The first question I am usually asked: “Is Ashleigh Brilliant your real name?” Yes, it is. My father was Victor Brilliant, and he came from a whole family of Brilliants. The origins are Russian and Jewish. Around the time of Napoleon, Jews were allowed to choose their own surnames. Many chose pleasant-sounding names, such as Bloom (Flower). Others took names associated with their trades, and some dealt in jewels. There is actually a kind of diamond called a “brilliant.”
I didn’t mind that part of my name, because it was both complimentary and memorable. But I hated the name Ashleigh, and even more so, my middle name – Ellwood – simply because, throughout my childhood, nobody (except my father, in anger) ever called me by those names. What was I called? For some quirky reason, my mother thought it was cute to call her firstborn “Junior” – even though, as already stated, my father’s name was Victor.
So that’s what I was called – Junior Brilliant – by my parents, and by everybody else. Fortunately, at the school I attended in England, although it was “co-ed” (unusual at that time), girls were called by their first names, but boys by their surnames. And when I had to sign anything, I signed as “J. Brilliant.”
But, as time went on, it became more and more embarrassing, when I was asked what the “J” stood for, to have to come out with “Junior.” So, at some point in my teens, I started telling people that it stood for John. I wasn’t really comfortable with that name either, but for some years, that was how I was known – even up into my first year at the University of London.
As my 21st birthday approached, however, I became obsessed with the notion that the question of my name was a problem which I must now settle once and for all. Either I must accept my real name (which I had kept a close secret, and which still seemed most unpleasant) or I must choose a totally new one, and stick with it.
While struggling with this terrifying choice, I happened to see a poster in the Student Lounge, proclaiming in big letters the forthcoming appearance of a speaker I had never heard of before, whose name was Ash Brown. This was close enough to my own real name to give me courage to make my Great Decision. And the next day I put up on a college bulletin board the following notice:
THE PERSON HITHERTO KNOWN AS JOHN BRILLIANT
WISHES IT TO BE KNOWN THAT HIS REAL NAME IS
ASHLEIGH ELLWOOD BRILLIANT – AND IN FUTURE
HE WISHES TO BE KNOWN AS SUCH.
Thus, the die was cast, and I felt great relief, and a certain exaltation. But when I came back the following day, to look proudly again at my notice, I found that some diabolical wit had put quotation marks around the word “such.”
An even greater shock was in store for me when I happened to look again, more closely, at the Ash Brown poster. For the first time, I saw some small dots which, somehow, I hadn’t noticed before. The name was not “Ash” at all – those were just his initials: A.S.H. Brown! But it was too late by then to re-think my position. My friends were already calling me Ashleigh. (Fortunately “Such Brilliant” never caught on.) And, after a bit of getting used to, it wasn’t really so bad.
Of course, little did I dream then that, after I had developed a medium of expression actually brilliant enough to go with it, I would find the name Ashleigh Brilliant one of my greatest social and economic assets. And it was one which didn’t even have to be copyrighted or trademarked!
Nowadays, of course, we are used to persons, companies, cities, and even whole countries, changing their names. Some of us can still remember when Russia was the Soviet Union, Mumbai was Bombay, Muhammad Ali was Cassius Clay, and even when IHOP was the International House of Pancakes.
But, if you’re naming your own offspring, let me beg you, for their sakes, to give them names that are distinctive, but easy to spell. And above all, don’t give them a name and then not use it! Also, let it fit nicely with their surname, assuming that won’t be changed upon marriage. Remember the parents named Rose who romantically named their daughter Wild. But then she grew up and married a man named Bull!