Becoming Richard

Illustrative photo: archive of Czech Radio
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My freshly acquired driving license gives my name as Ian Richard Willoughby. That is indeed what appears on my birth certificate. But strangely my middle name Richard, having played virtually no role in the first half of my life, has come to the fore in the second half, spent here in the Czech Republic.

Illustrative photo: archive of Czech Radio
Somehow – and this is all a bit of a blur, over 20 years later – I gave my full name on some official form or other when I first arrived in this country.

(Filling in forms was for me a common activity in those days. I had little previous experience of bureaucracy and, as a clueless foreigner, found it mind-bendingly difficult to navigate stamp-happy Czech officialdom. The word “superlegalizace” still makes me shiver).

Having foolishly put the middle name Richard down on paper in 1993, I soon found that it had stuck. From my residence permit the appellation was carried over to my file at the tax office and by countless other institutions.

A bank typo resulted in a debit card in the rather exotic name of Ian Richaro Willoughby. They got the next one right, unfortunately.

At the Radio they once issued me with a press card reading Ian Richard BA Willoughby. I know Czechs love their academic titles, but come on?! Mine is simply unworthy of mention. The icing on the cake, though, was the comical placing of the acronym.

Friends made joking references to B.A. Baracus from the TV show The A-Team, perhaps a way of telling me I too had a bad attitude. In this case I was the fool to be pitied.

But it’s not all bad. My mother would be genuinely delighted if she knew that I have now become Ian Richard, as she chose the second name in tribute to her beloved father.

Using middle names to honour family members is extremely common where I come from. Here it isn’t. Indeed, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a Czech with a middle name.

An advantage of Richard is that Czechs are relatively comfortable with it. Most people get my forename right, more or less. But the surname is a challenge, usually insurmountable. (Not that I’m complaining – Czechs must be well used to having their names utterly mangled in English speaking countries).

However, when they spot the written Richard they immediately alight on it as a name that also exists in Czech, albeit with a hard “ch”, as in the Scottish word loch.

Frequently if I am in a situation where names are being called out – as during the theory part of my recent driving test – they will plump for Rich-ard. Which, having long gotten used to it, is absolutely fine by me.

And in a spirit of “if you can’t beat them”, I have even taken to using it myself when making restaurant reservations by phone. Table for two. Eight o’clock. Na jméno Rich-ard.