Sue Perkins on nicknames, famous monikers and her new panel show, Insert Name Here…
What do you think of your name?
There are no great Susans in history. Susan is the third spear-carrier from the left. Susan is the person who makes the tea for those setting off on a great exploration. Susan is the daughter of the pilgrim father who devotes her life to needlepoint. We’re pretty second-rate.
Susan means ‘gentle lily’ in Hebrew, so I think my parents were hoping against hope that their genetics wouldn’t be evident in me, and that this willowy, beautiful thing would emerge. Instead they got this rather dumpy, speccy buffoon.
It’s a boring name, but I’ve embraced it in all its mediocrity.
How do you feel when you meet other Susans?
It’s just me, Susan Boyle and Susan Sarandon. Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to be mentioned in the same breath as that duo, but I’m not sure what attributes we all share.
If anybody calls me Susan, by the way, I’m terrified because it means I’ve done something wrong. It’s always Sue. So, whenever I meet a fellow Susan / Sue I’m always quite interested in whether they’ve changed from the Susan to the Sue or not, and we bond over the fact Susan is a ridiculous name.
Do you have a nickname?
Not one close friend of mine ever calls me Sue. My main nickname is Zoo or Zuzan. I also get called Perks, Perky, Pipples, Soups, everything. Mel calls me Peg and I call her Miggins. I have no idea why.
Why are our names so important to us?
Aside from the fact it’s your identity, there’s so much implied in a name: the aspirations of your parents, your own aspirations if you have shortened it or changed the spelling of it. Do you insist on putting hearts over the ‘i’s? I’ve done a lot of book signings recently and there is definitely a trend for people called Khloe and Kari rather than Chloe and Carrie. It’s about a real need to stand out and be individual.
Did your parents consider any other names for you?
My brother’s called David so I assume, if I’d been a boy, I’d have been that. David’s a great name. It’s a leader’s name. David Lloyd George, David Cameron, David Milliband (potentially, were it not for various reasons that have since become clear). Dave is less impressive. Names belonging to successful people generally have two syllables. You don’t get a Dave Beckham, do you? I realise Sue is one syllable, but ‘m happy to be middle-ranking.
Is a sign of true success only having one name, like Adele or Madonna?
You’ve definitely made it if you’ve got one name. Just like at Chico. He doesn’t need anything else. Alexander the Great – he didn’t have enough confidence to call himself just ‘Alexander’. He had to bolster himself up with ‘The Great’. Although I love all of those names: Edward the Confessor, Pitt the Younger, Ethelred the Unready. We should bring it back – I would be Sue the Scruffy.
Did you and Mel ever contemplate being Sue and Mel instead?
No, Mel and Sue just sounds better and I hope I would never be mentally fragile enough to insist my name comes first. Although funnily enough, the first show we ever did in Edinburgh in 1993 was as Melanie and Susan. It made us sound like a Victorian temperance society – it didn’t last very long.
You’re joined on your new show by team captains Richard Osman and Josh Widdicombe. What do you think of their names?
Richard is a regal name with a long and illustrious history. Josh, less so. Josh Widdicombe is actually 14, so it’s entirely befitting that he should have a child’s name. It is entirely appropriate that one has a grand statesman’s name and one has a capricious and whimsical name.
What’s your favourite boy’s name?
If I’d had a son, I’d have called him Stan. My granddad was called Stan. It’s a great, solid name. Stan is a good egg, the salt of the earth.
And what would you have called a daughter?
Clytaemenestra. Somebody has to suffer the way Susans suffer.
Is it a shame names like Gary are dying out?
All you need is for Taylor Swift to give birth to a Gary and it will be all the rage. Perhaps a Kardashian will pop out a Susan and even I will find my name fashionable again. A ‘Susan’ would bring a much needed bookish dullness to that family.
Insert Name Here airs on Monday 4th January at 10.00pm on BBC2