEY: For once I’m royally ahead of the trend! I’ve got an Archie… and he’s named after the man I owe my life to
After years of being dismissed as an old fogey, locked in the past, pathetically wedded to tradition and hostile to many of the social developments of the 21st century, I can’t tell you what a joy it is to discover that I’m suddenly cool, modern and ahead of the trend.
Reader, I have a son called Archie. What’s more, he was christened 32 years before Harry and Meghan chose that magnificent name for their first-born son.
The difference is that their ‘unusual’ choice has been widely hailed as proof that they are a wonderfully up-to-date couple, imbued with the ‘common touch’ and unafraid to break with the past.
Apart from Archie, our four include a George and a Harry (christened Henry, like the new royal dad). In fact, we very nearly had a William, too, since we had planned to call our first-born Thomas George William Utley
Let’s just say that when Mrs U and I broke the news that we were thinking of calling our second son Archie, our families were much less enthusiastic.
All right, I ought to admit that the name on our son’s birth certificate is Archibald — though we’ve never addressed him by all three syllables, except once or twice in his early childhood to signal our displeasure when he misbehaved.
The Sussexes have apparently dispensed with the ‘-bald’, perhaps because long names are too much effort for the Twitter generation. But let’s face it, all Archies are really Archibalds — just as all Toms are really Thomases.
My late father professed, somewhat unconvincingly, to be delighted by our choice.
He suggested that when the boy grew up, he ought to stand for election to a council somewhere in the north of England (his side of the family hailed from Yorkshire and Lancashire), because he felt that the title ‘Alderman Sir Archibald Utley’ had a fine ring to it.
Archie Harrison was introduced to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Meghan’s mother Doria by his proud parents on Wednesday. Let’s just say that when Mrs U and I broke the news that we were thinking of calling our second son Archie, our families were much less enthusiastic
He said it called to mind the satirist Peter Simple’s Alderman Jabez Foodbotham, ‘the 25-stone, iron-watch-chained, crag-visaged, grim-booted Lord Mayor of Bradford’, and ‘perpetual chairman of the Bradford City Tramways and Fine Arts Committee’.
My mother, less diplomatically, simply winced when we told her we liked the name.
But it’s the verdict of my wife’s mother I remember best. She almost burst into tears when Mrs U told her that Archibald was top of our list, saying: ‘You can’t call him that! It would be cruel! It’s a dreadful name! He’ll be bullied all the way through school!’
I’ve often wondered why my revered mother-in-law — still very much with us at 96 — took so strongly against it.
I can only imagine that because she was born and brought up in Scotland, where Archies are much thicker on the ground than in England, she may have come across one or two bad apples by that name.
There’s nothing like meeting someone you dislike to put you off a name for life. But whatever the explanation, it was my mother-in-law’s passionate opposition that made up my wife’s mind.
Put it down to her own Scottish blood and the stubbornness that goes with it. She was not going to be dictated to, even by her beloved mother. She dug in her heels and insisted on Archie, whether the old lady liked it or not.
Better to die single, he thought, than run the risk of saddling his beloved with blind children. So he went back to his old college — Corpus Christi, Cambridge — to consult the most distinguished physician he knew [File photo]
As it happens, I was the one who suggested the name — partly because I’ve always liked the sound of it, but mostly because I’ve liked all the (few) Archies I’ve met.
In particular, I much admired an Archie who died at a great age shortly before our second son’s birth — an Archie who, in a curious and touching way, was responsible for my existence on this Earth.
The year was 1951, and my blind father had fallen in love with Brigid Morrah, the daughter of a journalist colleague with whom he shared an office at the Times.
Only one thing held him back from proposing to her — his fear that he might pass on his disability to any sons or daughters they might have if she consented to marry him.
Better to die single, he thought, than run the risk of saddling his beloved with blind children.
So he went back to his old college — Corpus Christi, Cambridge — to consult the most distinguished physician he knew.
This was Archibald Clark-Kennedy (Archie to all his friends), Dean of the London Hospital Medical College, author of numerous groundbreaking books on medicine and for a great many years director of medical studies at Corpus, where he had been a fellow since 1919.
Archie put my father’s mind at rest.
He told him that infantile glaucoma — the condition that caused his blindness in one eye at birth, and in the other when he was nine — was genetic, not hereditary. (I used to think the two words meant much the same, but apparently they don’t.
Unlike hereditary diseases, genetic disorders are not necessarily passed on from one generation to the next). ‘Go ahead and propose to Brigid,’ he said. My father did as he was advised, and my mother accepted him.
They married that same year and had four children, of whom I am the second. I’m happy to report that my siblings and I can all see perfectly well.
Born in 1893, Archie Clark-Kennedy was still around at Corpus during my time at the college — a tall and imposing figure, noted for his eccentricity and the originality of his mind, who still walked the Pennine Way every year in his late 70s.
He celebrated his 80th birthday by climbing 3,054 feet to the peak of Skiddaw in the Lake District.
As an undergraduate, I was in awe of him, and I’ve long regretted that I never got round to thanking him for his part in bringing my parents together.
It was only after he died in 1985, at the age of 92, that I began to think that if we were to have another son, we could do a lot worse than calling him Archie. He was such a great man, after all, with such a nice name.
As for why Harry and Meghan have made the same choice, I don’t pretend to know. All I will say is that the name is not exactly modern, since it goes back at least as far as the tenth century AD.
Born in 1893, Archie Clark-Kennedy was still around at Corpus during my time at the college. He celebrated his 80th birthday by climbing 3,054 feet to the peak of Skiddaw in the Lake District [File photo]
Nor can it really be said to display the common touch, since it’s a name proudly borne throughout history by — among a great many other toffs — Dukes of Argyll, Angus and Douglas and Earls of Rosebery and Moray.
But then the Windsors seem to have a way of copying the Utleys’ choices of names.
Apart from Archie, our four include a George and a Harry (christened Henry, like the new royal dad).
In fact, we very nearly had a William, too, since we had planned to call our first-born Thomas George William Utley.
That was until the very last minute, when we realised in the nick of time what his initials would be. Since I was never much of a fan of the Transport and General Workers’ Union (now merged into Unite), we dropped the W.
Indeed, only our third son’s name, John (we call him Johnny), has yet to be claimed by one of the younger Windsors, leaving us just one short of a royal flush. But this has set me thinking.
Did you read this week’s news that a grandmother has scooped £18,000 after betting against odds of 150-1 that Baby Sussex would be called Archie — for no better reason than that he was born on her grandson Archie’s birthday?
The way the Windsors are matching the Utleys, name for name, my tenner says the next royal baby will definitely be called Johnny.
As for Harry and Meghan, the proud new parents, I have comforting news for them. Despite my mother-in-law’s fears, our own Archie says he has always really liked his name.
And that, after all, is what matters most.
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